DarbeeVision Visual Presence (DVP 5000) Video Enhancement Device Review
Genuine video enhancement or the emperor's new clothes? AVForums looks beyond the marketing and at the DarbeeVision DVP 5000
IntroductionThis little gizmo has, since its release earlier this year, been causing quite a stir amongst home cinema enthusiasts across the pond and now that it is starting to trickle out of retail channels on this side of the Atlantic, we thought we’d best see what all the fuss is about.
So what is the titled Darbee Visual Presence all about and why should - or shouldn’t - you want one? The manufacturers, DarbeeVision, claim the DVP 5000 enhances images by embedding ‘depth information’ into the signal before relaying it to your TVs HDMI input. Using patented technology, the Darblet (as it’s more comically known) analyses a frame and then makes adjustments to local pixel luminance in order to accentuate details. In other words, it makes some elements of the picture brighter, some dimmer and some remain the same but, so DarbeeVision says, this is all achieved without shifting colour or creating the ringing artefacts associated with more traditional Sharpness or Edge Enhancement controls. It’s not really a Sharpness control, per se, more of a trick of the light but with many enthusiastic new owners swearing by ‘The Darb’ as a tool that genuinely reveals extra detail, it's worth a look.
We’re obviously enormously keen on maintaining the industry standards present in film and TV production, here at AVForums; we calibrate for a reason and that is to ensure we see material presented in the form the director and content producers envisaged and the Darbee Visual Presence will clearly go against those ideals, to some degree, but we will always approach a product or idea with an open, yet objective, mind-set. With that established, it’s time to unleash the Darbee for a dabble.
Setup and MenusThe DarbeeVision comes simply packaged with just the unit itself – or the ‘Tweener’, as they term it – together with a two-pin Euro power lead, a credit card style remote control and some basic, printed set-up instructions. The unit supplied to us for review also came with a UK 3 pin power lead in a separate box. The Tweener – surely they could come up with a better name than that? - is basically a transparent, bluey-grey enclosure with a single HDMI 1.4a compliant input and output. There’s also a jack for the 5V DV power lead and a terminal for the optional Infra-Red extender but, essentially, it’s a one in/one out device so if you’re not possessed of an AV Receiver, Video Processor or HDMI switching unit, you’ll be chopping and changing HDMI leads a fair amount, if you have as many sources as we do.
The Tweener, itself, houses the all the processing hardware and also features four buttons, to one side, offering the opportunity to make adjustments without the remote control. Speaking of which, we found we became quite attached to the diminutive controller with its tactile buttons and its pocket sized proportions. It’s a suitably simple affair with a Darbee ON/OFF button accompanied by More or Less Darbee and the Menu Button, along the top, and Green, Yellow and Red Buttons for the mode options – Hi Def, Gaming and Full Pop. There’s also the Demo Button that brings up a split screen comparison of On/Off states, whilst a further press performs a ‘screen sweep’ to illustrate the differences. Finally, there are two LED’s (one red, one green), next to the buttons indicating power status and whether a video signal is being received, respectively.
Set up couldn’t have been simpler, it’s a very plug and play device; simply connect your input device to the HDMI In port and a further HDMI cable from the HMDI out port to the desired input of the display. You will know it’s working if the display is showing a picture but we have read of a few colour space issues with various media streaming machines – particularly Dune – that lead to extremely green images being displayed. Some have found workarounds but others have not been so fortunate and will need to wait for a software fix to resolve. To add to DarbeeVision’s ‘look at’ list we can add the new Humax DTR-1000T YouView Freeview HD PVR, that had exactly the same issues but with no workaround we could find.
The Menu is almost as basic as the remote and offers the option of switching into any of the modes and a Help menu that gives a description of each; offering the advice to use the HIDEF for 1080p video material, GAMING for gaming and FULL POP for lower quality signals. The Settings sub menu allows you to choose where or if you want the Darbee logo displayed on-screen; the brightness of the LED on the tweener unit – it can be turned off; Language settings; Advanced Settings, which is a single choice option of whether to enable fine control – by default the ‘severity’ of the processing goes up and down in 5% increments but enabling fine control makes it 1% changes. The user is also able to reset the unit and check on software and firmware versions. And that’s it.
