AVFoundry VideoEQ Pro Review
AVFoundry was formed in May of 2009 to develop and produce audio and video technologies. The focus of their products are video calibration and quality - the VideoEq and the VideoForge. AVFoundry is owned independently of SpectraCal, although two of the principles in AVF are also principles in SpectraCal. They currently offer the VideoEQ video processors (Basic and Pro 3D) and also the VideoForge video pattern generator. We asked and were granted permission to review one of their VideoEQ Pro 3D processors.
From Eric Hernes, President of AVFoundry:
The VideoEq was designed as a high performance video color processor. It has features that are comparable with the higher end color processors used in media production - an RGB LUT, plus the CMS processor. In this respect, it is more like the color processing products from companies like Black Magic, AJA, CineSpace, TrueLight, and others. Because of our experience with video calibration, it was a natural starting point to launch the VideoEq into this market. Initially, all of the tools that are used to calibrate the VideoEq treat it as a simple "multipoint video calibration" box. Unfortunately, this does not show the true potential of the VideoEq. We have recently released the "VEqLutBuilder" application into beta testing that starts to show more of the power of the VideoEq - this allows easy calibration of the full 1024 point LUT, as well as control over the CMS in either RGB or HSV space. This application also starts to show how the VideoEq can be used in more artistic and media arts applications. (The LutBuilder is available for download at http://www.AVFoundry.com/VideoEq/VEqLutBuilder.php
We believe that the VideoEq can simplify a video installation - if you have say three or four sources (Blu-Ray, DVR, game console, media player, etc), an A/V receiver and an outboard video processor - there is a lot of redundant processing. Each source will do scaling and noise reduction, as will the outboard processor, A/V receiver and the display. Does the AVR go before or after the outboard processor? If it's before, you likely aren't using any of the input switching on the processor, if it's after, you aren't using the switching on the AVR. If you're using different inputs on both the AVR and the processor, then programming the remote is a challenge.
With the VideoEq, it does one thing - corrects color. Simply put all of the sources into the AVR, then feed the output of the AVR to the VideoEq, then to the display.
And if you are asking yourself what the 3D stands for:
I agree that "3D" in the context of color correction is very ambiguous - is it a 3D LUT, the 3D CIE adjustments, or now HDMI 3D video formats. On the VideoEq, the "3D" label is because the VideoEq can process the new HDMI 1.4 3D signal formats. Because the VideoEq's sole purpose is to process color, we could add support for these formats without a hardware change. Other processors that do scaling and noise reduction will need to make significant modifications to their products in order to truly support 3D formats in the same way they do 2D.
Why would one need a video processor? For the same reason anyone would use REW and a microphone along with their audio system to adjust and correct the audio side of the system, the VideoEQ can be used with a colorimeter/spectroradiometer to correct the video side of the system. While most manufacturers are starting to include calibration controls in their sets, they are still pretty much limited to higher end models. If you have a middle of the road to lower end model, chances are you are limited to what you can and cannot adjust. This is where a video processor such as the VideoEQ Pro 3D comes in.
- HDMI Input (1): 1.3a compliant
- HDMI Output (1): 1.3a compliant
- Gamma LUTs (4): 10-bit, 1024 levels
- Grayscale RGB LUTs (3): 10-bit, 1024 levels
- Color Gamut (3): 12-bit, 4096 levels
- Control Interfaces: USB 2.0, Optical IR, Electrical 1/8” IR
- Power: 5 V @ 1 A
- Dimensions: 1.125” x 4.25” x 3.375” (HxWxD)
- Full 10-bit RGB Color Lookup Tables (LUT)
- 4 Independent Color Correction Tables
- 4 Independent Luminance Correction Tables
- USB Interface for easy, reliable setup
- Simple HDMI-In / HDMI-Out operation
- Simple push-button control for manual operation
- Industry proven color correction technology
- Automated setup with CalMan 4.0
- Powerful independent 6-axis color control
- Complete 10-bit processing for gamma & white balance
- Easy USB calibration interface for calibration with CalMAN V4
- Obtain optimal color correction on up to four sources or viewing conditions
- Simple Setup
- Video Processor color accuracy, without the un-necessary features
- X-Rite Eye One Pro Spectroradiometer
- X-Rite Chroma 5 Pro from ChromaPure
- Sencore OTC1000 (X-Rite Hubble)
- X-Rite ColorMunki Create (similar to an i1Display2)
- ChromaPure Pro version 2.03.
