While 4K/Ultra HD televisions have been around for years and native 4K sources are starting to grow (with approximately 400 titles from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Ultra HD Blu-rays combined available in Canada), 4K cable TV offerings are still scarce, and limited only to things like sports and demo channels.
Since regular HD offerings are still the mainstream, you will need an upscaler in order to get near-UHD-quality programming if you have a UHD TV. And you'll want one that not only processes by quadrupling and dithering the pixel count, but that also cleans the HD picture before it is upscaled. And that can do so intelligently, depending on the content within a given frame.
The Sony X1 and X1-Pro upscaling engines do a great job at internal upscaling - the best on the market bar none, in my opinion. But what if you don't own a Sony TV? What if you are using a projector? There is the Lumagen upscaler, but the price is very daunting, especially if what you want to do is mostly upscale your cable TV feeds.
Cue the DVDO iScan Mini 4K scaler. Plug an HDMI source into this tiny box, which is small enough to fit into the palm of your hand. It can apply VRS ClearView image processing technology, developed by the legendary Silicon Image, to that source before upscaling the signal. Then, the picture is passed on to your 4K display.
A UHD display, whether it's a TV or a projector, will have its own upscaling process. But the idea is that the iScan Mini's VRS engine should do a much better job.
As a side note, the iScan Mini doesn't just work with 4K displays. It can scale sources to a huge variety of display resolutions and refresh rates, including multiple PC screen monitor resolutions and 1,080 HD. So it could work with an HD display as well. It does a better interlaced-to-progressive conversion (1,080i to 1,080p) from my Rogers box in a better fashion than the Rogers box itself, let alone the Rogers box' internal upscaling from 1080p to UHD.
Onscreen menus let you manually adjust scaling strength, call in mosquito noise reduction and noise smoothing from streaming sources including the archaic MPEG2-compression broadcasts still widely used by our cable providers. You can also select the levels of detail and edge enhancement; opt to suppress the ‘ringing' effect that commonly arrives with artificially sharpened content and reduce the ‘harshness' of the iScan's upscaled pictures.
The Mini can even strip out the audio from an HDMI feed and output it via its TOSLINK (optical) output to an AV receiver. Plus, you can edit its EDID - the way DVDO's device emulates the information from your TV's HDMIs. (This feature, however, was not tested due to time constraints.)
Feeding the Brothers Grimsby and Tomorrowland Blu-rays through the iScan Mini from my Panasonic DMP-UB900 between the newly acquired Pioneer SC-LX701 and my review sample of JVC X770R, the Mini's ‘Low' Enhancement mode preset only delivered a small, but still noticeable, improvement in sharpness over the TV's own scaling. The Mini's High enhancement setting, though, has a dramatic effect, making even my Samsung K8500, Oppo 103D, Panasonic DMP-BD900 and Oppo UBD203 upscaling results look notably softer and less detailed, and have less three-dimensional depth.
The negative side effects aren't as severe as might have been expected given the extent of the detail enhancement, and the iScan Mini does let you tweak elements of the processing to suit your taste. Personally, though, I found the iScan's Low preset for processing to be a tad too low and the high to be too high. Thankfully, programming User1 and User2 allowed me to create parameters, which I nicknamed MidLow and MidHigh. Most of the times, I ended up using my home-brew MidLow preset.
Being a fan of BBC Canada (great content but broadcast in a cruddy SD feed), it is great that the device also upscales standard-definition sources to 4K far better than any UHD displays I've seen to date, with the exception of the latest Sony TVs that include the X1-Pro processor. So it is great for those occasions when SD really can't be avoided. And although the device requires a UHD display to unlock its full potential, the iScan Mini upscales DVDs to 1,080p (still the choice resolution of many home cinema projectors) with aplomb.
The iScan Mini is a must buy for anyone with UHD display. Even if you have plenty of high-quality 4K sources, considering the abundance of regular Blu-rays (I own about 1,000 titles), DVDs (another 1,000+ discs) and an insurmountable amount of non-UHD programming, it's easy to justify the $400 cost so you can enjoy your content to the max.