Component Reviews

iScan Duo Video Processor

The iScan Duo is one of those products that seem like a luxury, but once you own it you can’t seem to understand how you lived without it. Highly recommended!

Published on December 6, 2010

iScan Duo Video Processor

iScan Duo Video Processor
SRP $1299

 

 

 

Anchor Bay Technologies, Inc.
300 Orchard City Drive
M/S 131
Campbell, CA 95008
866-423-3836 (voice)
408-429-6297 (fax)
info@achorbaytech.co

http://www.anchorbaytech.com/products/systems/iscanduo.php


Basic Features/Specifications

Advanced video processing including: Precision Deinterlacing, Progressive ReProcessing (PReP), Precision Video Scaling II, Mosquito Noise Reduction, Fine Detail Enhancement, Edge Enhancement, Rightrate, Precision AV Lipsync, AutoCUE-C; 8 HDMI 1.3 a/v inputs (with an upgrade for 3D/1.4 planned), 2 component video, 1 HD15, 1 S-video, 3 composite video inputs, 2 sets of analog inputs, 2 coaxial and 3 optical inputs, dual HDMI video outputs, 3 digital audio outputs (HDMI/optical/coaxial), individual picture controls per input and SD/HD format, aspect ratio control, RS-232 control, IR input and output (for control), 2 programmable 12V triggers, full CMS (Color Management System) as of June via firmware upgrade, full 1080p output, 35 built-in test patterns, remote control, rack mounts included, 6.6 pounds w/o power supply, 10.4” D x 17” W x 2.2”, one-year parts and labor warranty.

Associated Equipment

Optoma HD8600 Projector, JVC DLA-HD950 Projector, InFocus SP8602 Projector, Meridian 568.2MM Preamplifier, Oppo BDP-80 Blu-ray Player, Dish Network Vip622 HD DVR, Popcorn Hour A-110 Media Player, Belden, Audioquest, Canare and Monster cables.

Installation and Setup

I had the Duo for a while, but was either waiting on a working projector, lift installation or cable wiring to finally get it up and running.  It’s a good thing that I waited though, because there have been a multiple firmware upgrades, and, in addition to all the video switching and processing there is now a full Color Management System (CMS).  Even projectors that offer some advanced color controls may still not have the flexibility now offered by the Duo.

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing quite a few different iScan products over the years and they always improved the picture on various displays to some degree or another.  Although the Duo offers analog video inputs, the only option for output is now digital video (via HDMI or DVI with an adapter).  The advantage of this with a projector is the need for only one video cable running to the projector and each source can have its own picture settings, resolution, etc. set up on the Duo.  Another nice feature offered by the processor is the ability to run two different outputs at one time.  For those who have a secondary display this means taking advantage of the processing capabilities from the Duo without any unplugging, switching or extra boxes.

Many are probably wondering if a device like this (not counting the CMS) is even necessary anymore.  Hasn’t the video processing in TVs and monitors improved to the point that a device like the iScan is simply extraneous?  The answer to that question is a simple “no.”  In my experience the video processing in TVs varies widely and in many cases does a mediocre to poor job with standard DVD and material that isn’t of the best quality.  These areas are where you’ll see the most improvement with a video processor.

The Upgrade.  Since I wanted to take full advantage of all the iScan had to offer I downloaded the “beta” upgrade from the website and unpacked the zipped file.  The USB cable to connect to the Duo was included with the unit, so I printed the instructions and went off to upgrade the unit.  After connection it took a few seconds to set the Duo into Configuration and the processor appeared on the computer as an external drive.  I deleted the old firmware and copied the new firmware.  The whole process took less than five minutes.  As of October 27th, 2010 the current beta firmware is 2.30.

Here is a list of some of the upgrades that have been made possible through firmware upgrades: CMS (Color Management System) for both primary and secondaries, Y/C Delay and CUE (Chroma Upsampling Error) controls, HDCP controls, gray scale controls (11 point), day and night CMS profiles, 3D pass through, ability to separately calibrate the secondary display, you can set an audio-only input and the borders around non-widescreen material (on a widescreen display) can be adjusted from 0 to 100 IRE.

