With several new video test discs now in production, we thought it would be interesting to survey some of what’s available for critically evaluating video displays and systems. While several of the products mentioned here appear to be targeted at professionals and video enthusiasts - with correspondingly high cost - some are also available as stripped-down consumer test discs.
AVIA Professional (AVIA Pro) is a multi-disc calibration, set-up and test suite from Ovation Multimedia. The pro suite consists of seven DVDs - plus a 3-ring bound user manual with full disc index - designed to be an all-inclusive product for the calibration of video and audio systems. A set of hierarchical menus makes disc navigation and test selection very straightforward. Test patterns include color bars, pulses, ramps, sweeps, resolution tests and moving zone plates. The various unique test patterns include a "swinging pendulum" and a set of "moving spheres." Both can be used to test motion-related dithering as well as pull-down artifacts. A set of color filters for chroma setup is also included. An entire section of one disc is devoted to "Genesis Tests", apparently geared toward highlighting the performance of the Genesis video processor, but which can be used to test any video processor. The pro set also includes three additional discs: the CEA-896-A DVD tests (which include lip sync and Macrovision tests), SMPTE-restored "CCIR test tapes," and the RPG Room Sizer and Room Optimizer applications for optimizing loudspeaker placement. Two audio test discs are still in production, with no specified release date. Avia Pro, $400. Avia Guide to Home Theater, $49.99. www.ovationmultimedia.com.
BKSTS DVD-Video Test Disc. This disc contains a series of stationary test patterns including color bars, ramps, multibursts, pulses, and the like. Various "live" moving sequences are also included, among them the CCIR video test sequences. These sequences can be used alone, or together with a Tektronix PQA200 Picture Quality Analyzer. While care was taken to ensure high-quality video encoding during the production of the disc, its primary purpose is to evaluate DVD playback performance. Also on the disk is a 10-minute infomercial dramatizing the utility of various Tektronix products. BKSTS Society Members/Non Members: £60.00 / £75.00. www.bksts.com.
Digital Video Essentials . Developed by A/V expert Joe Kane, Digital Video Essentials (DVE) offers a wide range of audio and video test signals for home system tune-up. With the most production-valued elements of any of the units reviewed here, this set is available in both consumer and professional versions, the former being included in the latter. The full "pro" set contains six discs, covering NTSC and PAL, and WMV with both ITU-601 and -709 color encoding. A menu system provides access to the many sections of each disc. Starting with stunning footage of a space shuttle launch, the basic discs proceed to a tutorial of digital video and audio systems, with accompanying audio narration throughout. Test patterns include color bars, pulses, ramps, sweeps, resolution tests and moving zone plates, as well as various audio test signals, including lip sync. Moving video includes natural and computer-generated graphics, in both 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios. A set of color filters for chroma setup is also included. The pro disc set also includes Internet access to a full index and additional materials. DVE will soon be available on HD DVD in both 1080p and 720p. DVE Professional, $350. DVE Consumer, $24.99. DVE HD DVD, $34.95. www.videoessentials.com.
DVD Video CD Reference Suite. This disc contains a series of stationary test patterns including color bars, resolution charts, and EIA and SMPTE patterns. While the disc is titled as "DVD Video," it is in fact a VCD (Video CD). As such, it may not play in all DVD players, and has no moving video, either. However, the still images have some rudimentary utility, and should be readable on all CD ROM drives. Price: $49.95; $149.95 for an unlimited site license. www.itworks.com.
HQV Benchmark DVD . This disc appears to be targeted to the non-professional. The video clips and test sequences on this DVD - most of them live video - have been designed to evaluate a variety of interlaced video signal processing elements, including decoding, de-interlacing, motion correction, noise reduction, film cadence detection, and detail enhancement. For each test, there is a brief audio description of what picture artifacts to look for and how to score the resulting images. Of particular interest are the various live sequences used for evaluating film pull-down. The various test areas are randomly accessible by means of one of five menu selections; the individual tests can be reached by using the DVD navigation buttons. HQV is a proprietary image processing technology employed in Silicon Optix chips, whose logo appears in various test sequences. While this disc could be viewed as a subtle endorsement of the processor, there is no overt promotion. Price: $30.00. www.hqv.com.
There are also special glass discs available for specifically testing DVD players. While these have been primarily developed to test mechanical and electronic conformance to the DVD specification, various test signals can be used for video evaluation as well. We did not evaluate these discs.
Panasonic DVD Test Disc DVDT-S15A. Price: $145.00 (approx.). www.pasc.panasonic.com.
Philips Multi-purpose NTSC Test Disc (CVN 05.11). NTSC DVD Video Test Disc containing sequences with color sweeps/bars and a variety of audio signals. Price: $100. www.licensing.philips.com.
The various test suites described here have their pros and cons. When evaluating video equipment, the important thing to remember is, for whom are you making the evaluation? Regardless of the answer - yourself, customers, investors, etc. - make a list of the most important video qualities to be assessed, and then find the tool that lets you evaluate those most easily. In the end, it’s superfluous to measure something that a specific end user doesn’t care about.