What the heck is this thing? Don’t call it a video switcher, scaler or even an enhancer, because it doesn’t fit into any one of those categories. A magic video box? That’s more like it. Although DarbeeVision doesn’t quite say what its Darbee Visual Presence DVP 5000 ($349) is, the company is more forthcoming with details on what it does.
Here’s the deal: You install the DVP 5000, a slight thing about the size of a pack of smokes, between your video source (or A/V receiver’s output) and display by running cables to and from to its single HDMI input/output. A wall-wart AC adapter provides power. The DVP 5000 has front-panel buttons to navigate menus and dial in the level of Darbification being applied to the image, and it also comes with a credit card-type remote to make adjustments. The remote additionally provides High Def, Gaming and Full Pop preset buttons, and another one to trigger a demo that displays the before and after effects of the Darbee processing.
And just what is that effect? The DarbeeVision Visual Presence technology found in the DVP 5000 uses a custom algorithm that analyzes digital images, detecting areas with dark/light transitions, and selectively altering the luminance of specific pixels to create an enhanced sense of visual depth. This surgical approach to processing enables the DVP 5000 to weave its magic without altering the image’s overall color, contrast, or black level. And while it does tend to make pictures look dramatically sharper, the processing, when used in moderation, doesn’t have the same effect as a traditional video sharpness adjustment, which typically adds “ringing” to the edges of objects when pushed past a certain threshold.
My initial experiments with the DVP 5000 revealed that making adjustments in Hi Def, rather than Gaming or Full Pop mode, was the way to go for viewing Blu-ray and other high-quality video sources. You adjust the processing in 5% steps, though this can be switched to a 1% increment by selecting the Fine Control option in the onscreen menu’s Advanced Settings tab. Two other menu options let you select where a graphic pops up onscreen when making level adjustments, and dim the brightness of the DVP 5000’s front-panel LEDs — a necessity when using it in a dark home theater.
Another thing I discovered early on was that the DVP 5000 doesn’t like short HDMI cable runs. Using a one-meter cable to connect the processor to my display, video synchronization dropped on a regular basis — often when I paused or a disc, or stopped playback to load in another disc. What do you know: A FAQ on the company’s website warns against this eventuality (though it doesn’t explain why a short HDMI run should create a video sync issue in the first place).
Darbee in action
Other reviews I’d read of the DVP 5000 suggested that it worked best with Blu-ray, and worst with lower-rez sources like cable and DVD, but my experience turned out to be the opposite. With the DVP 5000 set to 50% in High Def mode, its processing made the already craggy, pockmarked face of the doctor who reconstructs Leeloo in The Fifth Element on Blu-ray look like that of a dried-out, leathery bogman. True, it enhanced details, but the effect here was simply too much. Dialing the level down to 10% made things look more natural, but there also wasn’t much of a difference to be seen at this point between the Darbee’d and non-Darbee’d image.
Checking out a DVD version of the same title, I started to appreciate what the DVP 5000 could do. With processing still at 50%, the SD image looked reasonably crisp and high-def-like. But with processing bypassed, it looked soft and flat — a huge step down in quality. (I should note here that since the box wouldn’t accept 480i signals from my player, I had to output them as 1080p.)
Curious about what the DVP 5000 could do to help out high-def TV, I next connected it to my cable box. I’ve never been happy with the quality of my cable TV picture: instead of high-def, it’s more like medium-def. Watching a History Channel documentary on contemporary zeppelin pilots (yes, people have that career), the image looked obviously more crisp and solid with the Darbee box working its mojo, and I could boost the processing level to 75% or higher without doing damage to the image. Even clean-looking HD channels like CNN Headline News benefited from the Darbification. I was happy enough with the improvements that I decided to leave the DVP 5000 connected to my cable box output for the remainder of my time with it.
Darbee and 3D
Few people ever seem to rave (care?) about the quality of their TV’s 3D image. But this is another area where the DVP 5000 proved useful. The 3D Blu-rays I checked out with Darbee processing active all looked notably better: the picture depth was greater, the highlights and shadows punchier. It didn’t do anything to eliminate the 3D crosstalk artifacts on the set I watched with, but it also didn’t make them worse.
Do you need the Darbee Visual Presence DVP 5000 ? That depends on what you intend to use it for. If you’ve already got a perfectionist video setup and watch mostly Blu-ray discs, then buying one to enhance that experience—maybe to make things look more like 4K!—is a course of action that I wouldn’t recommend. (Blu-ray viewed on a well-tuned 1080p display is already a fairly amazing thing to behold.) But if you still watch DVDs, or are tired of the mediocre high-def picture you’re getting from your cable provider, adding a DVP 5000 to your system could very well make you a happier camper. I know I was impressed.
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