Audio.  The coaxial digital inputs are compatible with any format digital signal with a sampling rate from 24kHz to 192kHz and up to 24bits of resolution.  The optical inputs support up to 96kHz input.  HDMI is currently supporting up to 1.4 for pass-through.  Both the optical and coaxial outputs work simultaneously but need to be set in the menu.  This configuration worked well for me as I was able to route one digital cable to my non-HDMI preamplifier and use the Duo as an audio switcher.

Testing Display and Connection.  When the unit first powers up the wizard prompts the user to set output resolution.  I used the checkerboard pattern to make sure the display was properly receiving a full 1080 signal.  Next I made sure that there was no overscan (which I had already verified, but wanted to check with the Duo connected).  I connected my blu-ray player, satellite box and media player (all via HDMI to start).  Next, I renamed the inputs for the video sources I had connected.  For the Oppo, sending a 4:2:2 signal to the Duo offered the best performance while sending the signal in a 4:4:4 format worked best with the InFocus projector.

Main Menu Options

Input and Output Select.  The Duo offers 15 inputs so just about any video source can be accommodated at the same time.  There are two HDMI outputs with different calibration available for each.  Additionally, with the new firmware there is a day and night mode that can allow for two different settings for the same display.

Input Aspect Ratio.  Picture (Aspect Ratio) is an adjustment for the output and is set either to 5:4, 4:3 or 16:9.  Active (Aspect Ratio) is the setting for the content/movie and has settings of 4:3, 1.55:1, 1.66:1, 16:9, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1.  Both of these options are disabled when Auto AR is selected.  Stretch is not just a fixed setting, but a way to stretch the image vertically or horizontally in steps.  Shift works when the image is zoomed or stretched and allows repositioning of the image vertically or horizontally.  Auto AR is an auto aspect ratio setting.  When it is disabled the Picture and Active controls are functioning.  Zoom works to magnify the picture while maintaining aspect ratio.  Lastly, there are quick Presets: 16:9 Full Frame (for 16:9 material and screens), 4:3 Full Frame (for 4:3 material viewed in this shape), 4:3 Letterbox (for widescreen material recorded/presented in a 4:3 shape—for 16:9 screens), Panorama (stretches 4:3 material on the sides to fill a 16:9 screen while leaving the center relatively unaltered), User Preset (a custom setting that saves picture, active aspect ratio settings as well as zoom, stretch and shift).

Input Adjustments.  PReP is a processing technology that takes already deinterlaced material (in progressive format), converts it to interlaced material and then reprocesses it (with the idea of improving the deinterlacing process). The DeInterlacer choices effect interlaced material or material with PReP applied.  Auto, Film and Video can be selected.  Within the Film mode there are: Auto, Forced 3:2, Forced 2:2, 2:2 Even and 2:2 Odd.  (The 2:2 modes are for 50Hz material.)  Game Mode offers the minimum of video processing to lower the delay from input to output.  Delay is specified at ~ ½ frame of delay for a locked signal.  Deep Color will need to be enabled if the user wants to pass 30- or 36-bit color to the display.  The default is set to “disabled.”  Video Level allows a setting of Auto, Video, or Computer (for a setting of increased video levels 0-255).  Hot-Plug Source offers a way to automatically perform a HDCP re-authentication.  It will slow down source switching, but may also eliminate problems with flashing, noise, etc.  HDCP Mode is either on or off.  Audio Input is where you associate the video inputs with the audio inputs.  Although audio is internally delayed by the iScan to match video, there is a user-adjustable Audio Delay that can be adjusted from -56 to 200 ms.

Picture Controls.  These include Brightness, Contrast, Color Saturation, Hue, Y/C Delay, Detail Enhancement, Edge Enhancement and Mosquito NR (Off, Low, High) and CUE (Chroma Upsampling Error) Correction.  Read below for some impressions on the detail enhancement and the noise reduction settings.

