Component Review, Part 2 of 4
Published on March 1, 2004
Lumagen Vision Pro Video Scaler
Inputs 8 programmable inputs. Up to 8 Composite, 8 S-Video, 4 Component, 2 pass-through NEW Optional SDI input (factory upgradeable) Professional grade BNC's used for all inputs Up to 2 Pass-through inputs, with 300 MHz bandwidth Studio quality TV decoder with 10-bit A/D Adaptive comb-filter (3 or 4 line) for reduction of cross-luma and cross-chroma artifacts Automatic selection of NTSC (M, Japan, 4.43), PAL (B, D, G, H, I, M, N, Nc) or SECAM (B, D, G, K, K1, L) for composite and S-Video. Video Processing Film pull-down reconstruction (3:2 and 2:2) Per-pixel motion-adaptive video de-interlacing Detail-enhancing resolution scaling Programmable cropping for each input memory Black-level, contrast, color and hue calibration Chroma-phase calibration Source aspect ratio selection of 4:3, letterbox and 16:9, with two zoom levels each Two memories per input, for input calibration and, output setup Output Professional grade BNC's used for the output Programmable output resolution from 480p to 1080p in scan line increments, plus 1080i Programmable vertical refresh rate from 48 to 75 Hertz, in steps of 0.01 Hertz Programmable output aspect ratio from 1.33 to 2.35, in steps of 0.01 10-bit oversampled digital-to-analog conversion RGBHV, RGBS, RGsB, or YPRPB output format Embedded bilevel or trilevel sync Discrete RGB sync polarities are programmable Miscellaneous Infrared remote plus RS232 serial control Menu-based setup with on-screen display Configuration save with undo and lock Supply range of 100 to 240 volts at 47 to 63 Hz. Case: 17x3.5x10.25 inches (432x89x260 mm) Silent operation (no fan) Price $1895
The Lumagen Vision Pro is the upper of the two models of Scalers produced by Lumagen. In this review I am not going to present a lot of video test results. I am going to present a review based on how the unit effects the picture quality for the eye of a somewhat astute video viewer. It does not matter what the tests show if you cannot easily discern it on your own screen. I have a fairly common HDTV setup. A 55 inch Mitsubishi Platinum Plus HDTV that is now a couple of years old. I have an upper consumer grade DVD player, the Marantz 8300. A Scaler is basically a consumer grade video processor. This one is different from most Scalers in that it accepts analog outputs from video devices and outputs from analog high-definition outputs. This means that you do not have to have to have a TV with a digital video input. TVs with high-resolution digital video inputs are just starting to become more common in High-Definition- capable TVs. There is also a feud going on about which connection type to use for digital TV. Basically the unit oversamples the analog signal and converts it to a digital form, where it may be processed to give the user a better picture.
This unit only has BNC connectors for the inputs and outputs. This may be a little disconcerting to a consumer with high-end video cables. There are nine BNC to RCA connectors provided with the unit. There are also a couple of S-Video-to-BNC cables included.Eight sets of video inputs are available. All eight can be used for S-Video or composite video inputs. Inputs 4 through 8 can be used for component video inputs. Inputs 7 and 8 can be designated for pass through for High Definition sources, like HDTV and Blue Laser. The BNC output can feed any high definition analog input (RGB and YPRPB) of a High Definition TV. First the unit takes the over-sampled video signal and scales it to the proper size for your monitor or screen. It also processes the signal to enhance detail and lessen video artifacts. It then sends out an analog signal at whatever lines of resolution you set can take. Previous Scalers have been mostly for front projection, and much more expensive. As people have started to see High Definition pictures and watch video on bigger screens, they have started to realize the limitations of non-High-Def sources. This is a product to bring standard definition pictures closer to High Definition pictures. The output of the unit can be set to any definition from 480P to 1080P. It can also output 1080i.
