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Isol-8 VMC1080 review

John Archer



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Isol-8 VMC1080
  • Isol-8 VMC1080
  • Isol-8 VMC1080
  • Isol-8 VMC1080
  • Isol-8 VMC1080
  • Isol-8 VMC1080
  • ISOL-8 VMC1080 Video Conditioner Unit


Our Score:


The more observant of you will have already noticed that the VMC1080 from British company Isol-8 doesn’t look much like a TV or projector. And there’s a good reason for this, namely that it isn’t a TV or projector!

What it might be, though, is your TV or projector’s new best friend. For according to Isol-8, the VMC1080 can single-handedly have your video display device delivering better colour, detailing, contrast, and motion handling - all while simultaneously protecting it from those frankly terrifying critters known as 'mains-borne spikes'. Yikes.

If the VMC1080 can deliver on even some of its promises, it might just turn out to be the best £179 you’ve ever spent. Especially if you’ve got a particularly large TV or a projector, where any improvements to your picture quality will be that much more obvious.

At which point we’d probably get on and actually say what the VMC1080 is. Namely, a Video Mains Conditioner.

And yes, we can already feel the waves of cynicism washing over this review. For we’re only too aware that many normally mild-mannered and genteel AV folk suddenly explode into uncontrolled anger - red faces, sputtering, clenched fists, the works - at the merest suggestion that using expensive cables or electrical filters can actually make a significant difference to video performance.

Actually we have a little sympathy for this feeling ourselves - up to a point. For we really do question if some of the truly esoteric cabling out there, with prices of many hundreds of pounds for a few metres, can really outperform something much more affordable from the likes of IXOS or Supra. But at the same time, few people seem to doubt (again, up to a point) that superior cabling can improve the performance of high-spec audio gear, so why shouldn’t it be the case with video too?

After all, there are actually more elements to a video feed that could be improved by better cabling than there are elements in an audio feed (cue a legion of hi-fi lovers lining up to shoot that argument down!).

Also, let’s be fair, at £179 the VMC1080 isn’t exactly megabucks by the standards of the premium interconnect world. So let’s just take a deep breath and give it a chance, shall we?

We should start, obviously, by stating exactly what a mains conditioner does. Basically, it sits between the mains supply and the power inlet to your display device and 'cleans' the incoming power, so that the flow is more stable and less polluted by noise - including the noise that can be added to your mains by other electrical devices in your home. This should result, the argument goes, in better picture quality. Plus, of course, the VMC1080 can take the hit rather than your display if you’re unlucky enough to get hit by one of those sudden high voltage mains spikes we hear about.


August 20, 2010, 1:40 pm

Interesting review but what's with the blurry cam? No matter, it's still nice to know that this isn't simply snake oil... My setup with several 4 way leads and severe lack of dedicated plugs seems like it would benefit from this.


August 20, 2010, 1:46 pm

Was this testing double blind?


August 20, 2010, 1:55 pm

@Mattj: you beat me to it - these tests are easily controlled and blindable and they need to be if they're to have any value.


August 20, 2010, 2:09 pm

@Mattj and @Kaplan: exactly. Also, as no owner of high end PJ would be follish enough to use one without an UPS, it would be interesting to see if there is any improvement from the filtering and protection already offered by an UPS, say like an APC BACK-UPS, which apart from the surge protection and filtering also protects your lamp and circuits in case of a brutal power cut (happens two or three times a year here at least, and I live in a UK city, not in the middle of nowhere). I think I can see an improvement in picture quality using the UPS, but I've never been able to compare in double blind (can't afford two JVC HD-750 :))


August 20, 2010, 2:28 pm

Does it keep bears away as well?

Robert Paines

August 20, 2010, 2:29 pm

Why are you suggesting that people have to buy the more expensive item in order to use a device that doesn't use an IEC connector? Surely they could just chop the 13A plug off of the factory supplied lead and stick a C14 on instead, or even buy and adaptor lead/


August 20, 2010, 2:45 pm

This is complete nonsense. If the output from the device PSU was fluctuating enough that the digital video signal was getting disrupted, the control electronics wouldn't work reliably enough for you to turn the power on in the first place. However to get the PSU output to fluctuate to that level, the mains input would have to be staggering bad. You'd be replacing your gadgets, appliances, and lightbulbs on a weekly basis because they were getting tortured to death.


