GV - April 1999

Seeing Double Can Be a Good Thing
By Sheldon Liebman

We recently wrote about the changes taking place in the scan converter market due to the switch from video- to computer-based systems. At the same time, presentation technology has been shifting from traditional video displays to high-resolution computer monitors and projectors. The result of this shift is that while demand for scan converters is down, demand for line doublers, line quadruplers and video scalers is definitely up.

By utilizing this type of technology, interlaced source material is displayed in non-interlaced formats. The biggest benefit to this is that flicker is eliminated and the images are easier to watch. Through the use of filtering techniques, not only is the actual resolution increased through this process, but there is a sense that more information and detail is being displayed. Given a choice, virtually everyone agrees that the output looks "better" after being converted to a progressive scan format.

Another factor driving this market is the shift to DTV. Since there is no single DTV resolution, demand is increasing for devices that are capable of supporting multiple resolutions within the DTV standard. Unfortunately, the traditional resolutions of VGA, SVGA, XGA and SXGA don't correspond exactly to 480P, 720P, 1080I or the other formats that are part of DTV. This means that the older generation of line doublers and quadruplers can't address the needs of the DTV market directly.

The solution to this problem lies in the second generation of up-conversion devices known as video scalers. With a line doubler or line quadrupler, the output resolution is typically fixed at a multiple of the input resolution. With a video scaler, virtually any output resolution can be "dialed in" and displayed.

This makes it easy to feed a display device the exact resolution that it needs to operate effectively. For example, if you have a projector that runs at 800x600 resolution and you have a standard line doubler, the 640x480 output of that device needs to be scaled again to the 800x600 resolution the projector needs. With a traditional doubler, the projector does the final part of the work. With a scaler, the proper resolution can be created in a single step and directly fed into the projector.

Moving to the DTV world, a device that wants a 720P source can't get that from a standard line doubler, where the resolution is too low, or a standard line quadrupler, where the resolution is too high. A scaler, however, can be programmed to provide the right type of signal.

Most of the companies that supply scan converters also provide one or more products that fit into the category of doublers, quadruplers and scalers. Below is a representative sample of these companies and their products. However, we already know that the information in this article will be out of date quickly - many of these companies are working hard on new products that will be introduced at the InfoCOMM show in June. If you plan to attend that show, be sure to visit these companies. Whether or not you attend, be sure to read our show coverage for a look at the new technology that will be introduced.

Analog Way
Analog Way is a French company that began selling directly in the United States earlier this year. Before then, they supplied scan conversion products to a large U.S. company. As that company developed its own products, Analog Way decided to serve our market directly.

The company currently offers at least four products that fit this category. The Twin Vision I is a traditional line doubler that accepts composite or component video and outputs the line doubled signal through a standard 15-pin VGA connector. Priced at only $745, it is the least expensive product on our list. The company's Twin Vision II adds a loop-through computer input, allowing the user to switch between a standard computer source and the line doubled video output. It is priced at $1495.

The company also offers two products in the scaler category. The first is called the Trans Scaler. Priced at $1395, if can be used to output VGA, SVGA or XGA signals. Programmable resolution is not available from this product, but the company promises that the next generation will support both computer and DTV formats. The second scaler is called the Smart Cut and combines the scaler with a loop-through computer input for $2295. Like the Twin Vision II, the Smart Cut can be used to switch between the two sources. However, it also locks the signals together so that the transition is totally seamless.

Communications Specialties
At NAB 1998, Communications Specialties introduced the Deuce, a video scaler supporting a wide variety of computer, plasma and projector displays at the exact resolution and frequency they require. It also supports both 4:3 and 16:9 formats with easy conversion between the two. In this way, a letterboxed video signal can be expanded correctly to fill the display of a device like the plasma display panel from Fujitsu.

The Deuce is priced at $2195 and supports resolutions up to 1280x1024 for compatibility with SXGA display devices. It also supports multiple refresh rates in many of the output formats and utilizes unique filtering technology that provides an advantage over other units, according to the company.

Extron Electronics
Extron offers two flavors of its line doubler and quadrupler products. The standalone products are the LANCIAxi line doubler and the SENTOSAxi line quadrupler. Priced at $2495 and $5995, respectively, these products were introduced last year and have been upgraded since their initial release.

The company also offers products that combine line doubling or quadrupling with an internal 4-input switcher and universal projector controls. The SYSTEM4LDxi (line doubler) and SYSTEM4LQxi (line quadrupler) are priced at $4295 and $9995. For additional flexibility, both systems are also compatible with balanced or unbalanced stereo audio on all four inputs.

Later this year, Extron plans to introduce at least one scaler that is targeted at the videoconferencing market.

