[SOUNDSTAGE!]Home Theater
Equipment Review

February 1999

Camelot Technologies Crystal Vision VPS-1 Video Processing System

For many people, Digital TV and HDTV are going to be on the expensive side for a while, to say nothing of the problems of an emerging technology going though several bumps and grinds in the beginning as the original standards are fine-tuned and the kinks are worked out. However, the Camelot Crystal Vision VPS-1, a small, elegant-looking, silver box with an interestingly contoured and anodized solid aluminum faceplate, could be just what you are looking for to get you through the next few years without worrying about upgrading to Digital TV or HDTV.

Let’s say you have a nice rear-projection set or direct-view monitor or maybe even an LCD projector. You like the image quality, but you wish it were more dimensional, cleaner, and had better detail. You also notice that some of your source components look pretty good, while others just aren’t up to the same standard. The little VPS-1 can fix all of this if you have the right mix of components. The first thing you need for the VPS-1 to even be considered for a place in your system is for your monitor or projector to have an S-video input. You only have to have one S-video input, not a bunch of them. You see, the VPS-1 is a kind of video switcher too. It allows you to connect up to four sources, one or two composite sources plus one or two S-video sources, and have a single S-video cable connected from the VPS-1 to your monitor. The next thing you would need to have is a VCR or laserdisc player with composite video outputs. The VCR or laserdisc player could also have S-video outputs.

What you do and what it does

You connect your composite or S-video sources to inputs on the VPS-1 and connect the output of your VPS-1 to the monitor. The VPS-1 employs two-dimensional comb filtering and edge enhancement for the composite inputs. This filtering is claimed to be the best possible comb filtering, surpassing even the quality of comb filters before the S-video outputs on some pretty expensive laserdisc players and VCRs. If you have a good-quality older laserdisc player or VCR that does not have S-video outputs, there is no question that the VPS-1 will improve the image quality significantly.

If you do have S-video-equipped source components, the VPS-1’s S-video inputs are strictly "pass though" connections to allow you to connect many sources to a single S-video input on the monitor. The VPS-1 does no additional processing or enhancement to signals entering though an S-video input. Only the two composite inputs will be enhanced. However, even if your source components do have S-video outputs, there is an excellent chance that the VPS-1 will produce a much better image using their composite video output. Even expensive source components don’t typically have adaptive comb filtering and edge enhancement, and the VPS-1 does.

Two-dimensional comb filtering is the method used in the VPS-1 to split the single composite video signal into two separate signals -- luma (luminance), the black and white picture information; and chroma (chrominance), the two combined color signals. How this process is accomplished is critical to the reproduced image quality. Lower-quality comb filters produce checkerboard effects along vertical boundaries between objects in an image and sometimes along horizontal edges as well. You can see this on your monitor if you get up close to the image while the monitor displays a still frame -- assuming the source component can output a stable still frame. Look closely at the transition between two different colors, between black and a color, or between white and a color. If you see a checkerboard effect along the edges, the VPS-1 can completely eliminate this dot-crawl artifact. The larger the screen of your monitor, the more likely it is for this dot-crawl artifact to be objectionable. However, I have to admit that one of our TVs, a two-year-old 27" Toshiba, is raised in image quality to a rather staggering degree. I’m not sure how many people would spend $600 for a VPS-1 to connect to their $500 27" TV, but I found it almost impossible to live without the VPS-1 with this TV once I’d seen the results. Not that larger direct-view monitors and rear-projection sets weren’t improved too. They were, enough to convince several owners that an upgrade was unnecessary -- at least until things worth upgrading to come down enough in price to be attractive.