August 20, 2010, 2:45 pm

Would love to see footage from a stationary camcorder (identical, manually set exposure, f-stop etc.) comparing a tv set with/without the VMC1080 in use.

You know, like an eye test at the opticians - "Is it better with... or without?"

Tim Sutton

August 20, 2010, 2:51 pm

Damn you, John!

*adds another £369 to sitting room AV costs*


I just assumed it was because the thing was moving so fast.


August 20, 2010, 3:00 pm



August 20, 2010, 3:09 pm

Quite aside from blinding, you could do a quantitative test of contrast and saturation (I assume the author owns a colorimeter for display calibration purposes) and/or a synthetic test of resolution (such as displaying a native-resolution comb pattern).


August 20, 2010, 4:02 pm

@Manni: Of course, using a power conditioner/surge protector to avoid damage to your equipment is just protecting your investment. However it'll do nothing for picture quality, and a better unit can almost certainly be had for the same money (or the same protection for less money) by buying from somewhere that's not trying to convince you that it can also cause spontaneous hair regrowth.


August 20, 2010, 4:04 pm

Could you perhaps get an engineering opinion from Panasonic on how this device could possibly make any difference whatsoever to the video output on their plasma?

The drive electronics for a plasma display generate high voltages with precise timings, all tightly regulated. Nothing you do before this will make any difference.

And as all the video processing right up to modulation of the drive signal is in the digital domain, neither is there a noise issue.

In a randomized double-blind trial this device is not going to look a bargain at 179 pounds - it's going to look like a very pricey surge protector.

Their claims of "reduced motion artefacts, improved contrast, more vivid colours, better image depth and a sharper, more focused and less grainy picture" should have set the snake-oil alarms blazing.

Doubtless it will cure my ingrowing toenail too.

But then you knew this was prime skeptic-bait when you wrote the article!


August 20, 2010, 5:16 pm

Right then chaps! Biscuit for anyone who can convince their wife that spending £180 on a black box that 'reduces mains interference' is a good idea!!

"Look Dear, it's obvious, what do you mean you can't tell the difference?"

Are we sure this isn't JML in disguise?


August 20, 2010, 5:47 pm

Unless you can show clear detailed pictured showing this miraculous improvement in picture quality any credibility this site had in reviewing anything just went down the toilet.

Utterly ludicrous.


August 20, 2010, 6:16 pm

I can't believe some of the cynical and moronic comments here from people who clearly have no understanding of power issues and who probably own an e-Buyer 25inch LCD bought for £129.99 . John Archer is one of the best TV/AV reviewers on the planet and has a really good eye for picture quality. If he says this works, that's enough for me. I have implemented serious filtering on my pure Hi-fi system and the difference is clearly audible. With shitty dirty mains, why shouldn't it improve picture too? Even better that this ISOL-8 is designed to filter noise affecting video frequencies. The rest of you go and buy a £6.99 six-way block from Maplin.

Tim Sutton

August 20, 2010, 6:27 pm

@ Peter Jones

Well said.


Woah there. Possibly you shouldn't comment this week of the month? Come back when the cramps have gone away.


August 20, 2010, 7:02 pm

I don't think that calling us "cynical and moronic" really counters the quite factual concerns we've expressed. Care for a response that's more than just a snarky put-down, Pete?

Perhaps you'd like to address how the system can increase colour saturation. Do the power-smoothing pixies climb into the TV and start making adjustments to the video data on-the-fly? While they're in there, maybe they could improve the quality of the subtitles on the sport.


August 20, 2010, 7:15 pm

Jones, while improving the quality of the input waveform into an analogue system could, in principle, improve its output, it simply cannot, even in principle, improve the output of a digital system. It's like digital TV, to use an analogy. There's no gradual increase in static and noise as the signal quality goes down, there's an abrupt moment when the number of errors exceeds the redundancy of the signal and the data stream - and the picture, and the sound - completely fall to pieces.


August 20, 2010, 7:16 pm

Based on Tim's comment, perhaps they need a new strapline. "Isol-8 VMC1080: The Power Filter for Internet Misogynists."


