Instead of struggling with balancing a notebook or tablet on a ladder to put out images for checking and optimizing a projector’s output, I have a great alternative that I will never again do without. My secret weapon is StarTech’s HDMI/DVI Video Test Pattern Signal Generator. The $300 handheld device is the best investment you can make toward making sure every projector is up to snuff.
The key is that the HDMI pattern generator can output eight different standard images for making sure that the projector is centered, focused and is delivering the best color balance it is capable of. It can’t match the 32 patterns that the $600 Kramer 850 can deliver or some of the more intricate patterns, like the Guilloche or even a SMPTE TV test pattern. Still, it should be plenty for most set ups.
In addition to a grid pattern that’s perfect for making sure everything is square, level and sharply focused, the generator has a grid with colored intersections and a standard white and black checkerboard image. The device can also deliver patterns with grayscale and color bars as well as ramps for tweaking its output.
Not all the images are static, though. The StarTech pattern generator has a sequential routine in which the colors in four quadrants rotate clockwise as well as a series of full field images that roll through red, green and blue screens. About the only thing it lacks is a full field white image that can be used for finding hotspots, measuring brightness and adjusting the projector’s color temperature.
As far as its physicality goes, the device is 1.1- by 5.2- by 3.4-inches, weighs just 5 ounces and can fit into a shirt pocket. Unlike the Kramer 850 and many other pattern generators, the StarTech device is portable and can be powered by a disposable 9-volt battery or the included AC adapter. A fresh battery lasted for over 4 hours and of continuous use and an LED blinks when its power is running low.
The best part is that you don’t need a degree in electrical engineering to get the most out of it because it’s simple to operate. In addition to an on-off switch and buttons for cycling through the patterns, the device has a key for changing the resolution and color depth of the output. The pattern generator can be used in a variety of resolutions and color depths, including 1080p at 8-, 10- or 12-bit, 720p at 8- or 10-bit and VGA at 8-bit.
The HDMI output port, uses the version 1.3 spec and will work with up to a 16.4-foot cable and will even tell you of an HDCP error. With older projectors you can use a DVI or VGA adapter.
While the emphasis is on the visuals, the pattern generator can help with audio as well. It puts out a steady 1 kilohertz tone for testing and tweaking a projector’s sound system. On the downside, it lacks a volume control, mute button or a way to adjust the frequency of the test tone.
It took 6.7-seconds for the pattern generator to put an image on-screen, faster than just about any computer can start up and display a stored image. It’s the perfect gadget for everything from a projector’s initial set up to making sure that every display is creating the best images it can. It also removes the problem of different laptops handling color differently when adjusting projectors or displays.
At $300 (with a 2-year warranty) it’s one of the least expensive pattern generators on the market, rivaling those that cost several times more, but lacks a preview screen. In fact, it’s inexpensive enough to be the standard for setting up every projector and display in a school, guaranteeing that they are all doing their best.
+ 8 patterns
+ Three different resolutions and color depths
+ Audio tone
+ Battery or AC operation
- Lacks white image
- No volume control