Faroudja NRS Video Processor 
Home Theater Video Processors & Switchers Video Processors
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Saturday, 01 June 2002

The name Faroudja is the first that comes to mind when I think about high-performance video, specifically on the subject of line doublers, tripplers , quadruplers and, more recently, scalers. Now that high-end video has pretty much moved to the digital domain, Faroudja has created a new line of video-enhancing products in their Native Rate Series (thus the "NRS" name), which address many of the problems with the picture on a modern digital video system from a completely different angle.

Simplistically, standard video information is "interlaced," which means that each frame is split into two halves. Only half of the information is ever shown on the screen every 60th of a second (known as 480i). The line doubler "deinterlaces" the signal by putting the two halves back together again so you get the whole frame every 60th of a second (known as 480p). This reduces flicker, line stair stepping and other yucky motion artifacts. This "progressive" signal is then sent to the scaler stage to calculate new information to increase the scan rate. Other circuits are also applied to improve color and edge detail. Faroudja has over 60 patents that they use to accomplish all this. In my case, I use a Madrigal Imaging D-ILA projector, so my Faroudja NRS was special-ordered to have an output resolution of 1360 x 1024 pixels – the exact amount my projector needs. This principle is called "scaling" and can involve complicated mathematical processes which the NRS does better than other processors.

The Faroudja NRS as I reviewed it cost $4,995, but it is $3,995 for a unit set-up for a different resolution video monitor like a plasma or rear-projection HDTV. The NRS has a host of inputs, including Composite, S-Video, Component (BNC) and an HDTV pass-through via a computer connection. The HDTV connection is specifically cool from a system control perspective, because not all AV preamps have the bandwidth to successfully pass such a dynamic video signal. The Faroudja can pass the HDTV signal, although it doesn’t mess with it too much – i.e., the "pass-through" concept. Without the Faroudja NRS or a very new AV preamp capable of accepting a component in HDTV signal, you would need some sort of aftermarket HDTV switcher, like ones made by Extron, in the line between your system and your projector or monitor, but these are not nearly as easy to control.

The NRS controls aspect ratios neatly by managing everything from 4:3 to letterbox to anamorphic along with anamorphic-plus, which is useful for an anamorphic image in a wide-angle screen from a 4:3 projector. Outputs from the NRS include RGB, YprPb on (5) BNCs or D-15. The video adjustments on the NRS are hidden in menus accessible from the front page. These include brightness, contrast, color, tint, noise reduction, detail, Image shift and pattern generator. Faroudja offers a simple remote that can be used in some systems to switch inputs and or aspect ratios, but it has been suggested to me that the NRS is best controlled by RS232 systems like Crestron or AMX because of the complexity of the processor and the small size of the LCD display.

Unless you are really savvy in the world of video and video set-up, I recommend that you have a professional video guru tune your digital video system so that you can guarantee that you are getting the most out of what will be a large investment. I first enlisted the help of Nicolas Grieco, who was mentored by Joe Kane and consulted with Madrigal Imaging on the MPD eight- and nine-inch CRT projectors, to help get my system up and rolling. Nick and I then agreed to bring in a second guru in. William Phelps, based in San Jose, California, agreed take my D-ILA to the next level in terms of contrast through his unique modifications and creative set-up for digital projectors. Both Grieco and Phelps used the Faroudja as the tool to adjust the video settings despite the fact that the projector has nearly all of the same settings in its menu. They both said that the Faroudja’s controls were more accurate, but both complained about how touchy the physical controls on the NRS menus were.

Ultimately, Phelps programmed a host of settings in one of the presets in the Faroudja NRS, which gained the most contrast we could squeeze from my projector. I then used that setting as a middle point and made changes while watching TV and movies to adjust it to my tastes, just like I did with my old Faroudja LD100 line doubler. The most frequent changes I made were in bumping up the brightness or perhaps the contrast on DVDs that looked dark. The most evident disadvantage of the D-ILA technology is that it struggles to make dark pictures look as resolute and crisp as daytime shots. These quick fixes on the Faroudja proved to be lifesavers.

More Technology
The NRS uses Faroudja’s DCDi technology, which stands for Directional Correlational Deinterlacing. What it does is solve nasty noise and artifact problems on digital video sources for live sports and fast action movies. It removes jagged edges that are created by video cameras. For a diehard hockey fan like me, this technology is a good part of what makes the NRS worth the investment. Other technologies included in the NRS are Faroudja’s True Life Enhancer, which is a patented detail processing circuit that goes in after the NRS is done scaling the video to its specific native rate. Faroudja says it reduces the "ringing" effect that videophiles often complain about with plasmas and digital projectors. The NRS also has a patented 3/2 pull down circuit, which reduces motion artifacts from film-based material.

