I've been a long-time lurker here at AVS, and I can't tell you how much I've benefitted from reading the posts here. The persons who post here seem to be my kind of people - knowledgable, engaging, and often pretty funny. So, today, I wanted to try to return the favor by posting a few thoughts on the 4K upscaling capabilities of a few current receivers I've had the opportunity to test of late.
A little background: I'm a huge film buff, lately came into a little extra money and could not resist upgrading to Sony's XBR-65X900A, which I'd seen demoed several times here in NYC, and which I must tell you I absolutely love. I've had the display for only a few weeks, but so far, I couldn't be any happier with this purchase. The only real disadvantage to going 4K this early is that - unless you went with the $25K 84" Sony, which came with a server loaded with 4K content - there's not any native 4K content to be had.
So, for the first time in my life, the 'upscaling' capabilities of the gear I own has become very important to the overall performance, look, and feel of my system. I've read a lot of posts here and elsewhere speculating as to the performance of the chips included in certain receivers that are currently available - especially the chips used by Integra / Onkyo, Denon / Marantz, and Yamaha - but I haven't seen much in the way of posts from persons who've had the opportunity to test for themselves the 4K upscaling capabilities of these devices.
Well, as it turns out, over the past few weeks, I've had the chance to do some actual field testing of the chips included in these units. And since there hasn't been much posted here in the way of 'real world' observations about the 4K upscaling capabilities of the Qdeo, Analog Devices and HQV chips as yet, I wanted to chime in with some observations regarding the 4K upscaling performance of each of these chips, which are included in the Integra 70.4 (my current unit), the Denon 4520CI and Yamaha's RX-A3020, respectively.
Let's start with the Integra, which uses the Marvell Qdeo 4K upscaling processor and was the first unit I attached to the XBR-65X900A. Bottom line? This chip appears to perform exactly as it's supposed to, and with perfectly beautiful simplicity. Setup was a snap. I connected the receiver to the display via HDMI, fired up my system and set the Integra to upscale everything to 4K. And that was literally all I had to do.
From that point, the display began reporting a 3840x2160 signal from every source connected to it, and, in the case of certain native 1080p sources (for example, Blu Ray discs I own, have archived as MKV files, and which I stream via XBMC through a custom-built HTPC connected to the Integra), full-on *theatrical* 4K (4096x2160), which the display handles flawlessly.
What's more, to me, the 'visual' difference between the original source signals and their upscaled 4K counterparts was hardly 'subtle,' as some people have suggested it probably would be. Quite the contrary, I'd say there was a clear and obvious improvement over all source signals and their upscaled counterparts. SD signals were markedly better, for example, and while I wouldn't say the Qdeo handles those signals perfectly (I mean, you can't work with data that isn't there, so these images were a little 'soft' for my taste), these signals were still well-rendered and generally free from those annoying playback 'stutters' and other types of artifacting that are sometimes a side-effect of upscaling.
HD content, on the other hand - especially native 1080p/24 content - well, as far as I'm concerned, when upscaled to 4K via the Qdeo chip included in the Integra, those sources looked every bit as good for the size display I was using as any theatrical presentation I've ever seen short of IMAX. I'm hyper-critical, and I *really* looked for imperfections in the upscaled image generated by this chip - any sign of a pixel, an artifact, or any kind of playback stuttering or delay (all common upscaling issues) - but there was just nothing there, period. Every native 1080p/24 source I tested was just jaw-droopingly beautiful.
There's just one problem: as you probably already know, while the Integra 70.4 does a fantastic job with 4K upscaling, at present Onkyo / Integra units don't do 4K *passthrough.* And because I know I'm going to buy Sony's 4K media player the second it comes out this summer, I decided that it might be time to replace the Integra with a unit that does both 4K upscaling *and* 4K passthrough. After some research on AVS and elsewhere, I decided I'd give the Denon 4520ci a shot.
