Secrets Home Theater and Audio Review - Vault

Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity - Thumbs Up Awards

When I calibrate a display I turn most image enhancement features off. Things like dynamic contrast, sharpness and noise reduction often result in more harm than good.

So I was skeptical when I saw the first DarbeeVision processor at CEDIA 2012. What I witnessed however was nothing short of breathtaking. When properly configured, the tiny Darblet processor added obvious image depth, increased perceived resolution, and did so without crushing detail or creating unwanted artifacts. What they’d done frankly astounded me. I bought one practically on the spot.

That original product offered great functionality but it came in a cheap-looking case with an even cheaper-feeling remote. I have long-wished this device came better-dressed. DarbeeVision has answered that call with an all-new product, the DVP-5000S.

DarbeeVision DVP-5000S Video Processor Top Front View

Highlights

DarbeeVision DVP-5000S Video Processor

  • Connects between source and display via HDMI
  • Improves image fidelity, detail and contrast
  • Supports 3D
  • Includes three modes each with 120 steps of adjustment
  • New chassis and remote steps up the quality factor
Introduction

In 2012 I met Paul Darbee at the CEDIA Expo as he showed off his brand-new video processing technology. At the time, it took the form of a tiny box called the Darblet. About the size of a smartphone and a little thicker, it connected via HDMI between a source and its display. With the tiny remote, he showed this journalist something pretty impressive. And I thought I had likely seen it all when it comes to image enhancement technology. Remember that this was before Ultra HD and HDR. 1080p was the pinnacle of video quality in 2012 for consumer displays.

DARBEEVISION VIDEO PROCESSOR REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
Type:

HDMI video processor

I/O:

1 x HDMI 1.4 in/out, IR

3D support:

Yes

Operating modes:

Hi Def, Gaming, Full Pop

Adjustment steps:

120

Dimensions:

.7" H x 4.5" W x 2.2" D

Weight:

<1lbs

Includes:

Processor, remote, multi-country power supply, HDMI cable, IR receiver cable

Warranty:

30 days refund, 1 year replacement

MSRP:

$249

Company:

DarbeeVision

SECRETS Tags:

DarbeeVision, DarbeeVision DVP-5000S, Video Processors, DarbeeVision Video Processors, Video Processors Reviews

At first I thought the picture looked artificial but as I played with the various settings I discovered that when configured properly, it added depth and detail that I didn’t realize was there. Make no mistake, the Darblet did not interpolate or create new elements. It simply enhanced existing material with a careful manipulation performed at the pixel level. Nothing is added or subtracted. Rather, it works to enhance only what’s contained in the original material.

Secrets Sponsor

The original Darblet had something of a cheap feel with its partially-transparent case and card-sized remote. But in operation, it was wonderful to behold and I purchased one as soon as I returned home from Indianapolis that year. DarbeeVision has finally answered requests from users for a unit with better build quality and an improved remote by introducing the DVP-5000S. But it’s not just the same circuit board with new clothes. It also includes version 2.0 of Darbee’s Visual Presence Technology. Let’s take a look.

Design

Physically, the DVP-5000S is about the same size as its predecessor, the Darblet. The similarity ends there however as the new box is a sleek black plastic with polished sides and a brushed texture on top. Underneath are rubber feet that will keep it from sliding around.

DarbeeVision DVP-5000S Video Processor HDMI Out

The HDMI ports are on opposite ends which tells me the most practical place to put it is behind your TV. The power cord is a bit short so you’ll have to place the processor within three feet of an outlet or strip. I was just able to put it on top of the Oppo Blu-ray player in my rack.

Secrets Sponsor

In the photo you can just see two of the three status LEDs. They are tiny but bright and easy to see from across the room, even in daylight. For those with dark spaces like me, the lights can be dimmed or turned off entirely using the setup menu. One LED indicates power, the second, signal presence and the third tells you when Darbee processing is active.

