DVDO AVLab TPG Review
By Chris Heinonen on
A common complaint about UltraHD is the lack of content for it. It is hard for us to review and test a TV when we don’t have anything that takes full advantage of what it can do. The same issue applies when it comes to setting one up. There are few UltraHD test pattern sources out there, and the ones that are available are expensive.
The DVDO AVLabTPG aims to change this. Smaller than a pack of playing cards, this UltraHD test pattern generator has 4K test patterns for setup and calibration. It even supports up to 3840×2160 resolution at 60Hz which most cannot. It lacks a few features I want, but it does the job of a true UltraHD test pattern generator for a price far below what others want right now.
An Essential Tool
Most people can optimize their display using a test pattern disc, like Spears & Munsil or World of Wonder, and then hire a calibrator if they want the best image, making the DVDO AVLabTPG an unnecessary component. For a reviewer and calibrator, however, a test pattern source is essential because it makes evaluating and optimizing a display a much easier task than using a pattern disc. With UltraHD displays taking over the high-end of the market now, the need for a test pattern source has become even more important.
You cannot use a regular HD pattern source for calibration because you don’t know if it is going to work or not. The display might handle a 1080p signal differently than it handles an UltraHD one and you will never know. For instance, the JVC X700 will accept a 3840×2160 signal at 60Hz, but it disables the dynamic iris and color management system. Without a true UltraHD pattern source you could never determine this or attempt to calibrate around it.
A pattern generator also provides the patterns you need to set the basic controls including Brightness, Contrast and Sharpness. This can be done with a Blu-ray disc, but a Blu-ray player can sometimes output incorrect values. A pattern generator provides accurate patterns, free of viewing modes and other Blu-ray player features that could cause a test disc to fail.
Tiny Package, Big Features
The DVDO is a tiny little box. Compared to the other UltraHD pattern generators from Quantum Data and AVFoundry it is surprising they can perform the same tasks. There is only a single HDMI output on the DVDO but it also includes an HDMI input. This would allow you to keep it in your system if necessary though I don’t see much need for that.
A huge benefit to me is that the DVDO is USB powered. Unlike most sources that need an external power supply to work, the DVDO can run off your laptop or even the TV, so you don’t need to have a free outlet nearby. My Panasonic VT60 is able to power it when connected to a USB port on the side of the TV. If you have a laptop with at least 3 USB ports, you can run the DVDO, a spectrometer and a colorimeter without the need for any external USB hubs or power supplies.
Unlike the AVFoundry and Quantum Data products, the DVDO has no menu to select patterns from on the box. It includes a remote to allow for selection of resolution and pattern but not the nice screen that Quantum Data has. There are push buttons on the DVDO to switch resolution and pattern. The resolution is the most important–in case you leave the DVDO on a resolution like 4K that your current display doesn’t support– but cycling through patterns using a single button takes a lot longer and I don’t see being used that much.
Fast and Accurate
Using the DVDO with CalMAN 5.3 is fast and easy. Pattern changes are quick so you can set the delay to 0.25 seconds and be fine. What you can’t do inside of CalMAN is adjust the resolution, bit-depth, or shift from Video to PC levels. This is done with the menu in the DVDO and I’m unsure if this will change. It is easy to do but doing it inside CalMAN would be ideal.
The DVDO has full RGB triplet support so you can use all the CalMAN patterns you want, including the full color checker and saturation options. It also supports many window sizes, from 2% up to full field, so you can choose the size you want. What it lacks is support for average picture level (APL) patterns which I prefer to use because they prevent 0% backlight tricks from kicking in and better represent real-world content I believe. Hopefully DVDO can add these in the future.
The Brightness and Contrast patterns are available in a single screen version and very fine ISF versions. The ISF versions make it easy to set contrast and brightness perfectly and are available in both PC and Video level versions. The combined one is useful for double-checking as they often interact with each other.
There are single pixel test patterns offered in horizontal, vertical and checkerboard patterns, and it lets you test to see if a display or projector can resolve every single pixel. Here I like something closer to the ISO 12233 test chart. With curves and angled lines it also shows issues with sharpness and edge enhancement. There is a test pattern with the masking marks for 2.35, 1.33, 1.85 and 1.78 aspect ratios. Since the targets lack labels, I think it is harder to use than it should be. If you are using the DVDO to set-up lens memory on a projector, having this pattern available makes it easy to do but it could be improved.
