DVDO AVLab TPG Review:
4K Test Pattern Generator

Bill Livolsi, April 21, 2015

If you've been around home theater projectors for a while, you have at least some familiarity with video calibration. Video calibration brings a display closer in line with established standards. By doing so, you ensure the maximum fidelity, accuracy, and detail from your display. Broadly speaking, video calibration relies on two devices: a signal source and a meter. The source can be as simple as a calibration disc, but high-end calibration setups tend to use dedicated test pattern generators.

The DVDO AVLab TPG is a test pattern generator for professionals and enthusiasts who need a portable test pattern source that's more accurate and flexible than a calibration disc. Unlike a calibration disc, the AVLab TPG doesn't rely on an external playback device. It can create any pattern in its library at any resolution and eliminate potential scaling artifacts - and using USB control, it can even create dynamically-generated custom patterns on the fly. It offers full support for both 4K and UHD resolution, something that no calibration disc can offer. It supports both component and RGB color, a variety of bit depths, and even offers an HDMI passthrough option so you can use it to check the accuracy of your signal sources as well as your display. And though an MSRP of $1,299 might seem steep to home users, it makes the AVLab an unprecedented value in the world of professional-grade calibration equipment.

Key Features

Portability. The AVLab TPG is a tiny little device, just over three inches on its longest side, housed in a rugged metal case. The included A/C adapter and remote control are both bulkier than the device itself, but they're not required in all applications; the AVLab can draw power and take commands over USB, and there are also buttons to switch patterns and output resolution on the device itself. Using the AVLab, I can fit my entire calibration kit into my laptop bag.

Direct to display. Calibration discs are inexpensive and work well when you're trying to calibrate an entire system (in other words, you're calibrating the display and source device as a single unit). However, since they rely on another device for playback, they are reliant on the accuracy of that source device. If there is any kind of signal processing happening in the source device, it can be difficult to tell. The AVLab is self-contained, so it is free from that sort of interference. In fact, as it incorporates an HDMI pass-through circuit, you can use it to diagnose these exact problems by adding it between the Blu-ray player and projector.

4K resolution. As 4K-capable displays become more and more common, the need to calibrate these devices will also increase. While one could certainly use a 1080p signal source and allow the projector to upscale the signal, this can introduce error. The AVLab TPG is capable of natively displaying test material in both UHD (3840x2160) and 4K (4096x2160) at 24, 50, and 60 Hz, making it far more versatile - and ideal for professional calibrators or demanding enthusiasts.

Easy to use. The included remote control has direct-access buttons to the AVLab's most important pattern groups. There's also an on-screen display that can be used to page through the entire pattern library, one step at a time. Both methods are easy to use, though the remote takes some getting used to, but both also pale in comparison to using direct software integration.

Color checker. Using the AVLab's HDMI input, you can check the accuracy of an input video signal from any other device. So if you're wondering about the accuracy of your Blu-ray player, you can connect the AVLab between the player and projector. Using a calibration disc on the Blu-ray player, you can use a built-in pointer on the AVLab to read the exact color coordinates, bit depth, and signal type of any pixel on screen. In other words, the AVLab is not only immune to player-induced error that can affect calibration discs, it can help diagnose it in other devices as well.

Software integration. The AVLab TPG can interface directly with several popular calibration software packages via USB, including CalMAN, ChromaPure, and HCFR. This makes the device easier to use as part of a professional system and allows you to leave the remote control and power adapter back at the office. This setup also allows for dynamically-generated patterns, useful when attempting to perform full 3D color calibrations.

Field upgradeable. The AVLab TPG was designed from the start for working professionals who make their living using their tools. To these folks, the idea of sending a device away for a firmware upgrade is a non-starter. Not only do they lose out on the use of the device, but they either need to purchase a backup device or lose revenue while they wait for the return shipment. DVDO made the AVLab's firmware field-upgradeable, so if a necessary update is released, your pattern generator is out of commission for minutes, not days or weeks.

Enthusiast pricing. Compared to a calibration disc, the AVLab isn't cheap. However, it's a lot more affordable than many other video test pattern generators out there, which tend to start at $5,000. Some cost as much as a small car. By those standards, $1,299 is a steal.

Limitations

No 3D patterns. As of this writing, the AVLab does not include 3D patterns. However, there's nothing in the device that indicates this is a hardware limitation, so a firmware upgrade adding 3D support is certainly possible in the future.

4K Limitations. The AVLab's HDMI chipset is bandwidth-limited to 10.2 Gbps, so 4K patterns at 60 Hz can only be displayed in 8-bit color and 4:2:0 chroma subsampling. Then again, it seems that every other 4K display on the market right now has the same limitation, so this isn't so much a current problem as it is a potential future limitation.

Conclusion

Compared to new home theater projectors, calibration equipment isn't exactly exciting. But if you want to get the most out of a projector, accurate calibration is absolutely necessary. The only way to get that accurate calibration is using accurate equipment.

The DVDO AVLab TPG is an affordable pattern generator that brings professional-level performance within the reach of the dedicated enthusiast. With the AVLab, an accurate meter, and a piece of software, you can bring out the best in any projector, ensuring pixel-perfect color and maximum performance at any resolution. It's not without limits, and so far it cannot help you calibrate 3D, but it offers better bang-for-the-buck than just about any other calibration video source available.

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