Video calibration and testing is tedious, exacting work. The end result, however, is our ability to objectively convey relevant information to you, plus make our favorite projectors and TVs look and perform at their absolute best. The need to examine dozens (if not hundreds) of video test patterns to properly evaluate display performance is the primary time-sink in the whole process.
Enthusiasts with a little know-how, a Blu-ray player, and a decent test disc can perform their own basic display evaluation and setup. Manually navigating a disc is tedious though, and there are limited test patterns available. If you wish to increase the speed and accuracy of the job at hand, a dedicated test pattern generator (TPG) will change your life.
Most test pattern generators are bulky, expensive boxes that can cost as much as a used car. If you need a TPG that supports the latest features, like 4K/2160p, we're talking about gear that can cost as much as a nice used car.
The signal processing masters at DVDO have introduced the AVLab TPG that eschews the bulk and cost of its competitors by delivering digital video goodness in a package that literally fits in your pocket.
About the size of a deck of playing cards, the AVLab TPG is wrapped in a tough metal enclosure that provides a bit of heft for the diminutive unit. Fragile it is not, and that's a good thing for any piece of kit that's expected to perform flawlessly in the field.
One reason for the TPG's compact design is that it’s an HDMI-only video device. The lack of analog video support isn't really critical anymore. The HDMI-passthrough design of the TPG allows for in-line placement: slotting between a display and a source device like a Blu-ray player.
The TPG’s HDMI input is also MHL-enabled for easy charging of connected mobile devices. Keeping with the all-digital theme, a S/PDIF optical audio output is also present if needed.
The AVLab TPG keeps on-device control simple with two easily operated buttons. One for output format and one for test pattern selection. An infrared remote enables selection and control of the TPG's numerous output capabilities via a clean and legible on-screen menu system. This includes access to:
- More than 85 built in test patterns
- 20+ video format output options
- BT.601, BT.709, and full range RGB color spaces
- 8, 10, and 12-bit output
Video format support includes SD through 4K, as well as 50Hz/60Hz refresh rates, and 4K/2160p at 60Hz using YCbCr 4:2:0 as defined in the HDMI 2.0 spec.
An information menu option is useful for verifying incoming and outgoing signals.
Updates and integration
The TPG's USB port makes it easy for owners to apply firmware updates (I tested with v1.02) that add new features and functionality after its initial release. However, the best use of the AVLab TPG's USB port is for supplying power, along with direct PC control. This allows automation of the display calibration and testing process.
Calibration software packages compatible with the TPG include: SpectraCAL's CalMAN v5 or later, ChromaPure Professional v2.5.1 or later, and HCFR Colormeter. If you don’t have compatible software, the AVLab TPG is slightly less exciting, as the user misses out on automated control and the ability to generate variable window sizes and RGB triplets for custom color measurements.
The TPG's user guide provides a nicely organized chart of serial command protocols for anyone interested in crafting their own software control scheme.
In the box
The DVDO AVLab TPG includes everything you need to get it up and running with a minimum of fuss:
- HDMI cable
- Micro USB adapter cable
- A/C power adapter
- Padded travel case
Video generators like the DVDO AVLab TPG are not cheap, but compared to the alternatives, its $1,300 price tag is a downright bargain. Other HDMI-only video generators, like the VideoForge HDMI, only provide 1080p output for the same price as the AVLab TPG. A 4K VideoForge unit bumps the price up to $4,000. The Quantum Data 804A is among the most capable 4K HDMI generators currently available, but is $6000.
With its ease of use, firmware updatability, and relatively low price, the DVDO AVLab TPG enables a display professional or hard-core enthusiast to spend less time in the calibration and setup process and more time appreciating the end result.