Edge enhancement is another signal-processing feature of the VPS-1. It improves the transition along edges anywhere in the image, giving a sharper image without the artifacting caused by the sharpness control in monitors. In fact, the sharpness control in monitors degrades image quality and it should be set to minimum (or off) on virtually every NTSC monitor. Edge sharpening uses raw processing power to evaluate the edge transitions in the analog video signal and applies a user-selectable level of edge enhancement. The best way to set this is with Joe Kane’s Video Essentials laserdisc and, of course, a laserdisc player. One of the resolution test patterns will allow you to set edge enhancement to maximize the resolution of lines while not overdoing the enhancement and actually losing some image quality. I tried this with several sets and it is quite easy to select the correct level of edge enhancement from the four possible level settings.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned DVD or DSS (digital satellite) sources yet. There’s a good reason for this. DVD and DSS both derive their S-video signals directly from the digital data stream. There is no comb filtering in DVD or DSS hardware, so they cannot benefit from the VPS-1. That is one reason that there are two pass-through S-video inputs. You still can connect the DVD player or DSS decoder to the VPS-1 and the signal will be passed to the monitor without additional processing.

With the VPS-1, both edge enhancement and comb filtering are "adaptive." This means that there are several different possibilities for treatment of the incoming video signal. The processor in the VPS-1 analyzes the analog video signal, and from the content of this signal determines which flavor of edge enhancement and comb filtering will be ideal for that instant and uses that algorithm for that instant. This adaptive operation is one reason the VPS-1 can even outperform comb filters in many expensive VCRs and laserdisc players that are S-video equipped. What this means is that even recent top-of-the-line VCRs and laserdisc players can have better image quality by using their composite output into the VPS-1 than by using their internal S-video output.

The VPS-1 can be set to select automatically whichever source component is turned on or allow you to manually select the source. Manually selecting the source is required if you ever find yourself watching a laserdisc while videotaping something at the same time. There is no remote control for the unit, so you have to make a trip to the VPS-1 for selection. For other times when automatic selection is more convenient, it is an easy function to restore.

Picture this

What you see with the VPS-1 connected and set to the correct amount of edge enhancement is the kind of picture you would normally associate with a significant upgrade of your monitor, laserdisc player or VCR -- or all three. The results on several direct-view monitors and two rear-projection sets were quite impressive. If you spent $1500 or more on a monitor, $600 is not an unreasonable price tag for this level of improvement. The image from laserdisc and VCR becomes amazingly filmlike, especially when you use the Video Essentials laserdisc to set up the monitor. In fact, if you haven’t used Video Essentials, you’re not getting half of what you could be getting. The combination of Video Essentials and the VSP-1 makes for images that are wonderful to look at. Furthermore, if you start using the connected VCR for the tuner, assuming the VCR tuner is pretty good, the comb filtering and edge enhancement are even available for broadcast or cable TV (if you can run it though the VCR and you are not yet on digital cable).

I see much more depth and significantly improved definition in everything. On-screen graphics during sports become crystal clear and very cool-looking. VHS movies go from pretty bad to amazingly good. Subtitles in movies are much sharper and legible. You see improvements in detail in scenes with little motion as well as in scenes with lots of motion. You see a reduction in the bleeding of colors, especially reds. In fact, your video system appears to have undergone a significant upgrade. And in fact it has. In my system, DVD image quality from two different DVD players (Panasonic and California Audio Labs) is quite noticeably better than image quality from two different laserdisc players (different vintages of Pioneer players). Quantifying the difference is difficult. But let’s assign a reference 0 to unassisted laserdisc image quality and an arbitrary 10 to excellent DVD image quality. The laserdisc players run though the VPS-1 would subjectively rate about a 5, getting quite close in quality to an excellent artifact-free DVD image.

Is there a downside? None I could see. Overdoing it on the edge enhancement is the only possible problem you might have. But that’s easy to avoid, especially if you use the Video Essentials laserdisc. Do keep in mind that there is no image-quality improvement for digital satellite, digital cable or DVD with the VPS-1.

If you continue to enjoy the laserdisc format and also want to see video tapes and broadcast TV (through the VCR’s tuner) or analog cable TV with significantly improved image quality, the Camelot Crystal Vision VPS-1 is your little magic box.

...Doug Blackburn

Price: $649 USD
Warranty: 5 years parts and labor

Camelot Technology
30 Snowflake Road
Huntingdon Valley
Pennsylvania 19006 USA
Phone: (215)357-8356
Fax: (215)357-7859

Email: camelot@camelot-tech.com
Website: www.camelot-tech.com

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