A good test disc that features useful video test patterns is something I always recommend even for the video neophyte, as most HDTV owners can’t or won’t pop for a full in-home calibration. With rare exception, just about any HDTV’s out-of-the-box default video settings virtually guarantee an overly bright, harsh picture, with excessively garish colors and over-the-top contrast that destroys deep black and dark gray shadow detail.
Now, two video experts who’ve had a big impact on testing and measuring progressive DVD players, Stacey Spears and Don Munsil, have introduced their own first Blu-ray test disc (High Definition Benchmark), packed with various test patterns that allow a thorough evaluation and tweaking of your HDTV system. This isn’t their first foray into test discs, having previously provided material for DVDO’s test DVD that ships with their video scalars.
What makes this latest Spears/Munsil offering worth a look (it lists for $24.99) is that unlike some other discs that also feature video test patterns, theirs includes call-up examples of what the patterns should, and most importantly, should not look like. Putting up a brightness (PLUGE – which stands for Picture Line Up Generation Equipment) pattern for example, and pressing the Blu-ray player’s cursor up key, calls up good/bad comparative pictures to let you see if your set is adjusted correctly or not. That kind of coaching isn’t a feature of other test discs, and is what makes their disc all the more useful – especially for those who aren’t technical mavens.
A multi-page booklet rounds out the info package, giving an overview on what does what. What’s missing is a blue color filter, which is necessary to check color and tint/hue with the SMPTE color bars test pattern (only a handful of HDTVs have a “blue-only” mode that obviates the need for the blue filter). At press time, Messrs. Spears and Munsil indicated that they’re soon to be able to provide such a filter with the disc, and previous purchasers of the disc will automatically receive one too.
There’s a great, but flawed HDTV video montage that showcases what Blu-ray and HDTV are capable of, shot in and around Seattle (Spears’ home base). Captured with a hi-rez Red One 4K camera, the montage features gorgeous detail and rich colors, but certain segments are speeded up for no apparent good reason. That gripe aside, the disc is definitely a desirable addition to your Blu-ray collection, and once you’ve run through the test patterns (using the coaching feature to help you along) and adjusted your set accordingly, you’ll have your HDTV looking its absolute best.