When it comes to 4K upscaling, the Denon's results were fine but far less exciting than I'd hoped they would be, and far less than I've come to expect from Denon, which has been one of my favorite brands over the years. In terms of setup, it only took about fifteen minutes trying to set the Denon to deliver a 4K signal (a process that took all of five seconds on the Integra) to show me how spoiled I'd been with the Integra's performance. In the end, it took a call to Denon technical support to learn that the Denon had not appropriately 'shaken hands' with my TV and wasn't outputting a 4K signal because it had incorrectly determined that it wasn't connected to a 4K display.
I resolved that problem and, after about an hour(?!?) of setup was able to get the Denon to upscale signals from certain sources - but only sources that were not themselves capable of outputting an upscaled 4K signal. Two more calls to tech support later, it turns out that the Denon 4520ci is capable of detecting which devices in your system are already capable of outputting a 4K signal (either natively or via upscaling) and will not upscale signals output from those devices. So to get everything upscaled through the Denon, you'll need to manually configure every device in your system that is capable of 4K upscaling to output a 4K signal, which the Denon will then simply pass through to the display.
Kind of defeats the purpose of 4K upscaling, doesn't it?
Anyway, this 'quirk' made configuration of the Denon a real pain. And then, even after configuration was complete, the quality of the upscaled, 4K images just wasn't nearly as good (or of the same consistent quality) from any source as was the case with the Integra. This is probably because instead of one chip doing all of the upscaling (and doing a good job of it), you have the Denon using its Analog Devices chip to upscale from sources that are not capable of upscaling / outputting a 4K signal on their own, with upscaling for all other sources handled by the chipsets included in those sources themselves.
The bigger issue with the Analog Devices chip included in the Denon is that it did a pretty bad job of upscaling SD signals to 4K. Essentially, any SD image that ran through the device exhibited severe 'stuttering.' While the audio played smoothly, the video itself looked like choppy SD video that was struggling to stay in sync with the audio. And this, despite having high-speed HDMI cables throughout my system (which shouldn't make that much of a difference anyway).
Add to this the fact that even a simple listening test tells you that the Denon's advertised output (150 watts/channel) is nowhere near its *actual* output, and I decided that the Denon was not for me. So, after a few days, that receiver went back, and I decided instead to try what I'd read here and elsewhere was a terrific receiver all-around: the Yamaha Aventage RX-A3020.
This turned out to be a very serious mistake, because, at least when it comes to 4K upscaling, the performance of the HQV chip included in the Yamaha RX-A3020 was just miserable.
On the setup front, the Yamaha had all of the issues of the Denon (the inability to complete or even maintain a correct 'hand-shake with the display, for example) and then some. These issues were made even *more* frustrating due to what I found to be Yamaha's absolutely counter-intuitive user interface. I mean, forget the fact that you have to punch a combination of keys hidden on the front panel just to perform simple functions like checking for a firmware update; it took almost five minutes just to locate the control that turned on the receiver's 4K upscaling, which is buried beneath about four layers of additional menu options. This process really shouldn't take more than a few seconds.
All the same, at least with the Denon, once the unit was set up, even though the quality of the 4K upscaling wasn't as good as the Integra, at least the upscaling / passthrough *usually* worked, and it worked well enough, at least with HD sources.
I just couldn't say the same of 4K upscaling via the HQV chip included in the Yamaha, which generated 4K images that in most cases were no better than and often were significantly worse than their non-upscaled counterparts. Specifically, the receiver itself and the upscaled images generated by the HQV chip in the Yamaha exhibited three serious issues:
1) The Yamaha could not maintain a proper handshake with the display. Not at all. This meant that every two or three times the display & receiver were powered up, I had to reset nearly all of the settings that it'd already taken me an hour to set the first time around. Maddening!
2) Remember the 'stuttering' issue I mentioned with the Analog Devices chip included with the Denon? Well, in the Denon, this issue was only apparent on upscaled SD sources. The HQV chip in the Yamaha exhibited the same issue with *both* SD *and* HD signals, with the exception of 1080p/24 signals, which it seemed to handle well enough, but still not as well as either the Denon or the Integra.
