SMR logoMax Zorrilla's Macrovision Defeating Box-O-Tricks
Like it or not, Macrovision is an unavoidable fact of DVD life.  Its aim is to prevent illegal copies of software, but it also plays havoc with some projectors.  High time Nigel Pond investigated a new external video processor, one that is capable of rendering Macrovision impotent.

Many thanks to Max Zorrilla for his assistance and for providing the review sample.

The Zorrilla Video Filter - A Mini Review (Updated 11/08/2001)

 

Introduction:

Sharon Stone
Sharon Stone... She looks much better without the Macrovision!

     Regular visitors to the SMR Forums will recall that I have been rather vocal on the subject of defeating Macrovision in DVD players, either by internal hacks or external processing boxes.  My main argument was that while DVD was still a fledgling format, copying of DVDs onto VHS should be discouraged lest the studios turn against the format before it had even got off the ground.  After persuasive arguments from some individuals I had to concede that there were certain circumstances in which defeating Macrovision may be desirable for example, some video projection systems have a hard time dealing with it and maybe making a VHS copy of a DVD for use in a holiday home or to protect the DVD from childrens fingers.

 

The Problem:

     So now that we may want to defeat Macrovision for these limited purposes, how best to do it?  Pretty soon after DVD was introduced inquisitive folk discovered how to disable it with a hardware hack inside the DVD player or with an add-on chip (methods vary according to manufacturer of player).  But digging around inside the guts of a DVD player, soldering iron in hand, is not for everyone, so the only other real option is an add-on processing box and naturally I have expressed strong feelings about those too.   All of the ones I had seen in action in the past significantly degraded picture quality.  So when, at the end of last year, Max Zorrilla posted a message on the Forums about a digital video filter that he had designed and was planning to put into limited production, I was sceptical and said so.

 

The Challenge:

     To give him credit, Max was very polite in reply to my scepticism, much more so than I would have been if the positions had been reversed!  He challenged me to try out his prototype for myself before passing judgement.  So I accepted Maxs challenge and a short time afterwards a small package arrived from him containing the filter box itself and a wall-wart power supply.

 

Construction:

     The filter is housed in a small plastic electronic project box about the size of a cigarette packet (I really must find an alternative comparison, but everyone knows what size a ciggy box is, right?) and to be honest, is not much to look at, but then it really is not meant to be seen.  Its size means it can be tucked away on the rack behind ones DVD player, or close to a video projector etc.  There is no back panel on the prototype, the jacks on the circuit board being exposed.  Those jacks are a DC input from the wall-wart, a composite input, composite output, S-Video input and S-Video output.   Also exposed is a small slide-switch to choose between composite and S-Video modes.   Max tells me that for the production run that he intends to build there will be a properly punched and labelled back panel.  I took the cover off and had a gander at the circuit board.  I am not an electronics engineer but the board looks well laid out and the solder connections solid.

 

'Sphere' DVDSetup:

     Setup is very straightforward (but Max even supplied a colour diagram just in case).  Connect composite or S-Video in and out cables (from DVD player and to VCR, respectively), select the appropriate switch position, connect up the DC output of the wall-wart and youre ready to go.

 

Performance:

     Well what can I say?  My initial scepticism proved to be totally unfounded.  This little unit performs very well indeed.  I made two short S-VHS recordings on the same tape of the opening helicopter ride scene from 'Sphere', one without the filter in the loop, the other with it.  The "without" recording exhibited the typical Macrovision behaviour alternating between a very bright and very dark picture (in its basic form Macrovision works by interfering with the VCRs automatic gain control); the "with" recording was, I have to say, one of the best S-VHS recordings I have ever seen and probably as good as the format can produce.  Coupled with a soundtrack encoded in analogue Logic 7, by my Lexicon DC-1, it was probably the best A/V combination I have experienced from a tape source, not up to the quality of DVD itself, but better by far than a store bought, pre-recorded tape.

     The same results were obtained in short test recordings from other DVDs such as 'What Dreams May Come' (a tough video test if ever there was one), 'Tomorrow Never Dies', 'Contact', and the 'Alien Legacy' quartet.

 

Conclusion:

     Max Zorrilla has designed and produced a first rate unit and it gets my recommendation if you need a way to defeat Macrovision.  Max tells me he is putting the unit into limited production, so if you want one contact Max [] as soon as you can.  And the prototype, serial no 0001?  I bought it.

 

1999, 2000 & 2001.

 

Review Update: 11th August 2001

     11th August 2001:  The NTSC version of Max's filter is back in production, as of early August 2001, 100 NTSC units are available priced at $89 each. PAL versions are also available on request, priced a little higher due to the increased cost of shipping the unit outside the United States.

Review Update: 13th January 2000

     Max has had many requests for a PAL version of his filter.  Without a PAL video source readily available, Max rented a PAL camcorder and developed a PAL version of the filter using it to generate a suitable video output.  Obviously a camcorder does not add Macrovision to its recorded material so Max asked me if I would test it for him with a PAL DVD source and PAL VCR.

     Luckily I have been able (in a non-destructive way) to enable my DVD player to play PAL discs from region 2 and I also have a PAL s-vhs VCR.  Mind you, I dont have many region 2 discs 4 actually: Scum, Reach for the Sky (one of my favourite, stiff-upper-lip war movies), and a couple of BBC discs: The Five Doctors and a disc featuring Jeremy Clarkson of the Beebs Top Gear and some very fast cars.

     I tried the PAL filter using all these discs as a source.  At first I had a slight flashing problem but Max sent me a reprogrammed chip and it worked just fine thereafter.  The results were pretty much the same as I reported in my original review - Almost flawless (at least as much as the VHS medium will allow) copies of the source.

     So the PAL version of the filter gets my recommendation too!

 

2000 & 2001.

 

Disclaimer:

The Digital Video Filter is intended to be used as a means to eliminate video interference introduced in consumers home theater systems by copyguard protection.  It is strictly for personal use and is not intended to be used for making illegal copies of copyright material.  Neither the author, SMR Home Theatre nor Max Zorrilla condone or endorse the illegal copying of copyright material.

Text Nigel R. Pond; HTML SMR Home Theatre and Images Corbis Outline, Warner Brothers & SMR Home Theatre cannot be reproduced without permission. Dolby Digital is a registered trademark of Dolby Laboratories Licensing Corporation, DTS is a registered trademark of Digital Theater Systems. The images on this page are digitally watermarked: Digimarc http://www.digimarc.com/

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Last updated 11 August, 2001

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