Feature Article

The Value of Using an Outboard Video Processor with All Home Theater Video Displays

Part I

September, 2006

John E. Johnson, Jr.



Back in the old days of black & white TV (1950's), video processing was probably not even in the lexicon of television engineers. If it had been, it would have simply referred to analog adjustments of brightness and contrast. That's all there was at that time.

Even with color TV, not much changed. The amount of color (saturation) and its hue (tint - reddish or greenish) were added. Perhaps the term "Video Processing" was not even needed. Why complicate such a simple thing with fancy words?

OK, fast forward to the 1990's. We all purchased our nice little DVD players and were mouths agape at the wonderful picture. So, was "Video Processing" on your mind yet? Nope, not even then.

Well, it sure was on Yves Faroudja's mind. He was definitely a pioneer in the field of video processing, or in other words, going the extra mile in manipulating the video signal to deliver the best picture possible.

I remember seeing his "Line Doublers" at CES after CES, closing in on the turn of the century. They were really expensive ($25,000), but egad, what an image we saw on those big projection screens in the exhibitor's booth. They took the basic 480 interlaced NTSC signal and filled in between the interlaced lines to deliver a 480 progressive image. Then he figured out a way to add even more lines by interpolation, and came up with line quadrupling.

At the time, I thought, "Yeah, it's a very cool gadget, but who can afford one?"

Now, it's 2006. We have HDTVs all over the place. You probably have one yourself, but if not, you will soon, because that's all that will be on the store shelves in the next couple of years. HDTV programming is now plentiful, although I can't wait for The History Channel, AMC, CNN, and a few of my other favorite channels to go HD.

In watching your new HDTV, you still have brightness, contrast, color, and tint. The difference is that it is all done digitally now, and the reason Video Processing has entered the lexicon, is that the potential for the HD picture to be terrific is undermined by technical limitations of the displays, and the need to compress the signal so that 999 channels can fit into the cable TV or satellite programming.

This is why you might actually have been a little disappointed when viewing an HD program on display at the TV store, not to mention the possibility that somebody forgot to set the aspect ratio correctly.

The good news is that all new HDTVs have some sort of video processing built-in. They have to. They can't operate without it. So, it is there.

The bad news is that your brand new $5,000 HDTV probably does all the video processing on a $5 chipset. That doesn't mean it's bad video processing. It just means it isn't what it could be. The chassis is fine, the display panel is fine, the controls operate fine. But the video processing is not fine. That's just the way it is folks. The TV companies are in business to sell TVs. If everyone agreed to pay $1,000 more than they had planned for that new HDTV, the companies would be delighted to put in some superb video processing. But, consumers won't agree to do that. We all want that new TV for as cheap as we can get it. So, the video processing, because many of us are content with less than superb quality, suffers. The picture is "good enough", and they are selling TVs.

Fortunately, there are enough of us videophiles out there, that engineers in small companies have seen fit to build outboard video processors which will give us a much better image than with the stock processor in the TV.

And, even though they are not as expensive as before, yes, they still cost a chunk. That's because they are not mass produced, and they need their own chassis, power supply, and remote control commands. Even the Faroudja processors have come down in price - and they still are superb. You can get a Meridian/Faroudja three-panel 1080p projector and a processor for what used to be the cost of the processor alone.

Well then, how much better is the picture with one of these outboard processors, and what else will it do besides brightness, contrast, color, and tint? The answers are, "A whole lot better," and "A whole lot more," respectively.

Click Here to Go to Part II.

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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