Output Setup.  Second Output is an on/off setting.  There are 35 Test Patterns to help calibrate a display (and that can be automatically controlled by CalMAN calibration software).  The Video Format is automatic or can be selected manually: (60Hz): VGA, SVGA, XGA, SXGA, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p; (50Hz): 576p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p and 1080p at both 24 and 25 Hz.  Underscan allows shrinking of the image (to counteract overscan that can’t be disabled in a display) and is fixed on all sources.  By enabling 1:1 Frame Rate the iScan will avoid doing frame rate conversion and pass 50/60 Hz sources on at the native rate as well as 24Hz material like that from blu-ray (for displays that can handle these rates).  When disabled the output frame rate is fixed.  Frame Lock helps with smoother operation when switching input sources or formats and has to do with the frame rate.  Aspect Ratio is for setting the shape of the display (Auto, 16:9 or 4:3).  Color Space will depend on the display (Auto, RGB, YCbCr 4:4:4 or YCbCr 4:2:2).  Colorimetry offers conversion options (Auto, 601 for standard, 709 for HDTV).  “Auto” uses what the display reports to select.  Video Level works the same as above but is for output.  Chromaticity offers choices of: RGBs/709, NTSC, PAL/SECAM, SMPTE-C, CIE 1931, AppleRGB, Adobe 1998, User and Auto.  The User setting lets you select the x/y coordinates for R,G,B and white and basically make your own color space.  In case you were wondering, yes NTSC and SMPTE-C are the same…CMS is divided into Profile Select, Color Gamut, Gray Scale and CMS Bypass.  In the Profile Select area the user can select a different setting for day and night.  The Color Gamut area lets you set x/y coordinates (tint and saturation) and luminance for the primary and secondary colors as well as white.  The Gray Scale section offers an 11-point adjust for white point and R,G,B levels (from 0-100IRE).  Deep Color can be Off, Auto, 30-bit or 36-bit depending on the display.  Audio Output selects where to route the audio signal (Auto, HDMI to display, HDMI to audio component, Optical to a non-HDMI component).  HDCP Mode is same as above.  

Configuration.  Input Priority allows the user to select which input has priority if multiple inputs are active.  Rename Inputs is self-explanatory.  Auto Wake Up has three options (Off, Mode 1, Mode 2) that can either turn the unit on via remote or when inputs are active while Auto Standby (Off, On) either keeps the unit on all the time or shuts off if there is no active input.  Component Inputs has sync adjustment and AGC (automatic gain control) adjust.  Select RGBS allows one of the component inputs to work RGBS with a SCART connector, but you’ll lose one video connection next to the input.  LED Brightness (0-3) lets you turn off the front panel display as well as LED or adjust the brightness.  Factory Defaults will reset to factory settings.  Update Firmware does just that (and I described the process above).  Serial Port Rate supports: 4800, 9600, 14400, 19200, 38400 and 115200 bps.

Information.  These are multiple screens that offer various bits of information about the display and source.

Documentation

The manual that comes with the Duo is excellent.  Diagrams and pictures accompany the text and explain every function and how to use it.  The firmware upgrades have added information on the new features and settings.  Additionally, each setting in the on-screen menu has information at the bottom of the screen that briefly describes each function.  A bit of experimentation might be necessary to get the best combination of video output settings.  

Calibrating the Display

One of the most useful (and beneficial) features offered by the Duo is the ability to correct gamma, gray scale and color errors for a particular display device.  Here are the before and after pictures with the InFocus SP8602.  I used CalMAN 4.1 which offers the ability to automatically adjust the values inside the Duo.  Although it wasn’t perfect, it was incredibly easy and fast.  In the future Chromapure will also offer a way to automatically control the Duo.  If you don’t have access to any automatic adjustments, then the user needs to go into the menu of the Duo and change each option manually—a somewhat painstaking process.

Although I did a fairly good job with the internal controls on the InFocus, I was able to tame some of the issues with blue at lower levels and even out RGB at higher levels for a slightly improved gray scale.  The Delta E results show slight improvements across the band although technically the results were at less than 3% to start so there was no visible improvement.  Gamma was a completely different story—see below.


Look at the huge difference in the before and after—yellow line is target.