Case in point: 1080i signals output from my TiVo were upscaled to 3840x2160 by the Yamaha, but every time you changed the channel, the image on the new channel would start 'stuttering' as if trying to 'catch up' with the audio. The resolution was to 'pause' the TiVo, give the unit a moment or two to 'cache up,' and then hit 'play,' at which point the image would smooth out - most of the time. Change the channel again, and the issue immediately returned - and these same problems existed in every signal actually upscaled by the Yamaha itself (passthrough via the HTPC and other sources didn't seem to have this problem, but then, they were doing their own upscaling).
3) Virtually all upscaled images showed some degree of "shimmering." We're talking about everything from glowing halos surrounding every non-static element of an upscaled image to various graphic images generated by the HTPC that exhibited what I could only describe as 'instability.' I'm willing to bet that this was the result of a very high 'sharpness' setting applied automatically by the Yamaha to signals it's passing / processing, but by this point, I was so aggravated that I was unwilling to try to 'calibrate' this problem out of the system.
Now, really, shouldn't Yamaha's $2,000.00 flagship unit perform better than this when it comes to 4K? I think so, and that's why I also returned the Yamaha - and after less than a full day of testing. I just couldn't take it anymore!
So now, having actually 'field tested' the three major chips used for 4K upscaling using Sony's 65" 4K display, here's how I'd sum things up:
1) The Marvell Qdeo chip used by Onkyo / Integra is an excellent choice, does a great job all the way around, and provides an upscaled image that, in my opinion, rivals the appearance of 4K cinema.
2) The Analog Devices chip used by Denon (and I think Marantz) provides fine performance with HD signals, but the units themselves are not very 4K friendly, upscaling doesn't work as described (only selected signals are upscaled at all) and upscaled SD signals look pretty bad due to the 'stuttering' issue.
3) The HQV chip in the Yamaha just did a horrifically bad job when it came to 4K upscaling. Seriously, the 4K image generated by this chip isn't just horrible - it's so bad that I'd call it 'defective.' If you're looking to upgrade your receiver and you think there's a remote possibility that 4K upscaling will be important to you, I would not, under any circumstances, buy a receiver that upscales via the HQV chip, and in its present state, I would avoid the Yamaha like the plague.
In the end, I'd really like to have 4K passthrough capability, but given that there's virtually no native 4K content available to us at this time (and given that we've just learned that you'll have to connect the Sony 4K media player directly to a Sony 4K TV in order to get it to work at all - bad mistake on Sony's part, I think), I'm going to stick with the Integra (and Qdeo chip) until Onkyo / Integra produce a unit that does both upscaling and passthrough via this chip, at which time I'll upgrade.
Until then, having carefully tested all three of these chips in a configuration including Sony's 65" 4K display, it's my opinion the Qdeo chip found in the Onkyo/Integra receivers gives you the 4K-upscaled image that is closest to native 4K that I think you can find at any reasonable price point.
At present, this means I'll have to trade 4K passthrough in exchange for the Qdeo's excellent upscaling performance, but until we have native 4K source material, this seems to me like a small price to pay, especially given the performance gains of the Qdeo chip over both the Analog Devices and - especially - the HQV chip included in the Denon and Yamaha receivers, respectively.
I know that this post is a LOT longer than the norm, and I'll try to keep future posts much shorter. But the truth is that before buying either the Denon or the Yamaha, I searched all over AVS to see if I could find any information about the upscaling performance of these units. There were lots of reviews of / comments regarding the receivers themselves, but most folks didn't have a 4K display and so couldn't really evaluate how any of these chips actually performed in a 4K environment.
I hope the observations I've shared are helpful to at least some of you and at least save you the 'heavy lifting' I had to do as I worked to install, uninstall, and return two 40+ pound receivers. But if you have 4K display, and / or you have similar / difference experiences with these or other 4K upscaling / passthrough solutions, I'd love to hear about them. I'm always looking for ways to improve my system, and I'm especially interested to know if any of you with Denon / Marantz or Yamaha units *and* 4K displays experienced any of the issues I noted above.
Thanks for reading, hope this helps, and have a terrific day!
Edited by kptaylor1967 - 5/27/13 at 1:57pm