Product Review - AVIA Home Theater Setup DVD - June, 1999

By Stacey Spears




"Audio Visual Interactive Aid"
OVA5867DVD, $49.99, 1999, Ovation Software, Inc., 200 Putnam Street, Suite 310, Marietta, Ohio 45750; Telephone (740) 373-6212; Web; E-mail [email protected].


Two years after the initial launch of DVD, a new calibration DVD is upon us.  Back in November of 1997, I did a review of the Ovation Software AVIA CD-ROM . The same team has now introduced the DVD version. The CD-ROM contained some great information, and the test patterns really helped set up your TV based on your PCs video card. However, it required your video card to produce a standard NTSC S-Video or Composite output. The DVD allows you to tweak your TV on the best source available, your DVD player.

You may be thinking that, since you already have the Video Essentials (VE) DVD, do you really need another test DVD? Well, have you ever looked at the audio world and its numerous test CDs? No single test disc has everything. Each one adds some new features to the test arsenal. So, yes, adding AVIA to your collection is a good idea. After all, you can never have too many test tools to help you calibrate your home theater or evaluate new components.

Both VE and AVIA have something to offer that the other does not. VE includes a blue filter used to adjust color (saturation) and tint (hue). AVIA includes not only blue but also red and green filters. These extra filters are used to see if your chroma decoder is "pushing" (emphasizing) the red and green colors, and if so, how much push is being done. The AVIA CD-ROM contained filters with cardboard borders that seemed quite solid; the AVIA DVD contains three unsupported (no cardboard rim) strips of film similar to the blue one in VE.

The AVIA disc is the product of two engineers' hard work. David Ranada; the technical editor for one of the popular printed A/V magazines, crafted the script and created the audio test tones. Dr. Guy Kuo put together all of the video test patterns and the documentation on how to use them. For those readers who have been surfing some of the home theater message boards lately, Dr. Guy Kuo is no stranger to you. He spends a fair amount of time answering questions.

AVIA is a disc that every A/V storeowner should have their employees view. It has a lengthy discussion on how to properly set up a home theater system. VE dealt mainly with the proper adjustment of your TV's front panel controls, while AVIA is an all around home theater setup disc.

The Title Menu contains four sections, the AVIA Basic Home Theater Guide, AVIA Main Menu, Advanced AVIA, and AVIA Credits. Pressing the Title button on your DVD remote will always bring you back to this menu.

AVIA Basic Home Theater/AVIA Main Menu

The disc starts off with a hands-on home theater setup section called “AVIA Basic Home Theater”. This is a 40 minute video, and it's broken down into seven chapters. The program pauses in between each chapter and allows you to read some additional information on what material you just covered or you can go onto the next section. The sections are: How to use AVIA, Home Theater Components, Sound Advice, Home Theater Environment, Making the right Connections, Using a Sound Level Meter, and Audio & Video Calibration. Pressing the menu button will bring you to the AVIA Main Menu. You can read the content of the seven chapters on their web site by clicking here.

Chapter 7, “Audio & Video Calibration”, is the equivalent of what Video Essentials offers. It explains, in plain English, how to properly calibrate your front panel controls and to calibrate the audio levels of your surround processor/receiver. The production quality for this section is better on VE. You just can’t beat Van Ling and the digital wizards at Band From the Ranch Entertainment. Let me qualify that. AVIA is just as effective in explaining the information, but it’s just not as fancy in this portion of the disc. The production quality on the previous six chapters is first rate though.

Advanced AVIA

Advanced AVIA is really Chapter 7 of the AVIA Main Menu. This section is broken down into Audio and Video calibrations.

The Audio Calibration is broken down into: 

Main Speaker



Reference Tones
Introduction Introduction Introduction Introduction
Channel ID (1-5) Sub Level, Left-Front WB Pink Noise, 5 Chl Pan WB PN, Left-Front
5 Channel Speaker Balance Sub Level, Center 150 HP Pink Noise, 5 Chl Pan WB PN, Center
Left-Front Level Sub Level, Right-Front Circulating Ambience Gen Clk WB PN, Right-Front
Center Level Sub Level, Right-Surround Pink Noise Match of Center Spkr WB PN, Right-Srnd
Right-Front Level Sub Level, Left-Surround LF Sweep, Left-Front WB PN, Left-Srnd
Right-Surround Level Sub Level, Flt, Pink Noise, Left-Front LF Sweep, Center WB A-Sync PN All chl
Left-Surround Level Sub Level, ””, Center LF Sweep, Right-Front  
Phase Left-Front/Right-Front Sub Level, ””, Right-Front LF Sweep, Right-Surround  
Phase Left-Front/Center Sub Level, ””, Right-Surround LF Sweep, Left-Surround  
Phase L-Surround/R-Surround Sub Level, “”, Left-surround LF Sweep, LFE  
Phase L-Front/L-Surround Sub Level, Warble Sweep, Left-Front LF Pink Noise, 5 Channel Pan  
  Sub Level, “”, Center LF Pink Noise, 6 Channel Pan  
  Sub Level, “”, Right-Front    
  Sub Level, “”, Right-Surround    
  Sub Level, “”, Left-Surround    

The Video Calibration is broken down into:

Basic Video Adjustments

Basic Patterns

Video Test Pattern

Test Patterns (Seq)
White Level Needle Pulse + Steps Gray Scale and Levels All patterns played-
Black “” Black Bars + Half Gray Geometry & Convergence In sequential order.
Sharpness Sharpness Letterbox Geometry  
Saturation Blue Bars Widescreen Enhanced  
Hue Color Decoder Check Resolution  
Basic Video Adjustments   Color Adjustment  
    Special Tests  

Each of the above video test pattern sections also has sub-sections with more items. For example, the Special Tests menu under Video Test Pattern contains Y/C Delay, Pixel Cropping, high and low encoded zone plates, and many more test patterns.