- CalMAN Enthusiast version 220.127.116.11
- VideoEQ Control software
- Sony KDL-52EX700 flat panel
- BenQ W5000 projector
- Sony PS3
- Sony BDP-S370
- AVCHD Disk
- Spears & Munsil BluRay Calibration Disk
The VideoEQ is a small aluminum box (1.125” x 4.25” x 3.375”) which can be placed in any nook that you have available in your location. The front and back of the unit are brushed aluminum while the top, bottom, and sides are black. On the front of the unit there are two red LEDs (one for power and the other is link status), two selection LEDs (custom and preset) and two small buttons which switches the mode that you are currently using. There are four preset modes which were programmed at AVFoundry. There are also 4 custom modes which the end user can adjust to their liking. This is a nice touch as there are many people who change their viewing environment depending upon the material they’re viewing. Not everything is viewed in the bat cave environment so AVFoundry included 4 programmable modes for whatever your needs require. You simply push the button that says Custom and the LED will blink once for Custom 1, twice for Custom 2, and so on. There is also a IR plug included with the Pro 3D models only. This is for possible IR control via automation or possibly via a universal remote control. On the back of the unit there are two HDMI (1.3a compatible) ports (one input and one output), one USB port for controlling the unit with a computer via the control software, and the power plug. There is no free play in any of the plugs that I used and as stated earlier, it is made of sturdy aluminum. The construction of the box seems sturdy and practical. There is not much flair built into this unit.
I tested the VideoEQ Pro 3D on my two main displays (a Sony KDL-52EX700 LED backlit LCD and a BenQ W5000 projector) using both the VideoEQ control software with ChromaPure Professional and CalMAN version 4 which directly interfaces with the VideoEQ. Pattern source was the AVCHD 709 disk input through a Sony BDP-S370 for the Sony LCD and a Playstation 3 for the projector.
Brightness or Black Level
- This would be the place to start. Most folks think that the Brightness control on their display is for brightening the image. That is incorrect. Brightness is used to set your black level. You do this using a pluge pattern from your calibration disk. The pattern will generally show a black background with both a 2 or 4% above and below black bar somewhere on it. You start by turning the brightness up until you can see the below black bar and then adjust it down until it disappears and you can barely discern a difference between the black background and the above black bar.
Contrast or White Level
- This is adjusted with a white pluge pattern. It is basically the same as the black levels except reversed for white. The pattern I’m most familiar with is the ramp pattern where you want to be able to see everything from 235 on down. 235 refers to the value of reference white in a Rec. 709 (HDTV)
system. To simplify, white is comprised of 235 red, 235 green, and 235 blue. On a computer desktop this value would be 255 as it is a different standard. It would be wise to go back and forth between White and Black Level adjustments until they are both in simpatico.
- Grayscale adjustments can only be done with a meter such as a colorimeter or a spectro. It is the display's ability to track neutral from black to white at various increments along the way. Most displays nowadays have some sort of grayscale adjustments. But they are usually limited to the high and low end or a two step control. The VideoEQ Pro 3D can adjust grayscale from 0-100%. That is 11 points. Both of my displays have only the two step method. And on the Sony, you can get grayscale adjusted perfectly at 30 and 80 percent only to have it off a bit at 40-70 and 90-100 percent.
Gamut or Color Decoding
- When you are finished with the grayscale, it is time to move on to gamut. Gamut can be a difficult beast for most displays as there normally is not enough adjustment available to get a display to there proper settings. One of the main things that I have learned over the few years I have been calibrating my displays, including at the Spectracal Bootcamp seminar, is that it is best to get the luminance levels set and then the rest is left to whatever the particular display's limitations allow you to adjust. Primary color luminance levels on most displays are adjusted using the Color setting in the menu. Secondary levels are adjusted using the Tint or Hue setting. Those settings are very limited in that they usually will not allow the end user to get their luminance perfect. But it will usually let them at least get it close. If you have a more advanced display, you can go further and adjust the primaries/secondaries Hue, Saturation and Luminance. These are normally called a CMS (Color Management System) in your display's menu system. On some older displays this can only be accessed via the service menu.
- In a nutshell, gamma is the value that determines how your display comes out of black to white. Rather than me explaining this in depth and getting some or most of it all wrong, I will just let you take a look at Tom Huffman’s explanation here
Results using CalMAN via direct interface
Using the VideoEQ Pro 3D with CalMAN is extremely simple. You load up CalMAN (must be the latest version with either the Professional or Enthusiast license) and load the ‘Interactive’ workflow. It will then take you to the Display Control screen. You would then select the ‘AVF - VideoEQ with CMS (USB) from the drop down box. I used my Colormunki Create for these readings and it was profiled to my X-Rite i1Pro spectro to ensure accuracy.
After that you select and initialize your meter, load your meter’s profile, enter your session’s information, and then start calibrating. When you get to the section on adjusting your grayscale, the interactive controls are in place. You first get your initial readings and then you are shown the results on a screen:
If you look at each of these images, you are given bars that are red, green, blue, and white. With your mouse you simply drag the white bar to the yellow line - the yellow line representing your preferred gamma level for your display. The VideoEQ Pro 3D, in addition to CalMAN, will then calculate the proper levels for each bar and adjust it to the proper level. These adjustments take anywhere from thirty seconds to a minute or slightly more.
