Hardware Review: VDigi VD-W3 Wii HDMI Upscaler

We take a look at VDigi's up-scaler device that aims to bring you a step closer to "Wii HD".

It's well documented that the lack of High-Definition (HD) doesn't affect the majority of Wii gamers, however there is a significant minority who eagerly await Nintendo's step up in the HD realm. VDigi have identified this specific Wii gamer and offer them a stop-gap solution in the form of a Wii up-scaler processor available for around $59.

Video up-scalers have been around for a number of years, attempting to solve the problem of the video source resolution (e.g. DVD, 480p) being vastly inferior to modern large screen resolutions such as 1080p.

It works as a signal converter by physically resizing the source video frame before sending it out as a new digital signal. Anyone who's ever enlarged a JPEG image will know that this process isn't particularly successful, therefore the up-scaler also processes the frame with a number of clever filters that try to "clean up" the image.

The process has been relatively successful for DVD players and films because of the smoother characteristics of the frames. Games are quite different, having more harsh edges with multiple icons and text on-screen. We expect that VDigi have attempted to tweak these filters to suit games better.

The device offers HDMI output for TV screens which can also be adapted to DVI using a simple converter. For HDMI it offers the 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p signals and for DVI supports 1280x1024, 1440x900 and 1680x1050. As you might expect the video processor needs power, but cleverly this is handled by a USB connector that connects to the back of your Wii to draw power.

The HDMI signal will carry audio as you might expect, however the device also has a 3.5mm analogue audio jack for those using DVI or other setups.

Along with the resolution options the device also offers two "Display Modes" and two "Colour Modes" which appear to slightly tweak the white balance and colour saturation respectively. All of these options are controlled by a crude, but effective, old school-looking DIP switch on the bottom of the device.

VDigi were kind enough to let us have a test drive with one of the units, and we've tried it on a number of different TV screens and monitors.

We've tested the device using a 42" Hitachi Plasma screen (HDMI->DVI), a 32" Sony Brava LCD (HDMI), 22" Samsung LCD/TFT (DVI), 17" LG LCD/TFT (DVI) and couple other LCD monitors.

To summarise we had mixed but positive results, with the device working on all but one of our test screens. We found that simply selecting the maximum resolution doesn't automatically give you the best results, with nearly all of the screens requiring some manual tweaking of colour, hue, sharpness and more to get the best results out of the device.

The up-scaled image was arguably clearer when compared to 480p/component, however in some cases (42" Hitachi Plasma) there was little visible improvement. Simply put, results may vary.

Conclusions

People who expect this device to suddenly enable crystal-clear 1080p gaming for their Wii should first understand what an up-scaler is capable of, and that isn't magic. When used on screens that support the standard 480p/component setup we saw little improvement to warrant the investment, however if you're a Wii gamer who desperately wants to use a LCD monitor or simply only have HDMI connectors on your large screen TV then this product should suit your needs. It would also be prudent to do some research prior to purchase, checking that your LCD supports the resolutions & refresh rates offered by the device.

[via vdigi.com]