Putting the “V” in Your AVR
While many new technologies have been incorporated into A/V receivers over the last few years, perhaps the biggest change we’ve seen in these traditionally audio-based components is the inclusion of advanced video processing. Just a few years ago, video processing was reserved for high-priced standalone machines that almost required a doctorate to employ. But now we’re seeing high-quality solutions incorporated into even midline AVRs, and video processing is being used to differentiate and market these products against one another in a hotly competitive market.
For this article, we’ve brought together and tested several different high-profile AVRs from Denon, Onkyo, Sony, and Yamaha, at different price points and incorporating different video processing solutions, some with marquee names like Anchor Bay, Faroudja, and Silicon Optix. Our goal here was to discover the pros and cons of the various video-processing solutions on the market and provide consumers with the resources to make an informed decision on this critical and somewhat new aspect of AVR performance.
A Brief History
Basic video switching has long been included in AVRs. Manufacturers then added cross conversion, which allowed signals from legacy analog components to be converted to component video for a single link between the AVR and display. The quality of this conversion varied, but there was no doubting the convenience. When HDMI started to appear, this was taken a step further with analog-to-digital conversion, again providing a single connection to the display.
Early video-processing solutions provided deinterlacing of standard-definition sources. Scaling was incorporated later, allowing the AVR to upconvert standard-definition sources to higher resolutions. Aside from the convenience of switching inputs only at the AVR, this had additional potential benefit if the AVR had better video processing than the display it was connected to.
This is still a popular practice today, but with the market shifting to high definition, the need for quality high-definition processing becomes more and more obvious. Consumers are investing their money in HD digital displays such as plasma, LCD, and DLP. While HD content from sources like Blu-ray don’t need any help to look great, most cable and satellite HD programming is still delivered in 1080i, which requires high-quality video processing for the best picture.
Developing our testing regimen, we strived to avoid extremes and evaluated the features and performance areas that impact picture quality the most in everyday viewing. The tests we settled on include proper conversion of 1080i HD video signals to 1080p, proper deinterlacing of standard-definition (SD) sources, the quality of upconversion (scaling) to HD resolutions, image cropping, resolution, and video clipping. We performed the digital tests with an HDMI input source and the analog tests using component video converted to HDMI by the AVR being tested. This last one was very important to us since more and more people are running a single HDMI cable to their display but still use legacy analog sources such as VCRs, gaming systems, and cable boxes.