DarbeeVision DVP-5000S Video Processor HDMI Input

DarbeeVision DVP-5000S Remote Design

Flanking the HDMI input are jacks for the power supply, which ships with plugs for multiple countries, and an IR input. This is for the included cable which has a handy 360-degree receiver on one end along with a piece of double-stick tape. If you have to hide the DVP-5000S behind your rack, connect this cable and place the tiny stick-on receiver out front where it’s visible.

The remote is a huge improvement over what shipped with the Darblet. It isn’t backlit but in every other respect it’s perfect. At the top center is the Darbee on/off key. This makes it easy to switch back and forth between enhanced and non-enhanced images when dialing in the DVP-5000S. Arrayed around the menu navigator are the three modes, Full Pop, Hi Def and Gaming. At bottom are plus and minus keys to fine-tune the effect. You can set it for one or five-percent increments. The wand is small but powerful. I was able to bounce commands off a side wall to the equipment rack which sits behind me.

Setup

DarbeeVision DVP-5000S Video Processor Packaging

Connection only requires an additional HDMI cable which is provided in the box. You simply go out from the source, into the Darbee, then out to your display. Attach the power supply and you’re ready to go. If you’re placing the DVP-5000S behind a rack or television, use the included IR receiver. You can see from the photo that three additional power plugs are supported by the wall-wart unit. Users upgrading from the Darblet should use the new power supply; its output and DC connector are changed from the old unit.

Pressing Menu on the remote brings up a simple OSD.

DarbeeVision DVP-5000S Video Processor Menu

You can choose the operating mode with remote hotkeys or here in the main menu. HiDef is for good-quality broadcast, streamed and Blu-ray content. It offers the most subtle enhancement and even at 100-percent it won’t make the picture look too artificial. I settled on 45 for both Blu-ray and DVD material.

Gaming creates a little more pop and is not ideal for what one would watch in a home theater or media room. It tends to emphasize highlights a little more and makes the overall image a tad brighter. If you want the deepest blacks, go for Full Pop. DarbeeVision says this mode is for low-quality content but if you dial it down, it works OK for Blu-ray and broadcast too. Since I like my enhancements in moderation, I stayed with HiDef at 45-percent but I’ll show you how the other modes look in the In Use section below.

Clicking Settings takes you to another menu.

DarbeeVision DVP-5000S Video Processor Settings

Demo mode shows the image either split down the middle or with a moving split so you can see the difference between Darbee and not-Darbee. Logo Properties is important because by default, the Darbee status messages stay on the screen. Set this option to Not Persistent and they’ll go away after a few seconds.

LED Brightness will dim the status lights on the front of the DVP-5000S; or you can turn them off. Language offers five options for the OSD. If you get lost while tweaking, select Reset. And Go Back returns you to the main level. Advanced Settings brings up the screen shown below.

DarbeeVision DVP-5000S Video Processor Advance Settings

Fine Control means that adjustment steps change from five clicks to one. It’s handy when you want to be very precise. I found five-step resolution to work just fine. The full range goes from zero to 120 percent.

In Use

While I could write a voluminous description about the merits of the DVP-5000S, it is better to try and show you the effect using a few photos. I’ll have to offer one caveat though. Photos taken with a digital camera don’t quite do the product justice. You will see the difference as you scroll through the examples below but the ultimate proof has to be realized in person. To that end, DarbeeVision offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you don’t like what you see, you can return it for a refund. I find it difficult to imaging they’ll be getting many of these boxes back. I was hooked from the first moment and I think you will be too.

I chose three different content quality levels to illustrate the effects of no Darbee, HiDef 45% and Full Pop 45%. I also have pics showing 100% enhancement. We’ll start with Star Trek: Enterprise on DVD.

Star Trek: Enterprise - Enhancement

Here is the un-enhanced image. A decent DVD transfer for sure and one that would brook no complaint from most viewers.

