- Written by Ofer Laor
- Published on 05 August 2008
Although all HDTVs (flat panels and projectors) have a video processor built-in, they are often not high quality. In these circumstances, purchasing an outboard processor can fix some of the problems. A few years ago, and after a lot of reading, I ended up with the first generation of Lumagen processors. That was my third video processor and by far the most influential on my understanding of how video processing should be done correctly.
What set the Lumagen processors apart was their dedication to excellence – continually evolving the product until it reached 150% of its original specification list.
The company continually updates their products, months even years after production, requiring you to simply own a computer and an RS232 cable and, of course, the hunger to have one more killer feature.
The problem was, with every iteration, the products continually got more complex. Lumagen released the Radiance XD product quite a while ago to beta testers, but I had opted to wait with a review until it reached a certain level of maturity. Whereas others wait to release the product until a large number of features are available, Lumagen had sensed that many of its customers like to experiment and so they have set up a rather unique beta testing system: they release the final hardware and let anyone who wants it to buy the beta product and add their input to the work towards the final product.
This serves both parties well, Lumagen gets a steady stream of customer requests and bug lists, and users get to have a great product long before it officially enters the marketplace.
The idea behind Radiance XD was to separate the parts that make up the unit into several upgradeable boards. Whereas most parts in a processor stay the same (e.g., the scaling, GUI, most of the inputs), some parts need to be upgradeable in order to compete in this fast-paced market. The Radiance can be taken apart and rebuilt based on different specs. You can switch to HDMI 1.3 by replacing the HDMI board, for example. You can switch to another deinterlacing board, etc.
- Design: Outboard Digital HD Video Processor
- Inputs: 18 Video, 18 Audio inputs
- Outputs: 2 Video, 2 Coax Audio
- Output Resolution: 480p, 1080i, 1080p
- 10 bit processing, No Ring Scaling, Per-pixel De-interlacing
- Primary and Secondary Gamut Correction
- Adaptive Diagonal Filtering
- MPEG Mosquito, Block Artifact Reduction, Temporal Noise Reduction
- 2:2,3:2,3:3 Pulldown for SD/HD Film Sources
- Dimensions: 2" H x 14" W x 10" D
- Weight: 6 Pounds
- MSRP: $4,495 USA
The original Radiance was based on an HQV (Silicon Optix) processor, but when the HQV based processors were having long delays and problems, Lumagen quickly switched to a Gennum VXP processor. At first I was personally worried as HQV appeared to be the front runner in the deinterlacing race for the second half of this decade. However, after testing the VXP capabilities I can clearly say that it surpasses the HQV processor in picture quality (but not by much…).
Lumagen does not use the VXP system for everything, as other processors do. Lumagen’s long lived and hailed scaling algorithm has survived the last decade and continually evolved through Lumagen’s various product groups into the Radiance XD. This algorithm is the best scaling algorithm I have seen to date. It has the ability to scale 480i to 1080P with virtually no ringing, an artifact that has become prevalent in today’s processor world.
With displays growing in size and resolution, the coupling of a strong deinterlacer like the Gennum VXP algorithm, with a strong scaling algorithm produces fantastic results.
The Radiance XD works very well in very harsh deinterlacing conditions. My tried & true torture test DVD consists of very difficult to deinterlace sequences, mostly PAL 2:2 and mixed video/2:2 content that is extremely difficult to process both sharply and without combing or other artifacts. The Radiance passes the test to perfection, dropping to video only when necessary and not a second longer. Whereas HQV processors had combed a few times during my testing, the Radiance XD produces perfect scores.
The Radiance XD consists of an endless number of inputs. One of the capabilities of the previous generation of Lumagen products was the ability to configure inputs to behave as different signal types, at the expense of unified standard connections (BNC) for all inputs. However, this had caused some end users to stay away as this required purchasing custom cables (e.g., for SVIDEO), converters and was deemed too professional for the typical end users’ needs.
The back of the Radiance XD is a significant change from previous generation products, using standard RCA and SVIDEO inputs. With 6 HDMI inputs, one must have quite a few devices to hope to use up all of these inputs…
The unit holds two HDMI outputs, which can act as copies of one another – serving two display devices like a flat screen display and a projector (both must have the same resolution, though, and there are no “zones”, so both displays will show the same image). The alternative is to connect the second HDMI output to an AVR for audio processing.
It also supports a large number of analog and digital audio inputs, which can essentially be mapped as one would like (assigned to one or more inputs).
The front is also a step forward for the company. No longer a black box with an etched logo, the Radience XD has a nice grayish and modern design. I would hope that Lumagen adds an LCD (even a color one) to future versions, which would make this an object of envy by practically anyone with eyes on their heads… I understand that a black anodized version of the front panel is also available for purchase directly from Lumagen (Kudos!).