Objective TestsWe had a good idea, before even getting the DVP, that it would have little to no effect on most conventional calibration and test patterns – the Darbee is targeted to work on minute areas of the image, whereas a lot of patterns are solid blocks of colour/grey. Even a variety of sharpness patterns displayed no ringing or other artefacts but, again, we expected that as the Darblet works on manipulating luminance of the pixels not by ‘drawing’ lines of additional pixels around something to create the illusion of sharpness.
Note: You will need to click on images to avoid seeing scaling artefacts
One pattern that did show up anomalies was the Luma Zone Plate, which basically turns the screen into a check on multiple frequencies of the signal and will highlight any issues in the luminance (black and white) element of the picture. As we can see from the comparison shots above, the Darbee is clearly making large alterations to the presentation of the luma zone plate and it did the same to the Chroma Zone Plate on the Spears and Munsil disc. Also, using the same disc we detected the Darbee was introducing slight chroma upsampling issues with our player meaning, at least on paper and very ironically, all the colour details from Blu-ray disc aren’t necessarily being preserved. We do have to point out that using a different player on the same display didn't exhibit the same problem so it seems there there are some incompatibility problems in this area as well.
Try as we might – and believe us, we tried very hard - we couldn’t get meaningful measurements from our Klein K-10 to demonstrate the luminance changes with real-world material as the alterations are occurring at such a micro level; so our plans to give you more graphs and data to back up what our eyes could so clearly see were scotched.
PerformanceHaving done some background reading on the technologies involved, we were immediately stuck as to the similarities, in description, to certain processing features present in some displays from a number of manufacturers – both TV and Projector; only the DVP 5000 clearly possesses more complex algorithms and finer frame analysis so the results should be more prominent. At a retail price around the £250 mark, on the face of it, it’s not an insubstantial sum to pay for a single processing operation. We’ve even seen some mention of the Darblet as being a true Video Processor which, whilst technically correct, doesn’t really do justice to the likes of the Lumagen VP’s that offer multiple deinterlacing, scaling, switching and calibration options far beyond the scope of the DVP’s operations.
Given the relative paucity of evidence the test patterns were providing we decided our best course of action would be to attempt to capture the effect by camera. Not as scientific an approach as we were hoping to take but using our eyes as a control we are able to see the luminance shifts match up very well when comparing the captures to actual on-screen results. You should be able to get a good idea of the effect from what follows below and especially if you're viewing from a calibrated display – or at least one not too far off the standards.
Please note: the displays we tested on where calibrated to industry standards before the unit was added to the video chain and the photos show the Darblet set to 70%, which clearly highlights the effects the unit makes. This level was chosen so that readers can easily follow what is being described and shown in the photos. At more moderate levels, around the 30-60% mark, there is still a perceivable effect but it's just not as easy to highlight in photos. The photos shown below are for illustration purposes only and not for evaluation of the unit, as always we recommend readers demo any product for themselves.
The easiest way for the reader to compare what follows is to click on the photo, save to a location on your computer and then flick between the two using your preferred photo browsing software. Since we love the Olympics and it’s topical, let’s start there:
Note: You can click on all the Photo's to enlarge and download
Moving on to some night time coverage featuring the ever industrious Gabby Logan and we captured these shots:
Flicking quickly between the two photos, it’s easy to see the shiny-factor of the presenter's top sees a noticeable boost with the Darbee engaged but, more worryingly, Ms Logan’s facial skin tones display a tangible increase in luminance and become rather waxy as a result. Darblet advocates may point to a perceived increase in definition with the hair strands but, to us, it looks like a ‘photoshopped’ effect and we prefer the unaltered image.
Broadcast HD is not necessarily the best medium to judge the DVP 5000 by, however, so we put in some 1080p24 Blu-ray test images to our player to see what’s happening there. Having spent some time already with the Darblet, we’d already concluded we didn’t really like its influence on foliage and vegetation and the next two comparisons will hopefully illustrate why.