Star Trek: Enterprise - Enhancement

At HiDef 45% you can see deeper shadows especially around the man’s hood and in the cover of the communicator. Also check out the greater detail in his quilted coat. Plus the highlight on his face looks more saturated.

Star Trek: Enterprise - Enhancement

Full Pop 45% does a nice job of deepening the image further without making it look over-processed. Now you can see even greater dynamic range yet no highlight or shadow details are crushed. Color is slightly more saturated as well. The only flaw to my eyes is the man’s face now looks a tad too red.

Now we’ll try the reference-level Blu-ray transfer of Deadpool. It has some of the best contrast I’ve ever seen.

Deadpool - Enhancement

As content quality increases, the effect becomes more subtle. But you can see a difference even in this near-perfect transfer. The un-enhanced picture looks pretty awesome. Check out the razor stubble on Ryan Reynolds face. You can almost count the hairs! And the shadow detail in his coat collar is equally impressive.

Deadpool Enhancement

Adding 45% HiDef just improves those details to where it looks like resolution has actually increased. Remember there is no interpolation going on here. Only pixel brightness is being altered.

Deadpool Enhancement

Again by keeping the Full Pop at a more-reasonable 45%, you get more depth without the effect calling attention to itself. This is a big change from the Darblet I’ve been using for the last three years. That unit’s Full Pop mode is so over-processed it’s practically unusable.

Here’s another series from Deadpool this time with examples showing the 100-percent settings.

Deadpool 100-percent Enhancement

This is the un-enhanced frame. Watch the reflections on the side of the truck and the windows in the building at the background. Also check out the red of Deadpool’s skinsuit.

Deadpool 45-percent Enhancement

On HiDef 45% we’re seeing a little more detail in the target areas and a little bonus red in our hero’s suit. Color hasn’t actually shifted, the effect comes from an increase in the super-fine texture of the fabric.

Deadpool 45-percent Full Pop Enhancement

Full Pop 45% increases that effect without going too far. At this point I’d say the setting is roughly equivalent to 80% HiDef.

Deadpool 100-percent HiDef Enhancement

100% HiDef is too much for me but some viewers may prefer the effect. There is still no crushing of detail but in my opinion the film look is starting to break down.

Deadpool 100-percent Full Pop Enhancement

Full Pop at 100% is way over the top unless perhaps you’re showing the movie in a brightly-lit room. There is lots of dynamic range but shadows look a bit blob-like with some details crushed. You can really see the issue in the apartment building windows. The shadows next to each pane are un-naturally large and ill-defined.

Finally, I wanted to see the DVP-5000S’s effect on an animated film. Content like this looks good on nearly any display or system.

Baby Brent Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs Enhancement

The un-altered image looks great with saturated color, terrific detail and lots of depth. No complaints here.

Baby Brent Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 45-percent HiDef Enhancement

HiDef 45% actually brightens the picture a little while retaining color saturation and increasing detail ever so slightly. Now it’s easier to see the subtle brick texture under the Bait and Tackle sign.

Baby Brent Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs Full Pop 45-percent Enhancement

Full Pop 45% takes detail up another notch but the image returns to its original brightness level. This kind of thing will vary according to content and that’s why it’s good to keep the remote handy. Some movies will look better in HiDef mode while others can benefit from Full Pop. It’s nice that the DVP-5000S maintains the same level setting between the different modes. My only wish is that I could create more presets.

Conclusions

DarbeeVision DVP-5000S Video Processor Top View

For $249 you Won’t Find a Better Way to Spruce Up the Image on Your 1080p TV or Projector Than THE DARBEEVISION DVP-5000S. In a Few Minutes You Can Increase Dynamic Range Without Having to Buy a New Display or Source Component.