The remote has remained virtually the same since the last Lumagen HDQ/HDP/HDP-Pro line, and it is very simple and convenient. I do miss direct access to some standard output resolutions, which can be useful during initial setup.
The GUI has been completely overhauled from the previous generation and uses a more PC-like but easily learnable drilldown menu structure.
Output resolutions are still fairly fixed and although 99% of the users will likely find their needs (most products produced now use a standard 1080P resolution, thank goodness…), I had found it impossible to define an XGA at 50 Hz resolution, useful for driving one of my displays at native resolution. Each output can have a list of output configurations, which can later be assigned per memory or per signal type.
That means that I can assign the processor to upscale 480p to 1080p, but leave 720P untouched, for example. This type of configuration is a boon for integrators, but can be intimidating to simple end users. As Lumagen mostly targets the integrator and prosumer markets, I do believe that it will be easy to learn & use by those markets.
Each input can be calibrated in endless ways, including aspect ratio, cropping, NLS properties, contrast, brightness, etc.
As the combinations of features are virtually endless, I will pick a few interesting ones and focus on them.
Take NLS for example. For those of us forced to watch some 4:3 content on their 16:9 HDTV, if the display does not support this capability or supports it badly, you are forced to either wear fisheye glasses to correct this disturbing artifact or simply suffer in silence. Speaking for myself, I get seasick by badly implemented NLS algorithms – however, I am often forced to use them as plasmas, my weapons of choice, tend to produce burn-in effects if 4:3 content is played out endlessly on them. Lumagen lets me create my own tolerable NLS algorithm by simply letting me determine the area that will get the NLS treatment, decide how much cropping, scaling and deformation I will have. Nothing else compares to this type of flexibility.
My favorite features of the Radiance XD are the contrast stretching capabilities which basically replace the equivalent algorithms often found in many displays. These work virtually the same, but can completely replace those on your display or complement them. The end result is a more defined image with virtually no added artifacts.
The mosquito noise reduction is less prominent than those found in dedicated MNR/BAR eliminating products (e.g., the long missed Algolith mosquito products). However, Lumagen has a killer one-two punch combination by combining the VXP’s mosquito reduction algorithm with their own scaling algorithm, which not only eliminates ringing, but also reduces mosquito noise. This is good news for anyone with an LCD display who has been suffering these artifacts in silence…
Overall, the menu structure can be confusing, but again – it is not intended for end users or consumers, but more for professionals, experts and integrators. The built-in help system really does work wonders here and most users will actually use a dedicated control system (e.g., AMX, Crestron) or smart macro driven remotes with the unit (e.g., Pronto, Harmony, Nuvo). Virtually every aspect can be controlled and routed as needed, which I particularly like.
When the unit was originally designed, hardware support for HDMI 1.3 was still not there, and so the company is planning to offer both upgrades to a stronger HDMI 1.3 unit, or allow replacement of boards in the future, to bring everything to date.
So, how does the Radiance XD fare in Picture Quality tests? I found the image quality to be superb. The most amazing effect comes from SD content that needs to be upscaled to large high resolution displays. Watching even high bitrate DVDs can be a pain on some of the latest generation displays due to the needed upscaling, which often leaves you with an artifact ridden soft image.
The latest generation of Pioneer Elite Kuro plasmas, for example, are killer displays but suffer from combing with tough contents. The Radiance virtually does away combing and improves the overall sharpness of the image drastically.
On HD content, I do not see many issues today with deinterlacing (at least not with 3:2 content), but with 2:2 content or bit-starved content, the focus starts shifting more and more towards block and mosquito noise removal.
Another strong capability that Lumagen had been a pioneer of is the ability to fix display calibration issues by using the processor. Whereas most displays offer one or two correction points across the entire IRE, the Radiance XD can correct problems even in small windows where the color temperature calibration is off. This has been a unique capability in previous Lumagen products and still remains rare, existing in only 1 or 2 products outside the Lumagen product range. Test patterns have been dramatically improved since the previous generations of Lumagen products. One test pattern I was missing was a judder test pattern.
The feature I would hope to see with the HDMI 1.3 version of the Lumagen Radiance is the addition of HDMI CEC support for switching inputs which could allow transparent integration with displays supporting this new capability.
The Radiance XD is priced quite high for many users, compared with some other processors in the same feature range. I would have also liked to have seen a simpler menu system option and direct SDI/HD-SDI support. Some users may not like to upgrade their HT equipment as often, so should only upgrade after major changes have been made.
If I include all the calibration and processing capabilities, the Lumagen Radiance delivers the best picture quality I have seen so far in an outboard video processor. It is extremely flexible and versatile and is continually being upgraded, bringing new capabilities that weren’t always thought of when the unit was first dreamed up – true to the historical legacy of Lumagen.