August 20, 2010, 7:22 pm

Let me make a more thorough explanation. The issue is that there are no "video frequences" to experience noise in these systems. Even with an analogue video input, you get as far as the analogue ADC, and then everything inside the TV is digital. You're dealing with a computer that's processing a binary signal describing the audio and video it's been fed. It's like the stream of information running between your hard drive and your CPU in your computer. It degrates quantitatively, not qualitatively. Add noise, and your monthly sales spreadsheet won't gradually drift into the red. Nor will your Christmas letter gradually switch from erudite vocabulary to the equivalent monosyllables. What'll happen is that you'll lose data, and start getting garbage in its place. Likewise, electrical noise in your TV won't slowly sap contrast, colour, or motion response. It won't cause the parallax in your 3D movies to slowly decrease. It'll cause the TV to display garbage, and/or stop working entirely.


August 20, 2010, 7:29 pm

@Peter Jones: "I have implemented serious filtering on my pure Hi-fi system and the difference is clearly audible. With shitty dirty mains, why shouldn't it improve picture too?"

Look closely at a plasma picture. Each red/green/blue subpixel is pulsing rapidly on and off (pulse width modulation) to generate intermediate grey levels. Sometimes referred to as "dot noise", but fundamental to the picture generation as the pixels are either on or off. Which is, in short, why plasma displays are immune to the sort of analogue noise you are trying to filter out from your hi-fi.

Hope that answers your question, and explains the doubtful nature of some of the other comments!


August 20, 2010, 8:01 pm

@Tim Sutton.

Ok you've won me over with the power of your argument. I'm getting 2. We'll see who's laughing when I transform my Ebuyer 25" telly and Matsui music centre into audio/video nirvana!


August 20, 2010, 8:11 pm

@Tim Sutton: Really? In this day and age?

@trancematics: If you know anything about these technologies you should know full well that such a thing is to all intents and purposes impossible. How can you possible judge the quality of a monitor/TV/etc by taking a picture/video of it with a camera, compressing it, hosting it on a website, and viewing it on whatever monitor you happen to have?

I'm not sure what John'd methodology was with regards double blind testing. I shall ask him to comment.

John Archer

August 20, 2010, 8:18 pm

Ah, it's good to see those waves of cynicism predicted in the review rolling into the comments section in such spectacular fashion. ;-)

All I can say to the cynics among you is that, as pointed out in the review, I am - and remain - a cautious sceptic about some of the claims made by the cabling and filtering world. I'm the first person, for instance, to tell mates not to be seduced by the stupidly expensive cable options shop assistants try to foist on them when they buy a new TV.

However, for me the improvements introduced by the VMC1080 are undeniable, at least at very large screen sizes. Subtle (not 'miraculous', transmatic), but undeniable.

I should add that there was indeed 'blind' testing here (something that would have been worth mentioning in the review), in the sense that myself, a fairly technical mate and my good wife (representing the layman!) all did blind testing, where the projector, Panny TV and Humax TV were shown to each person in isolation without that person having any knowledge whether the picture they were seeing was from a 'filtered' product or not.

And in the case of both the projector and the Panasonic TV, the hit rate was 100 per cent. In other words, all of us - including two people chosen deliberately because they're normal people - correctly and repeatedly identified when the picture was appearing with filtering in play and when it wasn't.

With the Humax small TV, the situation wasn't nearly so successful. In fact, only one of the three of us - me! - correctly identified with any consistency when the filter was in play and when it wasn't. And I got it wrong once myself. Hence my conclusion that with the filter, size definitely matters.

Having predicted the likely reaction to this article I guess I could have tried to expand the blind test subject base, but frankly I hoped that my reputation might have led to a little more trust in my opinion! So much for that theory... :-)

But anyway, I doubt that anything I did would persuade the arch cynics around these sort of issues to shift their position. And that's fine. Debate is good, other opinions are honestly always welcome, and nobody is forcing anyone to buy anything.

The only comment on this list to date that I take any issue with is the one from trancematics. The only 'utterly ludicrous' thing about any of this is for you to make such a stupidly sweeping comment as that. Even if you had any experience of the VMC1080 to back your opinion up, putting your view over like that is about as pointless as the proverbial chocolate teapot. Or using a £100 HDMI cable with a 20in TV.

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