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Product Review - Alchemy VPG "Visual Reality Engine 1.0" Part 1 - August, 1996

By Stacey Spears

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Audio Alchemy

Audio Alchemy, Inc.
Alchemy Video Products Group
31133 Via Colinas, Suite # 111
Westlake Village, California 91356 USA
Phone (818)707-8504
Fax (818)707-2610
WWW: http://www.audio-alchemy.com
Literature: VRE 1.0 Product Overview
Input: 2 Composite, 1 S-Video
Output: 1 S-Video, 1 Multi-Pin Digital
Price: $799.00
Weight: 6 lb. Including Power Supply
Dimensions: 2" (H) x 8.5" (W) w/ face plate x 6.25" (D)
Serial Numbers: GA10017 (S.S.), GA10140 (J.K.)
Software Revisions: 207 D, 215

Introduction

I often wish that I had chosen electronic engineering as my major instead of computer science. I've got several ideas for products that could really improve the home theater experience. One of these products has just arrived from the creative team at Audio Alchemy. The Visual Reality Engine (VRE) v1.0, is a digital 2-D Adaptive Y/C Separation Filter designed to clean-up the video source. The composite output of your video source is fed to the input of the VRE, and the output of the VRE, now in the Y/C format (S-Video Plug), is fed into your TV.

With what video sources do I need to use the VRE? This is a good question that is not easily answered. Sources which would not benefit from the STOCK VRE include DSS, DVD, and S-VHS (depends on original source of recording). However, VHS, Laser Disc, Cable, and your Sega will! One of the biggest questions I have heard is, "What output on my LD player do I use, the Composite or S-Video?" Laser Discs are recorded in the composite format, that is, their Y/C information is mixed together. It is the job of either your TV or LD player to separate that signal. You should use the best one, and the only way to tell is to watch some video material and judge for yourself. In comes the VRE.

Up Close

The VRE has that same standard physical appearance as all Audio Alchemy products.  There are two buttons on the face, Input and Options. By pressing the Input button, you select between inputs 1,2, and 3. There is also an Auto Selection, which constantly moves through the inputs looking for an active source. The Option button toggles the installed add-on's either on or off. There is no ON/OFF button; the unit powers down into a sleep state when not in use for a given amount of time. There are 7 LED's on the front: Power, TBC Lock, Auto, Ghost, TBC, Edge, and Delay.

The Setup

For the review, I used the following equipment:

Hardware: a 45" Pioneer Elite PRO-77 rear projection w/ Chroma decoder mod - D6500 Calibrated, Proscan 27" w/ SVM (Scan Velocity Modulation) disconnected - D6500 Calibrated, 40" Mitsubishi (Friend), 25" Samsung(Friend) Monitors. | Pioneer Elite CLD-97/99, Proscan(Friend) Laser Disc players. | Monster Cable M1000V and M1000SV video cables. | Phillips PM5681 Wave Form Monitor(J.K.), Phillips PM5643 Test Signal Generator(J.K.) Test Equipment.

Software: A Video Standard, Video Essentials, and several other movie titles on Laser Disc.

In Action

WARNING!!! Video processed by the VRE will look EXTREMELY GOOD!

How did the VRE work in my setup? Terrific! Before the VRE, I had very little dot crawl, and after the VRE, there was virtually none. Cross-Color artifacts, however, were still visible. The performance of this device will depend on the quality of your current monitor and/or LD player's Y/C separator. I took the VRE to a friend's house, and the improvements were MUCH greater. Pat, my friend, owns both a Proscan and Pioneer Elite CLD-59 Laser Disc Player, a 40" Mitsubishi and 25" Samsung TV. On the Samsung, Dot Crawl was EVERYWHERE. I mean the FBI "Warning" logo that is displayed at the beginning of movies had hanging dots outlined all around the inside of the letters. When the VRE kicked in, ALL dots vanished! It was just like the demo that was shown at HiFi 96. The VRE outperformed both of his Laser Disc players and TV's Y/C separators.

My home setup was much harder to evaluate because both the CLD-97 and CLD-99 have excellent Y/C separators. One thing I noticed, when switching from the VRE to the S-Video out of the players, was the change in output level. The VRE image appeared to be darker. I will find out what is happening when we hook it up to a Wave Form Monitor.

