Last month, I wrote about Technicolor's "4K Image Certification" program, which is designed to identify and recognize products that excel at upscaling 1080p to near-native UHD quality. This is critical for the burgeoning UHD market, since there will be very little native-4K content available to consumers for quite some time. Yesterday, I got to see a demonstration of the first video-processing chip to receive the Technicolor certification, the VTV-1222 from Marseille Networks, and I have to say, I was very impressed.
The demo was held at Technicolor's Hollywood offices on the lot of the Sunset Gower Studios. Two Sony XBR-55X900A UHDTVs were set up side by side, calibrated to look and measure as close to identical as possible.
First up was a demo loop played from a high-powered Windows computer with two HDMI outputs, both of which were sending UHD to the TVs. The last part of the loop was a comparison of native 4K and upscaled 1080p. Native 4K footage of a cowboy silhouetted against the sunset had been downscaled to 1080p, then upscaled to UHD using the Marseille processor and encoded in H.264. The upscaled file was played on one screen while the unprocessed 4K footage (also encoded in H.264) was played on the other screen.
It was nearly impossible to tell which was which, at least from a normal viewing distance. When I got up close, I did see a bit of edge-enhancement ringing around the stalks of grass in the upscaled footage, which was not visible in the native 4K image. I wish they had used different footage—there wasn't all that much fine detail in the image as it was. Still, the end result was pretty impressive.
Next, we looked at the output from two Sony BDP-S790 Blu-ray players—one with its UHD upscaler enabled and connected directly to one of the TVs, and the other with its upscaler disabled and passing its 1080p signal through a Marseille processor on a circuit board (seen here) on its way to the other display. With copies of Baraka in each player and using one remote, jumping to specific chapters synchronized the playback quite effectively.
In each scene, it was immediately apparent that the Marseille processor was doing a better job—there was simply more detail in its image than in the image upscaled by the Sony player. For example, in this scene of the Muslim Hajj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in which the faithful walk around the Ka'aba counter-clockwise seven times), the individual people were much more distinct and well-defined in the Marseille image, and I saw no hint of ringing or other artifacts, even up close. I realize it's difficult if not impossible to see this in a small photo, but it was obvious on the screens.
Finally, we looked at an Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player with its two HDMI outputs, which can be set so that one of them outputs upscaled UHD and the other outputs 1080p. The purpose of this demo was to compare the Oppo's Marvell Qdeo upscaler and the Marseille chip processing the text of the player's user interface, which is generated at 1080p, unlike some other players that generate the UI at a lower resolution.
As you can clearly see in the composite photo above, the Oppo's internal scaler (on the left) leaves lots of jaggies in the letters, while the Marseille processor (on the right) smoothes out the letters much more effectively.
In addition to the demo, I learned a few things about the VTV-122x family of video processors, which includes the VTV-1221, 1222, and 1223; the only difference between them is in their I/O configuration. As illustrated in the diagram above, the chip accepts an HDMI 1.4b input, applies a variety of processing modules—including noise reduction, detail enhancement, edge correction (jaggie reduction), and color space and formatting as well as UHD upconversion—and outputs an HDMI 1.4b signal. The chip has its own CPU and requires no external memory, and it introduces no perceptible latency.
The incoming signal is analyzed on a per-pixel basis, and the strength of each processing module within the chip is adjusted accordingly in real time. This context-adaptive processing, which Marseille calls UVD (Ultra Visual Detail), allows each part of the image to be processed independently, rather than applying the same processing to the entire image equally. In addition, each processing module is highly programmable, allowing manufacturers to set the strength of each one as they wish, and to provide the end user with as much—or as little—control over each one as they see fit.
The first product to incorporate the Marseille chip is the BDX6400 Blu-ray/media player from Toshiba, which I plan to take a close look at as soon as I can. Meanwhile, I'm sure we'll see other Blu-ray players, media streamers, AV receivers, set-top boxes, and maybe even TVs with this chip and Technicolor's "4K Image Certified" logo at CES 2014, if not sooner. I, for one, can't wait!