I am using a Mitsubishi Platinum Plus HDTV for the review. The first step is to hook up the Lumagen to your video components and monitor. Your monitor needs to have the advanced convergence carefully adjusted. If you are not well- versed in video setup, you may want to have your dealer help in the setup. You need to set your inputs as far as the proper type and size they are outputting. I used the Avia “Guide to Home Theater” test DVD to help with the set up. Since the High Definition TV receiver goes through in a pass-through mode, I set the TV up for best HD picture. Then I used the Avia disc to set up the unit’s output. You need to set the DVD player output to 480i. I found that the TV settings and the Lumagen’s settings might fight each other. You need to make sure that you save your adjustments or they will be lost. Once I got the settings done for the DVD input, I copied these setting to both the memories for the inputs that I used. I then tweaked the other inputs with the best source material I could find for that input. I use a HDTV receiver, Laser Disc, DVD and Super VHS sources. I first thought of getting the $1000 Vision, but I have too many inputs for the standard model. One possible problem is that the cables provided are six feet long. I had to get some BNC cable extenders for my DVD inputs. They use BNC as a superior connection to other connection types. This unit has a great many more controls than are available on most TVs.
I originally tried both the 1080i and 480p output modes. I tried some prerecorded VHS tapes. They became much more pleasing to watch with the Lumagen. Without the Lumagen they were hardly worth watching. The Lumagen took the picture quality up to the level of a very mediocre DVD as to picture quality. The picture was still not thrilling, but VHS has a very limit amount of information to start with and processing can do only so much. I then tried some Laser Discs. I have several hundred LDs, some of which I cannot replace on DVD at this time. The Lumagen helped the quality of the Laser Disc picture. It improved detail and smoothness of the image. It is amazing to me how much video quality has improved since the DVD. What we thought was a state of the art picture twelve years ago, now appears bland and without color intensity. Even the Pioneer Laser Disc Demonstration disc looks bland compared with an average quality DVD.
Now for the most important area: what does it do for your DVD picture? I have always been amazed at how good the picture in my setup looks on most DVDs. I tried the Lumagen with both 480p and 1080i outputs. I used my two usual reference discs, “Fifth Element” Sony Superbit edition and “Wind”. There was an improvement with both of the resolutions. I slightly preferred the 1080i output because of slightly better detail, although the 480p had a little smoother image. I was however not blown away with the improvement. After all, I was already using a high-end DVD player outputting 480p. I talked to Lumagen’s owner and he suggested trying 540p. This is the progressive equivalent to a 1080i high definition signal. I did not think of this before because it is not a normal output of video equipment. This gave me about 12 percent more progressive lines than I was getting with 480p. This really did the trick – the picture was even further improved. Background detail was enhanced and defined. Colors had more solidity. There was less image swimming on distant panoramas. I also tried processing standard TV signals with a fair amount of success.
This is not a product for everyone. Costing as much as a new 55-inch HDTV, it will not seem like a high priority to many buyers. The viewer that is particular about the quality of their picture could find it very worthwhile. Other reviews have commented that the improvement may vary depending on the quality of the video processing in your TV and DVD players. The improvement would also become more important with increasing screen size. This unit definitely lessens the difference between DVD and high definition signals. If you are tied to LD or VHS sources for some videos, it makes watching them more tolerable. I think that with professional setup I could have even gotten slightly more out of the unit. It also improves watching standard digitally-derived signals. The improvement I saw going from 480p to 540p, makes me think that if you had a TV that took a 720p signal, the results would be amazing. Even more amazing would be a picture that took a 1080p signal. I know of nothing that will take this signal now. There may be some front projectors that can do it. You can cut the cost of this processing by going to their $1000 Vision unit. The processing is supposedly the same. The differences between the units are the number of inputs and upgradeability. The Vision only has one S-Video, one composite, one component and one bypass input. The Pro unit can be upgraded software- wise, over the Internet. The Pro also is able to add a digital video out if you need it in the future. I saw the difference between the analog and digital outputs at the home of the owner of Lumagen. The processing was slightly improved when the digital output was used. As a result of this evaluation, the unit has taken up permanent residence in my system.
– Clay Swartz