The DarbeeVision Darblet is an add-on video processor that sits in between your source component and your display. It is not like other mainstream video processors on the market in that it doesn't accomplish the same things that a normal video processor would - grayscale and gamut adjustments for instance. The Darblet is actually best described as a contrast/brightness adjuster/enhancer. It adjusts the darkness or lightness on particular small areas of the image. This adjustment can create more defined edges and increase the perceived sharpness in some content, while making some content (compressed or a grainy film content for example) look much worse. It is important to understand that it is not affecting any of the normally adjusted parameters used in calibrating a display. It extends the contrast in very small sections of the image, affecting only middle luminance values. The effect adds more apparent contrast and sharpness to much of the image. It does not affect deep blacks or bright areas near white. Commonly, users describe it like lifting a veil from the image. This is due to the increase in contrast in areas that were previously less distinct. The manufacturer claims to be adding cues that enhance the perception of depth, and based upon research in the area of perception this is true, but only to a very small degree compared with actual 3D images.
The Darblet comes with the power supply cord and a small remote. On the front of the unit there are 4 buttons - On/Off, Up, Down and Back. The HDMI input and output are located one on each side of the box. The included remote has eight buttons laid out in two rows of four. The top row buttons are On/Off, More Darbee, Less Darbee and Menu. The bottom row buttons are Hi Def, Gaming, Full Pop, and Demo.
By now you have probably read the many reviews on the Darblet and you have probably seen a multitude of images displaying the Darblet's qualities. So I will cut right to the chase. The Darblet treats some content really well and it treats other content really bad. If you are the type of person that watches very little to no compressed HDTV, the Darblet may be for you. If you watch Blu-ray content exclusively, the Darblet may be for you. If you watch a lot of compressed HDTV broadcasts or upconverted content, I would recommend skipping the Darblet.
I will post a lot of images as well but you really need to watch the videos to get a feel for what the Darblet does and if it will do enough for your display. Still images are a rarity in video so using that, and only that in some cases, is unwarranted. Some of the football pictures show an increase in detail and yet when it used in real time (the videos) the detail enhancement is indiscernible.
What The Darblet Does Well
I watched a lot of Blu-ray content with the Darblet and it performed as advertised with most of this content. The only one I noticed issues with was Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. I will discuss this later in the "What It Does Not Do Well" section. A brief list of some of the content that it did well on was Avatar, The Lorax, Kung Fu Panda, and other animated films. Some films it seemed that the effect was negligible - The Dark Knight for instance.
One of the best ways to see what the Darblet can do is to view the space scenes at the start of Avatar. Here are some shots of the spaceship arriving at Pandora.
The images are all thumbnails. Click on them to view the larger image.
Zooming in on the spaceship you can see that the adjustment of the brightness/contrast in several areas of the image makes the spaceship appear sharper to the eye.
Zooming in even further you can see how the Darblet adjust down to the pixel level.
And here is a macro shot of the stars in space.
Another excellent resource I used that helps to show what the Darblet does is the HQV Blu-ray Benchmark. The chapters for Resolution Enhancement and Contrast Enhancement in particular. These are in order of 0, 35, and 75%.
The grain in the wood warranted a closer look.
Here again is the video of the Darblet in action using the HQV Benchmark disc.
I would highly recommend going to the YouTube link and watching in 1080p.
What The Darblet Does Not Do Well
HDMI Handshaking Issue
I could not get the unit to work on my Sony LED/LCD with DirecTV at all. I tried using the same exact cables that worked fine with the Sony Blu-ray player, yet they would not work. I tried every other HDMI cable combination with what I had on hand to no avail. I tried multiple variations of start-up sequences to no avail. And I even tried 3 separate DirecTV IRDs to no avail. It just would not work in that particular configuration. I have heard that there were other customers having these issues as well. For some reason it worked fine in my theater setup, although I did have to go through a different start-up sequence for it to work initially.
The Darblet does not do all that well with compression artifacts. Anything that has some sort of compression scheme, such as DirecTV, the artifacts tend to get highlighted. While watching several sporting events the highlighting of several compression artifacts became annoying. During a Minnesota Twins game at Target Field, the Darblet had to be turned down to the point of it being non-existent in order to make the artifacts disappear. Due to the handshake issues, I did not get pictures of this, but I did shoot this video. Again, I would suggest going to YouTube and upgrading the quality to 1080p. Pay close attention when the camera is showing the batter getting ready to swing. Look at the Target Field sign on the back wall.
The other sporting event that exhibited issues with artifacts was football. When you watch these videos, pay close attention to the numbers on the field when the camera pans out before a play.
While watching hockey the Darblet did not experience any artifact issues. It just did not enhance the game. It enhanced the crowd and the advertisements in the ice and on the boards. The interesting to note in this video is how easy it is to pick up on the enhancement while the game is paused and how difficult it is when the action is moving. It is pretty much the same with football. You notice it while the content is paused, but not when the content is in motion.
I believe with some tweaking that Darbee Vision can get this to a 5. The way that it interacts with some Blu-ray content is nothing short of amazing. But with the way that it handles compressed and grainy film content, it is not a 5 by any means. Not to mention the shaky HDMI handshaking issues.
Outside of the small remote and turning the device up and down, there really are no additional features. The demo mode is sort of nifty though.
The Darblet hit the market with a MSRP of $249. Shortly thereafter it jumped to $269. Now some places are selling it for $299 and I understand the MSRP is supposed to jump to $349 soon. I would place the value of this device at about $99 - $150. The amount of content that it works well with is somewhat limited.
Would I buy one? If it were in that $99 - $150 range... yes. As it stands now... no.
Discussion thread is here.
Other professional reviews of the Darblet
Kris Deering's at Home Theater Mag
Josh Zyber at High-Def Digest
Jeff Meier's Blog