Note: You can click on all the photo's to enlarge and download
The captures of the Kiwi fruit, in particular, highlight the over-processed, hyper-reality look the DVP 5000 gives material. Again, there’s very little question the Darbee gives the sense of increased resolution but it’s at the expense of robbing the footage of its inherent naturalness. We could say the same of the foliage in the second comparison but the increased luminance of the sky is more concerning. A camera is set up in a certain way and then the footage put through production stages to maintain that look but the Darbee is clearly playing around with it. Again, we prefer the unadulterated picture.
To redress the balance somewhat, there was one test image we liked better with a touch of the darb effect and only the coldest of hearts could fail to be beguiled by the cuteness of its subject.
We do think that, as a still, the processed image looks a little more convincing but therein lies the problem with assessing the Darbee Visual Presence. There’s absolutely no doubt that the processing and computations going on inside the box are highly impressive, the fine level at which the manipulations are taking place definitely accentuate the depth cues present in images and it can look very good, some of the time. At other times, scenes can take on that over-processed look we’re not fond of but unless you’re prepared to be constantly switching the unit on and off there will be an unavoidable mixture of the two.
As the photographs show, we were using a 70% setting and by reducing the amount of the effect, the luminance differences between portions of the picture were lessened but never really lost the sense that something wasn’t quite right with our calibrated pictures. One medium it did impress with was video gaming and the ability to make enemies stand-out more will appeal to some and we can confirm the DVP 5000 adds nothing tangible in the way of lag. Our measuring instrument is accurate to 0.1 milliseconds and detected no difference with the Darblet in or out of the chain.
Two areas where we weren't keen at all were with lower resolution sources and 3D material. The former, unless it was a good DVD, merely had its deficiencies further highlighted by the DVP and the latter has plenty of depth cues of its own and applying the Darbee processing, to any degree, just added further to any crosstalk problems present in display or source. Again, some will like it, but it's not for us.
- Genuinely adds a perception of depth and clarity
- Very easy to set up and use
- Introduces no lag
- Fun for gaming and animation
- Makes Images deviate from accepted Industry Standards
- Can make pictures look over-processed and unnatural
- Expensive for a one trick pony
- Colour space issues with some kit
- It can introduce chroma upsampling errors
DarbeeVision Visual Presence (DVP 5000) Video Enhancement Device Review
We can be very confident in saying the Darbee Visual Presence won’t give you pictures that adhere to the established image standards as the content creators intended. If they had wanted it to look the way a ‘darbeed’ image looks they could have changed the lighting, altered camera set up, had the make-up artists performing adjustments or influenced any number of other factors to give the material a different look. More pertinently, Darbee-like effects are already possible at post production level in a number of software packages that would surely have been used, if that look was the intention.
We noted problems in the processing of both the luminance and chromatic signals, and certain on-screen objects appeared very over-processed; particularly foliage, vegetation (on a regular basis), skin-tones and, on occasion, human hair, especially with grey tones. The effects on a 3D signal were really not for us either, there's plenty enough depth cues inherent to the source content, thank you.
All of the above said, we weren’t completely impervious to the DVP 5000’s charms; at times the sense of depth and clarity it delivered were truly impressive, without it looking unnatural. Video games where, arguably, a natural looking picture isn’t necessarily top of the agenda, could definitely benefit from the pixel manipulations and some animated content too, for that matter.
Had this been a processing control present in a TV or Projector would have almost certainly recommended it disabled. However, we also understand that not everyone cares about ultimate image fidelity and accuracy and, for those users, the Darblet might well appeal. While we would always advocate the 'correct to the standards' approach with every display device (as we do with every display review), we do understand that some will gain a lot of enjoyment from such devices in their system and we have absolutely no problem with that. Not everything in life is black and white and the DVP 5000 is certainly the most sophisticated control of its type available. It does what it does extremely well.
It’s a devilishly clever little box but ultimately not one for us and something we’d only recommend investigating after getting the rest of your video chain in order. For around the same price of the Visual Preference, one could invest in a professional calibration or even buy the tools and software to attempt your own and gain far more. Ultimately the Darbee Visual Presence is a bit of a toy. Toys can be fun but we’d definitely recommend a very extended demo before committing to purchase as you may find – as with so many playthings – the novelty soon wears off.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £250.00
Processed Picture Quality5
Value for Money4
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