Faroudja Laboratories
Faroudja is definitely targeted at the high end of the market. Their products utilize patented, proprietary filtering techniques to reduce artifacts and compensate for motion in the source material.

Of all the companies we spoke with, Faroudja is the only one that actually markets a line "tripler" in addition to a doubler and quadrupler. Their products are the VP251, a line doubler priced at $7500, the VP301, a line tripler priced at $15000 and the VP401, a line quadrupler priced at $24000. All of the products will be on display at NAB.

Focus Enhancements
If the name Focus Enhancements seems new to you, that's because they played only in the consumer side of the market until the middle of last year. That's when they moved into the broadcast and professional markets by purchasing PC Video Conversion and their full line of scan conversion products.

The product formerly known as DoubleScan has been re-branded under the Focus name and is still available for $1695. The QuadScan line quadrupler is being reconfigured and reborn as a second generation product and should be demonstrated at InfoCOMM.

Folsom Research
In February, Folsom announced a new product called the VFC2200 that incorporates two independent scan conversion products into a single box. As a result, it can accept any two video sources as input and convert them to the same output format. The output can be up to 1280x1024 non-interlaced and 1080I output is also supported. In addition, the outputs are locked together to allow dissolve, fade and clean switching capability.

The biggest advantage of this product, says Folsom, is that users of high-resolution projection systems no longer need to down-convert their sources for routing. Priced at $27900, the product allows you to specify exactly the resolution and refresh rate you desire, while providing presets for popular formats.

If the conversion of a single input is all that's needed, Folsom has announced two more versions of the product called the VFC2100 and the VFC2050. The VFC2100 is priced at $18900 and includes the ability to rotate and mix the video output. The VFC2050, priced at $11900, does not include the rotation and mixing features.

RGB Spectrum
Another product that includes standard output modes as well as the ability to dial in whatever resolution you need is the VLI200 Variable Line Interpolator from RGB Spectrum. With a list price of $13495, this product can be locked to perform as a standard line doubler, tripler or quadrupler and includes memory presets for other popular formats. In addition, it offers a free running mode that allows users to program the unit to provide exactly the output format required by a device like a high resolution projector.

RGB also offers the SynchroMaster400, which adds a computer input and locks the video source to that input. Like some of the other products mentioned here, locking the two sources together allows the unit to seamlessly cut or dissolve between them. The SynchroMaster400 is priced at $15995.

Snell & Wilcox
When we first spoke with Snell & Wilcox, the company didn't think it should be included in this round-up because they "only" did interpolation instead of traditional line doubling or quadrupling. However, their HD5050 High Definition Upconverter definitely qualifies. Priced at $70000, this high-end scaling product accepts 10-bit serial digital inputs at standard definition and delivers full 10-bit studio quality HD serial digital outputs.

The HD output of the HD5050 can be either 1080I or 720P at 60, 30 or 24 frames per second. Additionally, the product supports both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios with the ability to convert between them.

One of the keys to the success of the HD5050 is that the incoming signal is already in digital form. Normally, the unit is coupled with two other Snell & Wilcox products to pre-process analog video sources. The company's CPP100 "Prefix" pre-processor provides noise reduction on the original signal and the MDD 2000 "Golden Gate" decoder converts a composite signal into component form.

The Ultimate Goal - Universal Translation
As this technology continues to develop, the ultimate goal would seem to be a device that can accept any type of interlaced or non-interlaced signal as input and create any type of interlaced or non-interlaced signal as output. At least two companies we spoke with are already offering some of this capability.

Faroudja expects to introduce their new Video Format Translator, or VFT, at this month's NAB show. According to the company, this device will accept any video format as input and provide any DTV format as output. Not all input and output formats are supported in the "basic" unit, but the product is customizable to insure that it supports the formats you need for your application. Pricing is expected to start at around $50,000 and top out at under $100,000.

The VAS Group introduced another approach to this problem a few months ago with their XBox Modular Video System. The XBox provide both up-conversion and down-conversion in a single unit depending on the input and output modules that are purchased. Currently, these modules are available to support 1080I, 720P and/or SDI formats. If all the input and output modules are purchased, the price of the product is approximately $135,000.

Although there has been some talk about broadcasting in 480P, most of the broadcast companies who have announced their plans are supporting either 720P or 1080I as their high resolution format. With a fully configured XBox, a station could broadcast the exact same content over two channels. When the source is standard resolution, it could be passed through to the regular channel and up-converted for the high res station. If the source is high definition, it could be passed through to that channel and down-converted for broadcast over the traditional airways.

This capability is the "Holy Grail" of broadcasting and conversion, at least as it is currently defined. It looks like The VAS Group is the first company to bring this type of product to market, but Faroudja is close on their heels. It will be interesting to see how things develop. Wherever they go, you can count on us to take you there.

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