Technicolor 4K Image Certification and Marseille 4K scaler
Aiming to ensure Ultra HD 4K looks as good as it can, Technicolor has launched 4K Image Certification. The first product to get certified is Marseille Network’s scaler tech.
Fellow Tech2er Brent Butterworth and I headed to Hollywood for an eyes-on demonstration.
Technicolor is a name familiar to anyone with any love or long memory of the film and TV business. They’ve been around forever, but aren’t perhaps the first name anyone thinks of to throw a certification on a piece of technology. Would it surprise you to find out Technicolor is one of the largest patent holders in the world? Technicolor used to be a subsidiary of Thomson. Thomson bought most of remains of RCA back in the day. RCA basically invented color television (and a LOT of other stuff). In 2010, Thomson rebranded the entire outfit to Technicolor.
“While the industry transition to native 4K content is underway, it’s critical that consumers also be able to enjoy the benefits of 4K TV for their existing HD content libraries.” So to this end, Technicolor has created the 4K Image Certification. In many ways, it’s similar to the THX Certified program, where products must meet a certain performance level in order to wear the badge. The idea in both cases is to give consumers an idea about the image quality of the product they’re buying.
In Technicolor’s case, the first certified product is Marseille Networks’ VTV-122X, which is, interestingly enough, not something you can buy at all. Well, not directly. The VTV-122X is a “system on a chip” that upconverts to 4K. More than just a simple scaler chip, the VTV-122X slots right in and does all the work, so a Blu-ray manufacturer, say, could just drop one of these in with little extra engineering work, and it would function as expected. It’s a tiny thing, as you can see at the image above.
(Note: Brightness difference is due to angle of the photo, these are LCDs)
Sitting side-by-side in a Technicolor conference room, sat two Sony 4K LED LCDs. On the left side, a native 4K feed. On the right, a 4K feed with a segment of the program material upconverted to 4K by the Marseille chip. Now let me say that I’ve reviewed a 4K TV already (not the Sony), and upconverting quality is vital. There are a LOT of pixels on these screens, and since 99.9% of what’s available right now is HD or lower, you’re going to be upconverting a LOT if you get a 4K TV.
With an eye out for any indications of obvious edge enhancement or extra noise, Brent and eye scoured the screen for any telltale giveaways for upconverting. Even from just a few feet away, it was hard to tell the difference. Paused, up close, you could just make out a difference, barely. In a room by itself, I bet most people would believe it was native 4K.
The next test was a 1080p feed upconverted by a Sony 4K-upconverting BD player (on the left TV), and the same disc through the same model of player, but upconverted to 4K by the Marseille chip. Here the difference was way more noticeable. It was like a thin layer of haze had been peeled away from the image. Everything was just that little bit sharper and more detailed. Again, there were no obvious signs of edge enhancement or extraneous noise.
I’m reminded of the early days of upconverting DVD players. I’d get many emails about whether it was worth it to get an upconverting DVD player when there TV did it already. Not all scaling is the same, and we’re going to see this all over again as we move into the age of 4K.
This was one demo, in conference room, with company-selected demo material. So I’m not going so far as make any declarations about the Marseille chip. At first glance (pun intended), it seemed quite impressive, and I can’t wait to check it out in a real product. Their goal is to be able to put it into inexpensive Blu-ray players, so this isn’t even some multi-thousand-dollar external scaler tech.
As far as Technicolor’s 4K Image Certification, I think it’s a good idea. In my history reviewing THX Certified products, I’ve found them to be well above average, and among (if not the) best in their class. If Technicolor can create and maintain a similar track record, it will be a real benefit for the average consumer to cut through the marketing noise.