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Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Qualia video device boosts image quality

Sony will expand its Qualia line of products later this month with the addition of a video processing device that can improve the image quality of standard and high-definition images.

The Qualia 001 "Creation Box" is a little larger than a VCR and packs some of the company's latest digital image processing technology. At the heart of the device is Sony's DRC-MFv2 digital video controller chip, which the company announced in August last year.

The chip can project a high-definition image from a standard-definition image, improving the quality of any conventional video source, such as a DVD player, VHS deck or analogue broadcast television. It's also capable to improving the appearance of high-definition images. The chip achieves both these functions by applying a processing algorithm that in particular sharpens the edges of objects in the image.

The chip also supports up to 3x zoom and creates a number of new pixels from one original pixel for each step in zoom. At maximum 3x zoom, up to 36 new pixels have been created from each original pixel to result in an image that doesn't suffer as much from a drop in resolution that is common with digital zoom. Pan and tilt is also supported.

In a demonstration of the Qualia 001 Sony gave on Wednesday, a visible difference could be seen between unprocessed and processed video images, the latter appearing to be sharper and have more resolution.

The largest difference, to this reporter's eye, was in a standard definition image displayed on a 3-year old Sony PDP television. The unprocessed image appeared a little soft while the processed image, which had been stepped up to high-definition, was much sharper and an altogether better image.

Differences, especially in fine detail such as the leaves of distant trees in a landscape shot, could also be seen on more modern CRT, LCD and PDP televisions being fed high-definition video.

The product is also potentially upgradeable. The top of the case can slide off to reveal a detachable black box that is a little smaller than a video cassette. The box is dubbed the "reality evolution accelerator" and contains various parameters associated with the device's functions, said Koji Yamamura, deputy general manager at Sony's Qualia development division.

It plugs into an interface that, in the future, may be used for expansions to the device. These could be new functions, such as a higher zoom, or a hardware upgrade, he said.

Sony's target customer is someone who wants to improve their television picture, whether they are home theatre enthusiasts with the latest high-definition audio-visual set-up or customers who bought televisions a few years ago and have missed out on recent advances in image processing or HDTV.

Televisions are typically replaced in a roughly 10-year cycle and the fast pace of change at present, as the transition continues from analogue standard definition to digital high definition, means there could be many potential customers.

However, the Qualia 001 doesn't come cheap. Like the other products in Sony's Qualia range, which are promoted as premium products containing Sony's best technology, it carries a premium price. The device will go on sale in Japan on January 29 with a price tag of ?525,000 (around 2,800). Sony has no current plans to put it on sale overseas.

The Qualia 001 measures 43-x-39-x-9.35cm and weighs 10.5kg.

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