Viewing Tests
One of the first things I was able to test with the NRS was its HDTV pass-through. HDTV in my system looks unmolested through the Faroudja or even bypassing it, which leads me to believe that the NRS truly does pass through the video without any notable degradation. While watching a PBS documentary about travel in Italy (shot in 1080i), I could not discern a difference between the HDTV feed going directly into my projector from the Sony SAT HD100 receiver or through the NRS. The convenience of having all of your video switched in your Faroudja, including your HDTV, is a definite perk, but it's also reassuring to know you aren’t selling out video performance for convenience.

The DCDi was in effect during sessions watching my beloved Philadelphia Flyers absolutely embarrass themselves in the first round of the NHL playoffs this year. I got a chance to clearly see how inept their power play was, without as much jagged video noise as you sometimes see during live sports event. The Faroudja NRS was best on really fast moving shots and close-ups. It didn’t entirely eliminate the problem, but it seemed to help, which I appreciated. Now, if only the NRS could teach an All Star team like this year’s Flyers how to improve their standing from 28th in the league on the power play …

On movies, the NRS was my control center for getting the video the way I wanted it. The William Phelps set-up really helped me to obtain some more needed pop from my projector through dramatic increases in the overall contrast. I rarely needed to adjust the contrast on the Faroudja for movies, but sometimes played with it for "The Sopranos" second season (HBO Home Video). On "Ocean’s Eleven" (Warner Home Video), I was impressed with how vibrant the colors were during the scenes shot inside the Bellagio casino. As gaudy as the draperies are over the gaming tables, the Faroudja on my Madrigal Imaging D-ILA made them look vibrant and clear, lacking weird artifacts as the shot quickly pans away. The chips on the table were detailed and bright. Even the subtle details in the background looked good. I watched the scene as Saul walks through the lobby of the Bellagio, with the amazingly colorful hand-blown glass sculpture in the background. Even on the third time through viewing this section of the scene, I struggled to believe how detailed my picture looked.

Some of the most fun I had with a video system powered by a Faroudja NRS was at Bryan Southard’s house in San Jose. He has an older seven-inch Sony CRT projector and a Faroudja NRS setup for a CRT projector at 800 x 600, also with a William Phelps set-up. While his picture is nowhere near as bright as my D-ILA, the contrast was stellar. We spent hours in his dedicated theater playing Gran Turismo 3 (Sony Computer Entertainment) on PlayStation II. I was blown away. The detail of the game looked spectacular on the system in ways that can make logical adults spend hours of their valuable time trying to master "The Corkscrew" at Laguna Seca.

The Downside
The screen on the Faroudja NRS front panel is barely big enough to see. Seemingly, the NRS was designed for systems with RS232-controlled systems using big, color touch screen remotes. Unfortunately, I don’t have one, which made tweaking with my Faroudja not as much fun. Both of my set-up gurus complained that the menus were lousy, especially the way the buttons scroll awkwardly in one direction. For example, if you are simply switching from a component video source to perhaps the HDTV pass-through on the faceplate, you can easily miss your desired input, resulting in you having to scroll through all of the inputs again. Once again, RS232 control would allow you to program a macro, which would avoid this problem, but not everyone has such a luxury.

Bryan Southard contributed suggestions for ways to improve the NRS, based on his experiences with his system. He wished for more video inputs, especially the component variety. He likes the idea of having two DVD players: one DVD-Audio with a progressive video component out and another DVD player with a traditional interlaced 480i component video out. You’d need either a receiver that could manage two component inputs to solve your problem or you’d need an external switcher. The addition of a few more inputs would allow you the luxury of plugging your PlayStation II and other component video goodies directly into your NRS.

Southard went on to note that the NRS comes with a very limited manual that, in his opinion, gives the do-it-yourself video enthusiasts very little chance of success. If the unit is designed to be installed by a professional, then Faroudja should say so. If not, they need to produce a truly comprehensive manual and maybe even provide a tutorial DVD.

Faroudja deserves serious props for the NRS series video processor. The have successfully addressed a whole new set of video maladies as only Faroudja can but better yet, they dealt with the issue of value in a way that makes sense for a larger audience of AV enthusiasts. In the past, Faroudja products were always the single most expensive black box component in any good AV dealer. Old school Faroudja gear devalued like a share of Enron common stock the minute you walked out the door, mainly because there were so many new video technologies coming out with no clear-cut upgrade path. But that was then.

The NRS is expensive but fairly priced, considering its performance. It now has more of an upgrade path and, better yet, is packed with enough power to make someone with a good video system find even more reasons to turn on the tube, or in this case, turn on your chip. For those of us who are willing to step up the plate for top of the line video performance in the digital domain, the Faroudja NRS should be at the top of the list of needed components. For those who want a taste of what an NRS can do – especially with DCDi – you might want to look at some of the less expensive progressive video DVD players on the market from companies like Marantz, Kenwood and Krell that are also quite good. They don’t compete with the NRS in terms of scaling, flexibility and component quality, but they are killer for the price. Bravo to Faroudja for making like Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra or Madonna by reinventing themselves with a hit for an entirely new generation.
Manufacturer Faroudja
Model NRS Video Processor

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