Now that every major TV maker except Panasonic has officially launched (not all are shipping) Ultra HDTV sets, we should be talking more about content. It’s coming. The World Cup will likely be broadcast in 4K in some form, Sony has a 4K server launching any minute now for that company’s 4K TVs. The new video game consoles will have some 4K capabilities, and streaming services like Netflix are working out the 4K problem.
But if you plan on buying a 4K TV now for your home theater, none of those solutions are going to be soon enough or comprehensive enough. So what do you do?
Technically, you don’t have to do anything. Any 4K TV can display all the video resolutions you’re currently enjoying. They just add scaling and processing to the signal to get the lower resolution content to match the resolution of the display. No big deal, right?
Well, maybe. Just as video processing quality varies among 1080p TVs, it does and will continue to vary among 4K UHD TVs. Remember when enthusiasts would pay thousands of dollars for Faroudja Line Doublers just to turn 480i into 480p? Thankfully now, such high-quality video processing isn’t nearly as expensive as it used to be, but quality video processing is just as important now as it was then.
A fairly new name in the video processing world is Marseille, a Silicon Valley company that’s all about making video look better for 4K TVs. The first consumer product to use Marseille’s Ultra Visual Detail process is Toshiba’s new BDX6400 Blu-ray player.
The Marseille processor in that player received Technicolor’s 4K Image Certification.
We talked with George Alexy, Marseille’s VP of Marketing to learn more about the technology the company offers and how video processing factors into the developing 4K market.
Tell us a little bit about Marseille’s UVD technology.
Our focus with our first products was with source devices, Blu-ray players, streaming media players and set-top-boxes, that take the existing content and process and scale it up to 4K so we can send a very high-quality 4K video stream to any 4K display device.
What process does your system apply to non-4K content?
The art is really in how the algorithm analyzes the video stream into our chips. It analyzes each pixel to determine whether it’s a field where we want to do sharpening, is It an edge?, is it noise? and take the appropriate action to enhance the image. The main chip we have in products like the Toshiba Blu-ray player are actually very simple. We take the HDMI signal that the Blu-ray player would normally put out to a TV (and this could be a 4K stream, SD stream or HD stream) and we process it, scale it and send the HDMI out to the sync device [the TV].
Before you go to scale up an HD image to 4K you want to look at it to determine if this is an area where, rather than having the scaling muddy the image, do you want to do some processing on the pixel so when it scales it actually enhances the detail.
We went to Pepcom [a technology industry event for press and analysts] on the 20th of June and had a demo of two side-by-side 4K TVs. We were feeding one 4K TV an actual native 4K stream, and on the other 4K TV we had the same content but in HD then processed and scaled by us to 4K. We asked the people at Pepcom which they thought was native 4K and when one was HD processed by Marseille—the majority thought the HD scaled by us was native 4K.
So far the UVD process is implemented on one product, Toshiba’s new Blu-ray player. Will we see it in other products soon?
We’ve been engaged with all the major consumer electronics manufactures and these companies all have their video experts. Across the board, all the golden eyes have looked at what we do and been blown away that we can provide that quality of video processing and scaling in the tiny little chip.
Can 4K video processing do more harm than good?
Yes. One of the high points for us when the golden eyes have looked at what we do is that we don’t introduce artifacts when we process and scale. The majority of the other processes that we’ve seen, even those on very high priced TVs, introduce artifacts in that process, and we do not. We look at a pixel to determine what it is, and then determine how to process it. If our algorithm can’t decide definitively what to do, it won’t do anything, so it won’t artificially inject changes that don’t make sense.
All 4K TVs do some resolution scaling. How is the UVD process different?
The scaling process is when you take your HD picture and make it 4K, but before you scale it you look at each pixel to see how scaling is going to affect it.
Clearly most 4K TVs have some video processing and scaling capabilities built into them, but the better the video stream quality we can present to that device, the better the user experience is going to be. So it really comes down to what I call a collaborative effort between the source device and the display.
What we’re seeing is that you can buy some high end 4K TVs, but there are a large number of 4K TVs you’re going to see coming out of companies that may not have the high-price custom processing capabilities. We expect a wave of 4K TVs coming out that don’t have sophisticated processing, and a Blu-ray player or source device with our technology in it is going to make that product look extremely good at a very different price point. So it’s a balance.
By the way, we do it without a frame buffer so we’re not introducing delay into the video stream. We don’t require external memory or a frame buffer to do this. It helps reduce built materials and eliminates delay.
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