If you look closely you can see the gamma barely floats right about 2.2 after the Duo has done its magic (vs. hovering around 1.95 before).  A visual comparison of the differences before and after showed a large improvement in black level and low level detail in the image when the overall image was dark.

An area where there is no fix without the proper controls is gamut luminance.  Ideally, the errors should be close to zero, but see below…

 
The colors on the left are pretty, but luminance is way off!

Here you can see quite a huge difference in the brightness of colors.  White is on the left and although red is only off by 5%, blue is off by more than 40%!  Green and cyan are nearly 25% off.  A simple adjustment on the Duo made this error virtually disappear.  Improvements were also needed for saturation and hue although some of the error was uncorrectable.  See below.


The Duo helped get both the primary and secondary colors closer to target

The graphs may be a bit hard to see but if you look close to the one on the left (or go back and read my InFocus review) you’ll see that yellow and cyan are way off, while green is shifted in hue and blue is under saturated while red is oversaturated.  Although blue is somewhat under saturated even after adjustment, all the secondary colors are now very close to correct, red is closer to target and green is now the correct hue.  A better way to see the amount of improvement is to look at a graph of the reduction in the amount of error.  See below.

Color error InFocus SP8602 and with Duo correction

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.  Red line indicates 10% error, yellow is 5% and green is target 3%.  As you can see, only blue is high at 4% while every other color is significantly improved.

The end result is simply that the Duo improved the picture performance on this particular display by offering adjustments and control that was not available from the display itself.

Operation and Video Testing

My first video tests involved testing the Auto AR (aspect ratio) function.  Widescreen enhanced movies worked without a hitch.  A 1.33:1 version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone formatted seamlessly.  The menu section actually filled the 1.78:1 screen and looked normal, but when the film began the shape was correct.  A non-enhanced widescreen copy of Capricorn One was not.  It was centered in the middle of the 1.78:1 screen with black bars on the side.  I went into the Input Aspect Ratio section and selected the Zoom function.  I was able to magnify the picture 1.333x which fit the screen perfectly without altering the aspect ratio.  For those who do not have a zoom function on their DVD player (and are playing non-enhanced discs) or videotapes(!) in a widescreen format this is a perfect solution.  When I changed back to a film that was 1.33:1 the zoom needed to be reduced to zero as the Duo chopped off the top and bottom of the image.

One of the earliest uses for the Duo in my setup was to watch a videotape of the movie Pharlap—an Australian film about the famous racehorse–that has not been released on DVD.  Since I only have HDMI and component video cables run to my projector (and flat screens), it was easy enough to use the Duo to process the composite video and send it out the projector.  I won’t go on and on about the great the video was, but it was definitely watchable.

I did some testing with the cadence patterns that are on the Spears and Munsil Calibration disc.  There was mild moiré on the 2.2.2.4 pattern.  Otherwise the unit performed without fault.

The Duo was in many ways a passive device—working behind the scenes without calling any attention to itself.  I watched a good amount of material and never had any issues.  When I took it out of the signal path the differences it made were most obvious.

Conclusion

At the simplest level the iScan Duo is a sophisticated video switcher with high quality upscaling and upconversion capabilities.  In other words, it can take any digital or analog video source and convert the signal to a high resolution digital picture.  It does this without any noticeable negative side effects and in many cases will improve the image.  There are adjustments for each source (which may not be available in the display).  In a more intermediate system it offers multiple audio outputs, DC triggers and lip-sync adjustment to compensate for improper audio and video alignment.

But its true value is for those who plan to make use of its full potential as a display calibration device.  With the ability to adjust gamma, gray scale and a full-functioning color management system the user (or calibrator) can take display performance to the next level.  In order to take advantage of these capabilities the Duo should be used with a meter and proper software.  If you don’t already have a meter and calibration software, then look for stores that offer package deals.

The iScan Duo is one of those products that seem like a luxury, but once you own it you can’t seem to understand how you lived without it.  Highly recommended!

– Brian Bloom    big_brian_b@hotmail.com




on this article to AUDIOPHILE AUDITION!

Email this page to a friend.   View a printer-friendly version of the article.


Copyright © Audiophile Audition   All rights Reserved