Likes
  • Enhances image quality with no additional artifacts
  • Increases perceived sharpness and detail
  • Does not affect color accuracy or calibration
  • Great bang for the buck
Would Like To See
  • Additional mode and level presets
  • Ultra HD, HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 support

I often say that there’s no free lunch in AV. Every gain requires a sacrifice, even if it’s just a lot of cash. But the Darbee DVP-5000S is a major exception to that rule. Most televisions and projectors include a whole host of image enhancement features and many of them add junk to the picture as they do their thing. Dynamic contrast usually crushes detail. Color enhancements often create a cartoonish look. And options that claim to increase sharpness and detail do so at the expense of ugly edge enhancement and block artifacts.

Darbee is the first, and still one of the only technologies that truly enhances quality without any downsides. They’ve done this by concentrating only on the most important aspect of imaging science – contrast. Even the most color-accurate display won’t look good if it doesn’t present a large dynamic range. The industry recognizes this and has responded with HDR. And that’s a great new tech that promises to provide a real benefit.

But short of buying a lot of new gear and re-mastering tons of content. It is unlikely that most of us will be enjoying all our Blu-rays in HDR and Ultra HD any time soon. The DarbeeVision DVP-5000S represents a great way to add a true improvement to your system right now and at relatively little cost. The only flaw is lack of Ultra HD support. That is promised for an upcoming product release but for now, only users with 1080p displays can take advantage. Is this a big deal? Certainly not for me. While Ultra HD is inevitable, I’m in no hurry to upgrade.

At $249, the DVP-5000S is an inexpensive way to breathe some extra life into even the very best 1080p displays. It sure makes my Anthem LTX-500 projector look fantastic and as a result, I’ll be keeping the review unit. My old Darblet is currently on its way to the living room where it will enhance the picture of my Pioneer PRO-111FD plasma panel.

If you’re looking to add impact to your display, I highly recommend checking out the DarbeeVision DVP-5000S. Chances are you’ll wonder how you watched TV without it.

  • David Musoke

    Nice review …but how is it different from my older plastic-cased-Darblet that I use with my Oppo BD-105 player? BTW …the price is $199 on their website and not $249 as stated here.

  • Jerry Meeker

    You don’t have to sell me on Darbee Vision. I have been using the Darblet since it was first released and would never do without it. But why would I want to replace my current Darblet with the new model? Sure, it looks more polished, but my current Darblet is installed out of sight. You mention “It also includes version 2.0 of Darbee’s Visual Presence Technology”, but then you never describe what is new with version 2.0. It would be nice to know. One irritation of my current Darblet is that it is prone to resetting to defaults for no reason, requiring me to go into the menu to restore the desired settings. If the new model were more stable, that might be a reason to upgrade. And finally, we have been waiting for a support of UHD for several years. I have had a UHD display for two years, and the Darblet forces me to have two HDMI connections between the AVR and the display–one with the Darblet for 1080p sources, and one without the Darblet for 4K sources. Why Darbee Vision hasn’t released a 4K version is a major disappointment.

  • briala

    If this processing is such an improvement, why is it not applied at the source, by the studio? It’s certainly not because they can’t afford $249 to stick it in the production pipeline.

    I’ve heard many positive things but I fundamentally have a problem with each of millions of consumers being asked to apply signal processing at the individual device level when it could have been done once, by a professional, adding no cost, time, equipment or expertise overhead to the end user.

  • Chris Eberle

    A lot of post-production processing is added to films both when they are mastered for cinema and when transferred to Blu-ray. Sometimes the creators go too far and we see things like edge enhancement or crushed detail. In other instances so much digital cleanup is applied the image looks flat and artificial.

    The goal of a product like the DVP-5000S is to add processing that makes most images look uniformly better. Whether it does this is a matter of personal taste; just like the enhancements done during mastering. Darbee isn’t for everyone and some users are satisfied with their pictures unaltered. I however won’t watch without it. To each his own.

    -Chris Eberle-

  • ReturnoftheBrotha .

    I could not see much of a difference except when the picture got brighter. I saw no increase in sharpness and shadows did not do much either. Maybe it had to be in motion…