One of the most useful test patterns that AVIA has is a black level test pattern. I am sure most of you know by now that the PLUGE pattern does not work with all DVD players. This is because many players clip the information below black. This new pattern is supposed to work with all DVD players, but I discovered that it does not work on the Panasonic LD-10 Palm Theater. It did work on the first generation Toshiba and with the Dwin TranScanner, both of which clip below black information. AVIA does not include a standard PLUGE pattern, and this would have been useful to see if your player is capable of passing below-black information.

I mentioned that the black level pattern does not work on the Panasonic LD-10 Palm Theater. This portable DVD player has MANY flaws. When using AVIA, I could quickly identify several problems. There is color information where there should not be, pixels are cropped more than 20 per side, and the list goes on and on. If I would have had the AVIA DVD with me when I went shopping, I might not have purchased the Panasonic player! Of course, Panasonic will probably fix all the difficulties with these portables as time goes on, but the first ones do have their problems. On the other hand, the portables are for use in such situations as jet travel, and I don't think the average user would be worrying about the black level in his/her airline seat. But, if you were to use this player for travel and in your home theater, you might find it unsatisfactory.

The color bar test pattern is also a bit different than VE. It uses flashing squares within the color bars. When looking through the blue filter, you adjust the color level until the flashing is minimized or gone if possible. I found the flashing squares in the portion of the color bars used to adjust the tint to disappear completely.

AVIA also includes a more useful pattern to properly adjust the sharpness. This pattern has burst windows at various frequencies to see if your display device can actually display all of the available detail. VE only went out as far as 5.5 MHz, while AVIA has a 6.75 MHz window. My Toshiba TW40F80 displays a blank window, as if it were empty. When looking at the same pattern on the Dwin HDP-500, I could clearly see the vertical lines. There are patterns that just display test information, like a frequency sweep pattern, and then for some, there is a second pattern that is labeled.

While using VE you can tell if your display device is pushing red or green. With AVIA, not only can you tell if it is pushing, but what percentage of push is being done. There is a delay pattern that works in the same way. It has the traditional yellow background with red stripes on one side, and now there is also a red, green, and blue section to see how each portion of the signal is being delayed.

Some of the test patterns, including the white and black level patterns, contain moving bars. They use moving bars instead of stationary ones to eliminate optical illusions that are confusing. This makes it easier to determine if what you are seeing is real.

VE offers many test patterns, but there is no documentation to explain what the various test patterns do or how to use them. For every test pattern, AVIA includes a how-to section, or what they call a “Hot button.” It not only explains what the pattern does, but it tells you what to look for either with your eyes or using test equipment like a Wave Form Monitor and Vectorscope.

There is even a complete section of test patterns for widescreen (16x9) monitors, VE only has one pattern (VE actually has an additional hidden title with a 16x9 zone plate).

During the use of AVIA, I found that my sharpness was off by one setting, and my black level was far off on the Dwin TranScanner, HDP-500 combination. I have now fine-tuned my video setup, using both VE and AVIA as a combination set of test discs.

The disc navigation on AVIA is also much easier than VE. Joe Kane had a lot of pressure from the press and the public about getting his disc out so people could use it. DVD was new, and encoding houses were not really skilled in the art of making user-friendly DVDs. Everyone has learned a lot since then, and the AVIA DVD navigation shows this. You can easily and quickly get to any test pattern with just a few simple clicks. Knowing Joe Kane, I suspect there will be another edition of the VE DVD, with easier-to-use features. Remember, the early adoption problem affects manufacturers as well as consumers.

What does VE have that AVIA does not? The montage of images on VE is, without a doubt, the single best tool for judging the quality of video processors. That short section contains 144 different cuts that really stress a video processor's capabilities. It is a series of video and film sources that constantly change from 24 FPS source to 30 FPS source and back again. AVIA does not offer anything like that. In my opinion, both discs are essential in everyone's home theater toolbox.

I am a bit surprised that AVIA does not offer any DTS test signals. AVIA does offer some new test tones, which they claim, are better than the pink noise generators in your surround processor and pink noise on test discs. Only the Theta Casa Nova, as far as I am aware, offers the ability to have different levels for each source. Setting your surround system based on DVD as a source will make it optimum for DVD. Your DSS, LD, and Cable might be slightly off.

Bottom line: AVIA is another disc that is a must-have for anyone who wants to get the most out of their home theater system. With this disc you will be able to extract every nuance possible.

Video Quality: *****
Audio: *****
Content: *****

Stacey Spears

Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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