Since the DVDO also lets me select PC video levels (0-255) or Video (16-235), I am able to use it to measure the PC monitors I review, and it lets me bypass the PC video card that many of them have built in now. The DVDO is able to provide every test pattern I need for all the measurements I do and all the CalMAN workflows I use. There are a few they could add or improve upon, and perhaps future firmware updates will address this.
DVDO vs. VirtualForge
My usual pattern generator is an AJA T-Tap with VirtualForge. This package allows me to run everything off my MacBook Pro and not need an external power supply or USB hub. The DVDO AVLabTPG offers a few benefits over this, but also some drawbacks in my environment.
The main benefit is that I can use it without a computer. If I just need to set Brightness or Contrast, I can hook it up to the TV, bring up the pattern, and set it without powering on my laptop. Because the DVDO runs off USB and not Thunderbolt, it is also far more compatible than the T-Tap is for most people. It can run off a laptop or a TV and has a remote for easier control. If you have a Windows laptop instead of a Mac, it is the choice.
If you are running a Mac, it’s a harder choice between the two. The T-Tap + VirtualForge combination is cheaper and more flexible for patterns but lacks UltraHD support. It also lets you keep the USB ports on your laptop free for meters. The DVDO is your only choice with a PC, but with so many PCs offering three USB ports, you can still use it with two meters.
The DVDO does not run as hot as the T-Tap does. After an hour the T-Tap gets hot to the touch and is a larger drain on my laptop battery than the DVDO. After two hours the DVDO is cool to the touch and I can put it away without letting it cool down. The T-Tap with VirtualForge allows me to use any pattern I want, including APL, with CalMAN 5.3. I can select window sizes from 1% to 100%, and any APL level, and it will do it on the fly. I cannot, however, use the T-Tap without VirtualForge and CalMAN, so I’m tied into their software, while the DVDO works with ChromePure and even without software.
UltraHD Patterns, FullHD Price
If you’re testing or calibrating a lot of UltraHD displays, the DVDO AVLabTPG is the least expensive option out there by a huge margin. The Quantum Data 780 is over $5,500 while the VideoForge 4K is currently $5,000. The DVDO is only $1,300, making it easier to live with the limitations of the DVDO compared to the other products on the market. As it currently stands, the DVDO works for calibrations with most of the options I want. If DVDO is able to add any of the missing features through firmware updates, it might be able to replace my current pattern generator.
August 7, 2014 Update
When I first reviewed the DVDO AVLabTPG I liked it but had a few requests. It lacked APL patterns and the RGB mode was always 0-255 without a video option. Installing the Windows driver is also a pain due to unsigned drivers.
I’m very happy to update this to note that all these issues are fixed. The DVDO AVLabTPG now supports APL patterns for any RGB triplet. Using CalMAN or ChromaPure you can produce any color at any APL level you desire. There is now an RGB Limited mode which still uses RGB values, but one where values below 16 and above 235/240 are truncated. This way you can be sure you are using the correct test patterns when calibrating a TV or projector in RGB mode.
The Windows drivers are now signed, so installing them is as easy as any other Windows device. No more rebooting with a certain function key during the boot cycle, it just installs. Updating the Firmware to this version is also simple. Hold the firmware button, drag over the new file in Windows, and it updates. No extra software to install or anything else.
My favorite new feature in the firmware is a turbo mode. Combined with the Optimize Source feature in CalMAN 5.3.5, the AVLabTPG can change color patterns in 0.25 seconds. Combined with a very fast meter, like the Klein K-10A I have here, you can do readings faster than you ever could before. Doing a 729-point cube calibration in a Lumagen Radiance takes under an hour with this combo where it could run for hours before. Calibrating, or measuring, a display can be done much faster than ever before and with something you can fit into your pocket.
DVDO has done a very good job of listening to feedback from users and implementing those changes into the AVLabTPG. With these changes, I’m certain this is the pattern generator reviews and calibrators will look to first now.
Small, Very Fast, UltraHD resolutions, RGB Triplet and APL support
Another button on the unit to cycle through patterns more easily when not using the remote would help
A true UltraHD pattern generator for a fraction of the price of the competition, the DVDO AVLabTPG is a bargain for those that need it. New firmware updates keep delivering new features and better performance.