After you are finished with the grayscale you move on to gamut. You adjust gamut by first dragging the luminance levels with your mouse to the ‘0’ bar. After that you can go directly to the CIE chromaticity diagram and you can then drag each primary and secondary color from their current location to their proper location within the box. You may have to go back and forth a bit between the diagram and the luminance levels until they are at the best location you can achieve. Here is what this process looks like:
Higher end display should have no trouble getting everything proper. My Sony KDL-52EX700, however can only achieve these results:
Keep in mind that the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance values were actually different than what is shown here. I took this screen grab of the results a few days later without the VideoEQ Pro 3D hooked up.
Results using ChromaPure Pro and VideoEQ Pro Control Software
The Control Software, that you can download here
, you use with the VideoEQ Pro 3D is very flexible. It runs on a computer via a usb cable. When you start up the software you are looking at the main tab. This initial tab is the configuration/info of the unit. It allows you to connect or disconnect from the unit via a pc and it also shows you information pertinent to the unit, such as firmware and which profile is loaded.
The second tab is where the controls for gray scale and gamma adjustments are located. It allows you to adjust gray scale and gamma for 11 points.
The third and final tab is labeled CMS and it allows you to adjust Hue, Saturation and Brightness (Luminance) for the Primary and Secondary colors.
Adjusting a display with ChromaPure is limited to using whatever process is needed for the processor (computer interface) at this time. Tom Huffman, the author of ChromaPure has stated that a direct interface will be added to ChromaPure by the end of the year for Certain video processors. Unfortunately, I doubt it will happen with the VideoEQ Pro 3D since it is a company that has it’s roots within the Spectracal family. But this will not be known until later this year or early next year. All this aside, it was very simple to adjust the VideoEQ Pro 3D with the software available from AVFoundry. I used this setup for both the Sony KDL-52EX700 and my BenQ W5000 projector. Both displays were set to Cinema/Movie mode for this test. And for both displays I used my Chroma 5 Pro.
Adjusting the grayscale was as simple as running Chromapure and the control software in the background. When adjustments were needed I simply brought the control software to the from and adjusted as I watched the real time results in ChromaPure. Here are the grayscale readings before adjustment with the VideoEQ:
And here are the grayscales after proper adjustment using the VideoEQ Pro 3D:
Adjusting the gamut was just as simple. While I cannot get all of the colors adjusted properly - even with the VideoEQ Pro 3D - there was quite an improvement. Here are the before images:
And here are the results after adjustment with the VideoEQ Pro:
To give you an idea what a difference video calibration can make, here is a pre and post calibration shot from DVE HD Basics Blu-Ray:
In the above shot you can see that the skin tones are off and that it seems a bit oversaturated. Now here is the post calibration shot:
Skin tones are much better as is the overall color.
The VideoEQ Pro 3D is a very easy to use Video Processor both with and without CalMAN. The included control software gives you everything you need and is just as speedy as using the direct interface with CalMAN. While it could not ‘fix’ red and blue on my Sony display, I don’t fault the VideoEQ for that. It is simply a limitation of the display. It did do a great job on the rest of the colors and on white balancing. White balancing the Sony was one of my pet peeves as it only includes the two point system. Using the Sony controls I could get 30 and 80% correct. But everything else was off. Using the VideoEQ Pro 3D, all 10 levels (10-100%) were adjusted properly.
I should add that there is an ‘Advanced Mode’ box on the first tab of the control software. This box, when checked, will allow you to go beyond the allowable range of the controls on the CMS panel. This can lead to driving the values beyond the limits of your display. This can result in posterization, banding, and other various artifacts. I did not need to test this feature.
Also, AVFoundry is constantly improving their product. They also have a LUT based application
that can be used as well. I did not get a chance to review this application as I was not aware of it until after I was done testing the unit.
The VEqLutBuilder application is the latest software from AVFoundry to interface with the VideoEq. The VEqLutbuilder gives complete control over all of the advanced color processing available with the VideoEq in a simple to use, visual application. Features:
- Visual calibration of the Lookup Table and CMS Table
- Pattern control using either the VideoEq or the VideoForge
- Virtually unlimited control points to easily isolate greyscale trouble points
- Mac / Windows cross platform support
- Video Output panel shows input and output video formats, including color space and encryption status
- Supports several LUT file formats including
- Autodesk .3dl
- TrueLight .cub
- Adobe PhotoShop .acv (curves) .cha (channel mixer)
- VideoEq (.veq) formats.
- Tabular data display for absolute accuracy in creating calibration tables.
- Multiple point selection for quickly making large scale adjustments
- Black Point / White Point forced clipping - no need to mess around with interpolation points, simply set the clipping and forget it.
- CMS adjustments in HSB space or RGB space - use the system you are most comfortable with.
- Built-in help system.
The VideoEQ Pro 3D’s price is $1199 from Spectracal. While the price may seem a bit steep, it is not bad at all for a video purist. The only cons to this unit are no additional features such as scaling, deinterlacing, noise reduction, HDMI switching, etc. I, for one, would not hesitate to purchase the Video EQ Pro 3D.
For questions, comments or discussion of this review, see it in the HDTV | Video Displays | Processors forum: VideoEQ Pro Video Processor Review
AVFoundry has given us permission to give away this review unit, so be on the lookout for an announcement on how you might could win it!