We have reviewed video scaler/processors in the past that cost between $1000 and $2000. We found that the improvement was quite noticeable on larger screens. But if you had a screen of 50 inches or less the improvement, although noticeable, was not worth the steep price tag. Today, we are taking a look at a scaler that costs $450 and can scale your video, convert your analog sources to digital, and act as a switch box for up to four video sources. We are talking about the Gefen Home Theater Scaler. Its a device that's slightly bigger than a Mac Mini.
Gefen Home Theater Scaler MSRP $450
Digital and analog inputs are format converted and scaled
Supports digital HD output up to 1080p
Dual 3-D motion video adaptive de-interlacers
Automatic 3:2 pull-down & 2:2 pull-down detection and recovery.
Option to select Audio input from HDMI or TOSlink/SPDIF audio source.
3D noise reduction on analog inputs only.
Digital Audio Delay to match audio/video timing
Less then one frame delay allowing for gaming
Connection is straight forward connect the video sources to the scaler and connect the HDMI output to the TV. The Home Theater Scaler comes with a remote control for the basic functions of selecting which input to use and what output resolution to scale to as well as basic GUI navigation (up, down, left, right). From out of the box to picture on the screen was less than ten minutes. The device is easy to use. More on that in a bit.
In objective and subjective tests we saw an improvement in picture quality. For the objective tests we used the HQV benchmark DVD and a 720p and 1080p TV. Note: These TVs are well calibrated so we did not use any of the adjustments of the Home Theater Scaler. In general we recommend calibrating the TV and leaving these type of devices in the default settings. But you may find an application where having control over the picture via the scaler is necessary. The Home Theater Scaler lets you adjust the typical settings of Contrast, Brightness, Hue, Saturation, and Sharpness. The scaler also has predefined settings of Vivid, Standard, and Picture settings. There is also a noise reduction setting that can only be used with the component settings. We found off was the best setting here.
The DVD player was setup to output a 480i signal over HDMI. The device passed the Color Bar and Vertical Detail tests with flying colors. It did a very good job with all the Jaggies tests. The Jaggies tests the scalers ability to deal with moving objects. For Detail Enhancement, Noise Reduction, and Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction the Home Theater Scaler did a good job with the test material. The only area where we had a concern was with the 3:2 detection. In the test scene a Moire pattern was visible. Our Oppo upconverting DVD player was able to handle the same scene with no issues. A Moire pattern is the display of an unintended pattern created by displaying several patterns on top of each other. The lasts two tests Mixed 3:2 film with text scroll and crawl were no problems for this device.
For the subjective tests we watched DVDs and Satellite TV. In each case the Home Theater Scaler did a good job with one exception. Upconverting 720p to 1080p showed some issues. When watching baseball on ESPN, the grass showed artifacts that looked similar to macro blocking. When the satellite box was set to the native resolution (without the scaler in the loop) and the TV upconverted the picture to 1080p the macro blocking was less pronounced. When the scaler was moved to the 720p TV for the same baseball game there was no macro blocking. For SD content (480i) off the DirecTV satellite box we saw an improvement over letting the cable box do the upconverting. Our movies played off our DVD player looked good as well.
Odds and Ends:
The menus are easy to navigate with the included remote control (there is no way to do anything with this device without the remote). You toggle between inputs. There is no direct access. Output resolution is the same way but for that you would set it once and pretty much forget it. There is a mode that allows you to set the overscan or underscan on the device. We were hoping that the underscan feature would help out on the Mac Mini. But it works similar to the PC feature of the TV. When underscan is activated there entire desktop of the computer is visible but there is a black border that surrounds the entire desktop. The only thing that is missing on the device are S-Video and RCA inputs for legacy VHS players. If you need S-Video or composite inputs the Home Theater Scaler+ will take care of those needs for $50 more. The component inputs only accept two channel analog audio while the digital inputs will accept digital coax or optical audio. The analog audio is digitized and then added to the video signal on the HDMI output. So you can't get Dolby Digital from a DVD player with analog video unless you run the audio directly to the receiver. The scaler can delay the audio to keep it in sync with the video in this case.
If you have a Set Top Box, DVD player and a game console but only one HDMI input on your TV, this product will allow you to watch all of them in 720p or 1080p with one cable going to the TV. At the top of the review we mentioned that the $2000 scalers were good investments for people with large screens. We still feel that way about this $450 device. Consider the Home Theater Scaler if you have screen 50 inches or greater.