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Scaling the Sea of HD

With all the hype surrounding high definition displays, 1080p and the future of television broadcasting becoming all digital, it’s surprising that more consumers don’t know the benefits of video scaling. Simply put, scaling in video means the reformatting of the picture through various algorithms, to occupy more or fewer scan lines than it did before without cropping of subject material. For digital video, scaling also refers to reformatting of the picture to occupy more or fewer pixels across each scan line, again without cropping the subject matter. All scaling in video requires converting of the video to digital form and then processing it, otherwise referred to as working in the digital domain.

Much like the line doublers and quadruplers of the 90’s that converted TV Video to computer video format for high-resolution LCD and DLP projectors, today’s video scalers have become essential home theater components for those who’ve invested in next-generation HD displays, especially 1080p. In fact, video scaling has become such an integral part of the home theater equation that many HD displays are being equipped with internal scaling engines. Despite this fact, there are still crystal-clear advantages to using an external video scaler.

A quality scaler is more than just an “up-converter,” designed to change resolutions from lower to higher. It is also a sophisticated video processor, with the ability to make adjustments for motion, conversion from film to video and changing aspect ratios while serving as a complete A/V hub and switcher. Whereas an internal video scaler may help with less visible flicker or horizontal lines; true, film-like quality cannot be achieved without a well-equipped external processor, i.e., DVDO’s iScan VP30.

Scaling in video is not a new concept and forms of it can be seen every time the TV is turned on. For fantasy sports obsessed fans, the ticker streaming up-to-date stats at the bottom of the screen is a result of video production scaling. The picture in picture (PIP) option that allows your child to watch The Wiggles while you struggle to see how your investments fared on the Dow is a scaled down video picture. Almost all DVD players include a simple scaler. Pop in a rented anamorphic DVD (enhanced for 16:9 and displayed on a 4:3 TV) and the player will optionally scale the 480 scan lines of picture to occupy 360 scan lines and add “black bars” 60 black lines on the top and bottom (something VP30 can also eliminate with no corrupting effects to the image).

A common trap many consumers fall into occurs when they purchase an HD or 1080p capable display and hook up all of their video sources. The assumption is that every DVD they own and all of their favorite TV shows will magically look better because of the shiny new plasma TV. Many consumers simply aren’t making the connection that you have to actually be watching the High-Def feed of a program or source in order to enjoy the HD benefits. They think that because their TV has a “High-Def” logo on it, everything is high def when in fact the opposite is true. Blowing up an NTSC image on a 50-inch plasma TV makes it look worse than it did on a 32-inch direct view TV.

For some consumers, it may seem like spending another $2,000 on a video processor when they’ve already purchased an HD TV is a bit excessive. But consider; if someone goes out and buys an $8,000, 1080p display, they would seemingly have enough bankroll to spend a couple thousand more to ensure all their legacy sources can be enjoyed in native. Likewise, someone who is shopping the high-end would be better suited to go with a less expensive 1080i display and invest the money saved on a video processor.

The misconceptions about 1080p and HD programming certainly make video scaling and processing more relevant as “early adopters” spend thousands on Full HD displays incapable of outputting their “golden resolution” because of inadequate source material. The newest video processors, can upscale to 1080p, de-interlace, downscale, route, and act as an A/V switching hub while offering advanced picture and aspect ratio controls. Find a display with an internal scaler that can accomplish all of these tasks and you’ve found the Holy Grail of high definition. It doesn’t exist and until it does, video processors are the fountain of youth for HD TV’s.

By: Josh Allen, DVDO iScan Product Manager

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