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While we recently discussed using the DVDO Edge video processor with the OSSC, we were curious to know how its big brother, the iScan VP50 Pro would perform. Luckily, we were able to acquire a unit for testing just recently, so we’re now able to tell you exactly what to expect.
Read the comments section for any review or overview of the popular XRGB Mini upscaler and there are inevitably complaints that the device costs far too much. Such comments always raise a smile from those of us who’ve dipped our toes into the waters of mid or high end AV and home theatre gear. While many gamers baulk at the idea of spending £250 on a scaler, there are audiophiles who think nothing of spending hundreds on a single cable. If £250 gets you a Framemeister, what would £2250 worth of scaler get you? Brand new, that’s what the iScan VP50 Pro would have cost you, that XRGB Mini not sounding like such a bad deal now?
Finding a VP50 Pro
Even if you’ve got a spare £2250 lying around that you can spend on a video processor, finding a VP50 Pro won’t be that simple. Long since discontinued by the original manufacturer, they do appear on eBay from time to time. Prices were between £200 and £300, but they’ve been steadily rising as more videophiles discover just what a versatile piece of kit the unit can be. Of course, if you were the type of person who could afford such a device when they were new, you probably purchased it as part of a high end home theatre installation. This probably also included initial setup, since the unit is hardly what you would call user friendly to configure. Take the time to get to grips with it though and you quickly appreciate what a neat device it is.
Getting to grips with the VP50 Pro
We’ve written a brief review of the VP50 Pro here. If you are considering buying one for use in your gaming setup, you should probably start by reading that review. To connect the OSSC to the VP50 Pro you use a simple DVI to HDMI converter. You can also connect the analogue audio output from the OSSC to the analogue audio input on the VP50 Pro.
It’s then a matter of setting up the OSSC like any other source connected to the VP50 Pro. Feed in a 50hz console, select or create an output profile, do the same with a 60hz console and then you’re ready to go. Remember to turn off cadence detection too, if you want to minimise input lag.
Stunning scaling and no lag
Just like with the DVDO Edge, you can use both line double and line triple modes with the OSSC and the VP50 Pro. In line double, things look perfectly good. While once the scaling engines of the DVDO processors were considered to be very good, compared to what’s in a modern TV they’re really nothing special and on 480p sources there is a little ringing. It’s not as bad as some people make out however and with the scanline overlay on in particular it’s almost impossible to spot.
Turn on line triple however and things get even better. Any hint of ringing is completely gone and the image is super sharp. In fact, I can imagine that it’s simply too sharp for some peoples preferences, however if you love nice sharp pixels then line triple is definitely the mode to use. The VP50 Pro doesn’t have integer scaling modes like you can get with a bit of fiddling around on the XRGB Mini, but that hardly matters to most people and the scaling engine is good enough that there are no obviously uneven parts to the picture.
As with the DVDO Edge, you may find you need to apply a little zoom to the image to get the perfect aspect ratio. This is especially true in line triple mode, where the 240p test suite shows that the image is a little vertically squashed. The VP50 Pro has extensive zoom/pan controls and complete aspect ratio controls, meaning you can apply a little zoom or choose from an aspect ratio preset that best suits the game you’re playing. On my setup, I’ve found that a vertical zoom of 1.075x corrects the vertical size of the picture perfectly in Generic 4:3 line triple mode.
If your game doesn’t draw anything in the borders, you can choose a different aspect ratio that hides these parts but zooms the content you are interested in, or just manually zoom the image to your hearts content. As with the DVDO Edge, of course, you want to be careful not to zoom or manipulate the image in such a way that results in very uneven scaling. Particularly if you are using scanlines, stretching out the image can cause one or two scanlines to be noticeably thicker than others. DVDOs scaling engine is very good in this regard however and usually the image is acceptable no mater how you abuse it. Again, the 240p test suite is an excellent tool to use to check for problems, particularly now it has the new vertical scrolling test too.
Note that even with the Zoom/Pan controls, line triple mode on the OSSC has a tendency to cut off part of the image on the right hand side with some sources. The Megadrive is particularly vulnerable to this. Only a few pixels are lost, so it usually doesn’t matter and a feature to correct for this on the OSSC is planned for a future firmware update.
Once you’ve done calibrating the image you can save the aspect ratio and zoom settings to one of the VP50’s presets. Input presets are per resolution and per input, so you can save up to 10 for the OSSC without worrying about overwriting any presets you might need for other inputs. The VP50 Pro will remember the last used preset, meaning when you switch between line double and line triple, your preferred zoom and aspect ratio settings will be recalled automatically.
