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We investigate the Lumagen Vision DVI – an affordable video processor that could postpone that expensive display upgrade. Turns out, it’s not as bland as it looks.

Lumagen Vision DVI | $1999| | www.ambertech.com.au
For: Great performance; plenty of ‘tweaks’; rejuvenates old projectors
Against: Needs remote for setting up; no ‘bypass’ facility; tricky interface
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Despite its uninspiring appearance, the Lumagen Vision DVI is an intriguing box of tricks that effectively replaces the ‘front end’ of a display. It combines the functions of source selector, analogue -to-digital converter, signal processor/de-interlacer and scaler (the circuitry, built into displays, that ‘scales’ the source up or down to match the native resolution of the screen). If the video inputs of your display are lacking in quantity and/or quality, then this product could redress the balance.

Digital and analogue sources alike are catered for – alongside the two DVI inputs of the busy rear panel are two component inputs, two composite video inputs and two S-video inputs. Note that the component and DVI inputs will accept both progressive and interlaced signals. The composite inputs may be of value if you’re still using a VCR – whether to play back those old tapes or receive analogue TV. They will also benefit those with laserdisc loyalties. Sensibly, the Vision DVI will also accept RGB Scart sources. Only recent projectors are capable of accepting such sources directly. Each requires a special Scart-to-four-phono cable that hooks up to one of the component inputs and one of the composite video inputs. It’s also possible to upgrade the unit to accept a SDI (serial digital interface) input – useful for the few with modified digital set-top boxes and DVD players.

The Vision DVI is a fully HD Ready device – and will accept 720p and 1080i sources as well as the usual standard-definition alternatives. The output to your display device can be either DVI or – thanks to a digital-to-analogue converter – analogue component, RGsB or VGA/RGB-HV (Lumagen recommends the latter if DVI is not available). In its standard form, the analogue output is present on the same connector as the digital one – that DVI jack is a ‘I’ type. The analogue output will appeal primarily to those who are still using three-tube projectors – even with today’s wide choice of ‘hassle-free’ DLP and LCD models, there are some who prefer the excellent pictures the older-tech variety can offer if maintained regularly.

A device like this will ‘upgrade’ these old-timers for the high-def age, provided they support the higher computer resolutions (1024 x 768 or greater). Most ‘serious’ three-tube projectors will need a DVI-I cable that’s terminated in BNC plugs for R, G, B, vertical sync and horizontal sync. HDCP support is also incorporated. If the Vision DVI detects that the selected input (digital or analogue) is a copy-protected one, then HDCP will be activated on the output. This, of course, means that your display also needs to support HDCP. Unfortunately, the analogue output is switched off altogether if the input is copy-protected. Consequently, you won’t get the best from an older non-HDCP display if, for example, you’re using a DVD player with a digital output. The solution here is to opt for a player and scaler with SDI connectivity – which effectively ‘bypasses’ copy protection -or one with the ability to turn off HDCP (typically through a handset hack).

The technology that makes the Vision DVI tick is interesting. De-interlacing is handled by the familiar Silicon Image SiL504, although Lumagen relies on proprietary techniques for scaling. Further components process standard and high-definition analogue video inputs, switch signals and provide the HDCP-compliant DVI interfaces. A TI chip, meanwhile, converts the digital signal into the analogue form needed by some displays. To accept the optional SDI upgrade, there’s a series of vacant header positions on the circuit board.

The ARM 7-powered Atmel microcontroller that runs the entire shooting-match incorporates flash memory – thanks to this, the Vision DVI can be upgraded with new firmware.

In use

Setting up the Vision DVI could be easier. The remote is essential because there are no front-panel controls (although it can be controlled from a computer via the rear-panel serial port). It’s driven by onscreen menus, which are abbreviated and thus less than friendly.

The good news is that just about every visual tweak imaginable is available. There are no fewer than eight user-definable output ‘banks’ – independent settings for each include vertical/horizontal resolution, refresh-rate, level and signal type. Outputs of up to 800p (plus 1080i) are supported, although an ‘enhanced’ model (the HDP) is capable of going up to 1080p. If your display can support it, a 48Hz refresh rate will give you the best results from 60Hz-derived film (i.e. 24fps) material, like imported NTSC (Region 1) DVDs and downloaded HDTV transport streams.

Then there are the inputs, each of which benefit from four independent configuration memories. Adjustments here include size (under/overscan), black level (brightness), white level (contrast), sharpness, aspect ratio, correction for luminance/chrominance mis-registration, colour saturation and compensation for the chroma upsampling error (CUE) that affected some older DVD players. The manual explains how the AVIA Guide to Home Theater DVD can be used to configure these settings. Gamma and white-point settings are also available, but these should only be used by ISF qualified technicians. In all, pretty flexible stuff that gives you far more control over the picture than the display alone.

Performance

So what kind of results can the Vision DVI give you? We first tried it with a SIM2 C3X Lite DLP projector via the processor’s DVI output, configured to 1280 x 720p. Here, the scaler’s improvement was rather subtle – but this new three-chip DLP projector is an expensive item optimized for serious home-cinema use. Set up with a 48Hz output preset, we noted fewer deinterlacing (motion-judder and ‘combing’) artifacts from 60Hz HD movies derived from a D-Theater deck than feeding the projector directly from the component output of my DVD player. A similar improvement was noted from movies on NTSC DVD. With PAL material, though, there was little to choose between the two.

We then hooked up the Vision DVI (again via 720p DVI) to a more modestly-priced HD-ready projector – a Hitachi PJ-TX100, which, admittedly, sells for not much more than what you’ll pay for the Lumagen. A comparison with a direct source-to-projector connection revealed that the Lumagen yielded more shadow detail, better reproduction of saturated colours and more lifelike flesh tones. And that was just from PAL-derived 50Hz material; with 60Hz movie DVDs and HD movies, the difference in reproduction was even more marked. But judging the scaler’s benefits was made more difficult than it could have been. Because there’s no lossless ‘bypass’ facility, a lot of cable-swapping was involved…

Conclusion

The kind of specialist dealer able to supply a product like this should be in a position to arrange a home demo with your display and sources. Insist on it. Only then will you be in a position to judge for yourself whether the Vision DVI’s benefits are worth the asking price – which is likely to be much less than the cost of a new display.


 

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