On a particular "TEST PATTERN", the CLD-99 was able to outperform the VRE. The test pattern was chapter 15 of Video Essentials. This is the dreaded bouncing ball demo from frame 29938 to 30798. This is a Torture Test for any system! There are also two boxes located at the top of the screen, one labeled 300 and the other 400. With the CLD-99 these two boxes remained black and white. With virtually everything else, they had bad cross-color. They looked like little water falls of color. The Faroudja also eliminates the cross-color and uses a 2-D filter, but it does additional processing on the diagonal lines to eliminate the cross-color. According to the folks at Audio Alchemy, the TBC add-on & 3-D filter will deal with the diagonal lines and cross-color. With the actual bouncing ball, the CLD-99 displayed minimal cross-color, but when the ball would pause (become static) the cross-color would go away. Once the ball began moving, the cross-color would return. The reason the CLD-99 looked so good was because of its digital 3-D Motion Adaptive Y/C Separation Filter. But it only works in 3-D mode when the image is static. Once the image moves, it falls back to a 2-D filter. This is where the VRE gets the edge, since the VRE's 2-D is better than that of the CLD-99's.

A good example of how the 3-D fall back in 2-D can be found on, "My Cousin Vinny" chapter 5 from Time 14.35 to 14.49. In this scene you will see a chain link fence with cross-color artifacts. Because of the motion, the 3-D filter falls back to 2-D mode. This is an example of real world material, NOT a test pattern. Another good example can be found on chapter 3 of Goldfinger (Connery Collection box set). Look at the man in the pinstripe hat; here is cross-color all over! Again the filter in the CLD-99 constantly switches between 2-D and 3-D processing. The VRE performs extremely close to the CLD-99 in both of these situations! On A Video Standard, there is a sequence where most 2-D filters show dot crawl, including the CLD-97, but only the VRE and CLD-99 clean up/clear out the dots. Frame 18600 to 18760. This is the living room sequence with a blue triangle in the middle of the screen. The dots move around the triangle. This can be easily viewed by utilized the Memory A/B in a loop.

The final test was with the use of electronic test equipment. I took a trip to Joe Kane's place. He also had just received a VRE in the mail. We checked both units to see if there were any noticeable variations between the two units; there was not, other than the power supplies. We were also checking to see if the VRE was doing anything bad to the video signal, and again, it was not. To perform these tests, Joe fed the VRE both a composite and Y/C input signal from the PM5643 Test Signal Generator. The output of the VRE was fed to a Phillips PM5681 Wave Form Monitor. We switched back and forth between the composite and Y/C source, and saw that the VRE was doing an excellent job! We found only two concerns. The first is that AGC or Automatic Gain Control is being used. This was the cause of the level changes I noticed earlier. The second concern is what appears to be rolling of the high frequencies too soon, which could result in less detail (not all LD players are capable of going out that far; however the CLD-97 does). After leaving Joe's place, I called Audio Alchemy and left a message about the two concerns. By the time I arrived at home, I had a message waiting on my machine. Joe had talked to them and will be getting updated software. They said both concerns could be fixed.

Before I finished writing this review, I received the new software (3 days after the call). This is not an official release, but rather beta software with the requested changes. The have cut down the AGC when in standard mode. The AGC is needed for the Ghost Chip, so when the chip is inserted, the AGC is raised back to the original setting. The ghost chip is only to be used with broadcast TV, so this will not affect LDs. They have also extended the high freq. roll-off. These guys move quickly! Who says feedback to the companies has no effect? I will report when the official software update becomes available.

Conclusion

The VRE does not stop here. For this review, I utilized the stock VRE, but there are a series of add-ons that are scheduled to be released in the near future. I plan to cover them as they are released. These include: Ghost Cancellation plug-in chip, VRE Plus (TBC w/ Edge and Delay enhancement daughter board), digital 3-D Motion Adaptive Y/C Separation Filter plug-in chip, and VRE Pro (Line Doubler expansion chassis.)

For the present report, I put my emphasis on Laser Disc players because they are a major part of high-end home theater. I am truly impressed with the response from them about the concerns that were found. Here are some additional notes:

I will cover the effects on VCR's and Broadcast Television (with the ghost chip) in the coming future. I will also report on further findings as they arrive. The VRE has become a permanent fixture in my system. As with any product, you should test it in your system before you make a purchase. I am convinced that after you see what the VRE does in your system, you will want your own!

I would like to thank Joe Kane, President of the Imaging Science Foundation, for taking time out of his very busy schedule to meet with me and dissect the innards of the VRE.

Other Information on Video

The following sources contain invaluable information about Video, and are worth checking out.

Stacey Spears


Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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