Fantastic scaling is all well and good, but if it comes at the cost of huge amounts of input lag, then it’s not going to be worth it on most games. Here the VP50 Pro really shines however and unlike the DVDO Edge, which adds up to 25ms to some consoles, the unit can frame-lock any source and add just 6ms input lag (8ms for PAL sources). Of course we’ve no way of measuring if this figure is always accurate, but it does appear to be when tested against the Leo Bodnar input lag tester.
PAL and other problems
Clearly the VP50 Pro has some big advantages over the DVDO Edge, but unfortunately there are some areas where it’s not quite as good too. If you’ve been following the OSSC closely, you will know that it has a line triple mode for both PAL and NTSC sources. PAL line triple mode tends to be less compatible than NTSC line triple and unfortunately this incompatibility rears its head here too. While line doubled PAL content works great on the OSSC/VP50 Pro combo, standard PAL line triple is simply not recognised by the VP50 Pro as a valid signal. Using the 320×240 optimal line triple mode it’s possible to get a picture, but this mode is far from optimal for most (if any) PAL sources.
PAL on the DVDO Edge on the other hand works beautifully in both line double and line triple. As with NTSC line triple, some sources suffer from parts of the picture on the right of the image being cut off. PAL line triple may also need adjustment using the Edge’s zoom/pan controls and seems slightly more susceptible to bad scaling than NTSC mode, though it’s nothing that cannot be corrected with a little patience. There’s also no increased input lag on any PAL source we tried with either the DVDO Edge or the VP50 Pro.
In practise, it’s not like PAL material looks terrible on the VP50 Pro/OSSC combo, since line double mode more than passes muster as far as picture quality goes. We’d imagine most gamers would play 60hz titles the majority of the time anyway.
The other area that the VP50 Pro falls short of the DVDO Edge is with games that use a mixture of 240p and 480i content. Games like Resident Evil 2 on the N64 or Virtua Fighter 2 on the Saturn for example. The OSSC handles transitions like this as quickly as is possible for a digital device, resulting in a blank screen for just a second or so. Every other device you put between your OSSC and your display can result in these transitions taking longer. The VP50 Pro and the Edge are certainly no exception to this, but the problem is worse on the VP50 Pro. Transitions take around 3 to 4 seconds on both processors, but the VP50 Pro has a habit of losing the signal altogether during a transition like this, resulting in a blue screen until the unit is power cycled on the remote. I was able to fix this in my setup by adding a simple HDMI splitter between the OSSC and the VP50 Pro, but that again adds yet another second onto the time it takes to transition between 240p and 480i signals. At least it’s still quicker than the XRGB Mini, and realistically if this is important in the game you are playing, you’re better of connecting the OSSC directly to the TV anyway.
The audio issue
The fact that the OSSC doesn’t process digital audio was a disappointment to some. Naturally, a full blown video processor like the VP50 Pro does support digital audio output. If you’re relying on it to act as an audio integrator, however, you will be disappointed. This functionality is included in the unit, but doesn’t work terribly reliably. Often you’ll be listening to nothing other than silence if you try to make the unit convert audio from the analogue inputs and output it through the HDMI cable. Converting audio from analogue to Coax or SPDIF digital audio does work reliably however. By contrast the DVDO Edge has no issues acting as a HDMI audio integrator.
Is this the worlds best 240p upscaling solution?
Is this high-end scaler coupled with an OSSC the absolute best 240p scaling solution in the world? The short answer to that question has to be “Yes”, but its not without it’s drawbacks too. The lack of PAL line triple support is disappointing, though PAL material is likely irrelevant or at least less important to a lot of people. Faults with analogue audio to HDMI conversion are also disappointing, but it is unlikely that anyone considering going to these lengths to build such a high end upscaling solution wouldn’t own a separate audio system.
The most disappointing problem is the loss of picture when dealing with 240p to 480i transitions, though adding a simple HDMI splitter seems to cure this most of the time.
Even with the drawbacks, the OSSC and the VP50 Pro are an incredible combination for the enthusiast. The picture quality is superb, with less picture noise than the XRGB Mini. The unit is confusing at first, but in time is less fiddly to use than the XRGB Mini. With super low input lag on all NTSC sources, the VP50 Pro edges out a significant advantage over the DVDO Edge and XRGB Mini for most gamers.
If you’re willing to go to the trouble and expense to find one, a VP50 Pro and OSSC combo will make a fine addition to any high-end retro gaming setup. To build the ultimate, no compromise scaling solution for all your games consoles you’d need an OSSC connected directly to your TV (for games that transition between 240p and 480i), a DVDO Edge and an OSSC (for PAL games), a VP50 Pro and an OSSC (for NTSC games) and an XRGB Mini for 480i games. Perhaps that big screen CRT doesn’t seem so bulky after all?