Originally Posted by Selden Ball
Sony's BDP-S790 lists for about $250. It includes quite a few video adjustments that can be applied when upscaling SD video. People also like its streaming options.
My understanding is that you can't judge upscaling quality while watching any streaming video source. They often have to use substantial lossy compression in order to avoid hickups in the playback, and you can't predict how destructive those losses will be. In other words, you need to use one of the calibration discs, like Disney's WOW, in order to do a valid comparison among the various scalers in the video chain.
WOW is great, but my recollection is that the scaling tests are geared towards ensuring that HD images aren't being scaled via overscan and that sort of thing. I think all of the demo content on the Blu-ray version is HD (please correct me if I'm wrong), so DVD media with real content and/or local streaming content (without transcoding) are probably better sources to compare upscaling performance in a real world context.
The larger problem with using streaming services to compare is that there is no guarantee of a consistent result. The service will send you a lower bitrate file if there is any sort of network issue between the player and the server for one. Also, different players receive different encodes based on what is supported by the player manufacturer, so it's difficult to determine if any perceived quality differences are the result of upscaling or some other factor (though those results still may be worth consideration when deciding which player to use.)
Player settings should also be considered. As noted, some players offer setting such as sharpness and noise reduction which impact the perceived upscaling quality and the default setting doesn't always best reflect the player's capabilities. Having a player with more options improves the chance that you can achieve a result you find desirable.
So, yes, use a calibration disc to set up the system, but I think that a reasonably broad sampling of real world content should be compared as well to make an informed judgement.
Part of the challenge in trying to get information about upscaling performance online is that many people are willing to share opinions about upscaling performance, but less go through the rather tedious process needed to evaluate the performance in such a way that a meaningful comparison can be made. Beyond that its a rather subjective measurement. My advice is to take opinions without a lot of insight or detail with a grain of salt, pick a player mainly based on other factors, then buy one at a place that has a reasonable return policy and find out if it meets your needs.