Touring CNet’s Testing Labs

The testing setup that I am always in awe of it the one that CNet has. While most of us have to do our testing in a vacuum and rely on subjective memory or our objective test data, CNet has access to almost all the recent, popular displays. The room design enables them to do side-by-side comparison of many displays so they can compare them and not rely on their memory. Since I was in Manhattan for something, I decided to pay a visit to see how their test lab works.

As any good test lab should be, the room can be completely closed off to light. It also has black walls, black curtains, dark floors and ceilings so it is as ideal an environment as you can get. The room sections into two with a curtain down the middle. This allows two separate lineups to happen at once without light polluting them.

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A look around the room reveals a selection of the best TVs you can find. If you want any recent high-end model from Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Samsung, LG, and other companies it is somewhere around the room. Both sides of the room have equipment racks with reference sources, including a PlayStation 3 and an Oppo Blu-ray player, an HDMI switcher and an HDMI distribution device. This makes it easy to switch between 4 different sources and send that source to up to 8 displays at once.

These setups let CNet look at the exact same image on up to 8 completely calibrated displays at once in an ideal environment. Does one display have better black levels than another? The measurements will tell you, but this lets you place them side-by-side and see the actual differences. Sometimes a display can measure better, but look worse by crushing shadow detail. If that happens you will be able to see it and not have to rely on your memories or notes. Using these display lineups allows the kind of comparisons most reviewers can only dream of.

The testing lab at CNet also now tests projectors. Using a Stewart Studiotek 130 screen for the reference, a custom mount allows you to compared two projectors at once. The custom mount is a serious piece of custom made metal that is bolted and glued to the ceiling. I could easily hang on it and it would support me, though I didn’t try with a pair of JVC projectors being on the mount at the time. These projectors can take advantage of the same HDMI distribution setup so you can compare them back and forth. Since there is only one screen you need to cover one projector lens to switch, but it is a better setup than most of us have to test with.

There is also a wall full of all the testing equipment and media that you might need. Need a cable? There are bins full of whatever one you might need. Given my propensity to run out of power cords, I could benefit from this setup. There is a drawer with all the test equipment you want, from the Konica Minolta CS-2000  to the Quantum Data 780. There are also drawers of test media on Blu-ray so any movie you might want to use you can find. As a reviewer, there isn’t anything you need that you can’t find inside this room.

The one thing that is missing is anything audio related. All the testing of projectors happens in silence, with no speakers or receiver to provide audio. If you want that you’ll have to head next door where Steve Guttenberg was doing some testing as I visited. There is a wide selection of speakers, amplifiers, and sound bars in here to choose from. There aren’t the racks of test material or equipment that the video lab has, but there is everything you need for listening tests. The room is simpler than the video one, with no acoustic treatments or anything else, but CNet also doesn’t do measurements on their audio gear. It does have a nice couch to sit on as you listen which is all you need.

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As nice as these CNet test facilities are, they’re about to get better. Their video lab is going to move to a space that is quite a bit larger. Now they can look at even more TVs at once in a lineup and have more space for their projection setup. The rest of us will continue to wish we had the ability to do the direct comparative testing that CNet can do right now.

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