Lumagen Radiance Series and DVDO iScan Duo High-Definition Video Processors But, Then Again...
While I can’t argue the capabilities or performance of these or any other standalone video processors, it’s worth noting that a purchase like this should be well considered and the potential benefits weighed against the costs. In my experience, the video-calibration adjustments now offered on many displays, particularly the flat panels I test regularly, are adequate to dial the set in to the point where further improvements might not be visibly significant. LG and Samsung even have 10-step grayscale adjustments on many of their HDTVs. Sophisticated products such as the Lumagen and DVDO discussed here are really best applied to video projection setups. There’s no doubt that they offer unequalled capabilities, but you need to ensure that these capabilities will make sense relative to the display they will be used with.
I’ve personally tried a DVDO iScan Duo on my long-in-the-tooth JVC RS-1 projector, which lacks the color management and high- and low-grayscale control now offered on newer projectors from JVC and other vendors. It worked great dialing in that RS-1, although at a small sacrifice in brightness—a limitation of the projector, not the iScan.
When it comes to color management systems to correct the color gamut, some experts argue that the best CMS is no CMS. That is, if you can tell the projector the location of the red, green, blue, and white points, and the display’s internal lookup tables are correct for deriving all other colors in the color gamut from these four data points, anything else is superfluous and likely to produce a worse result. Of course, those lookup tables are not always correct—in fact, they are frequently wrong. Whether an external color-management system can completely correct for these errors is another matter, and a subject for another time. But we have occasionally seen displays that, to experienced eyes, looked wrong even when the measurements indicated that they had been calibrated to a correct grayscale and color gamut.
Using an outboard video processor is a job either for the sophisticated user who also owns a colorimeter or a qualified calibrator with the right tools and enough experience with your given processor to get the job done. Although there are now colorimeters available for $1,000 or less, lab-grade units such as a Konica Minolta or a Photo Research can run upwards of $10,000 or more. Either way, this is a considerable additional investment. Then there’s the time involved. I spent what must have been at least 12 hours over several sessions dialing in that JVC RS-1 with the DVDO, but I was also climbing the processor learning curve at the same time. This was also in the days before automated software that can do a full calibration—or at least a decent baseline calibration—on its own.
The issue is not whether these processors offer incredible flexibility—they do. In addition to their adjustment capabilities, they allow different settings for different inputs and sources. Rather, the question is, if you employ a calibrator to set them up, as most of you must, will that calibrator be able to use the sophisticated adjustments available in an outboard processor to produce a result visibly better than the onboard adjustments modern projectors now offer? If you can, will getting there take so much more time that the calibration cost moves out of line with the benefits obtained? The added image enhancement will depend on the sophistication of the projector’s own adjustments and the skills of the calibrator; the cost will depend on those skills and possibly the ability to at least partially automate the process. Food for thought before investing in an expensive outboard processor. For some projector owners, it makes good sense. But not for all. —TJN