Product Review (March 2001) - Sencore CP288 Color Analyzer

Large investments in video displays is not uncommon these days with the popularity of home theater. Regardless of how much one spends on a display, few are adjusted properly to produce an accurate image. The trend by the manufacturers has been to make the picture as bright as possible with a shift towards a higher color temperature (bluish) to give the appearance of a whiter image. While this seems to sell more displays on the showroom floor, much like that blue laundry detergent sells you on how white your clothes will become, overdriving your display can result in shorter tube life and non-linear operation over the necessary brightness levels. Unfortunately, color accuracy is often overlooked by consumers even on the more costly televisions. Proper calibration of any display is essential for accurate image reproduction. To help make this task easier and more affordable, test equipment maker Sencore has decided to team up with one of the most highly regarded proponents in the education of high-end video, namely the Imaging Science Foundation or the ISF.

The Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) is an organization formed to educate consumers as well as those involved in the industry. ISF's founder and President Joel Silver, periodically conducts seminars around the country and the world. The course covers important aspects of video technology and how it affects the consumer. Much of the terminology used in the industry is discussed in the seminar, providing clarification in an otherwise confusing marketing world. Attendees are required to pass a written exam to receive an ISF certification recognizing them for this training. The ISF also has a certification process for products that meet high video fidelity standards in their opinion. Several high-end companies have already become part of this program. One such product is the Sencore CP288 Color Analyzer. This color analyzer was used during the recent ISF training I received. The benefits of using this measuring device became very clear as we began tweaking one of the many displays during the training. While this is not a typical consumer product, any home theater enthusiast would love to have one.

The Sencore CP288 looks simple with a suction cup probe on one end and a 9-pin serial connector on the other. Amazingly, the CP288 Color Pro II powers itself from a standard serial port found on any laptop. My Sony VAIO laptop worked flawlessly with this color analyzer, making it a very portable system. The cable is reasonably long to meet the needs of most service technicians. However in some cases, an extension cable (available from Sencore) may be needed for long runs. The Windows-based software for the CP288 only takes a few megabytes of hard disc space. The software is simple, yet very effective. A nice advantage of having the software reside on a laptop is the possibilities for upgrades and enhanced features are practically endless. In addition, report storage capacity for customers is only limited by the amount of hard disk space in your computer. The software is quite intuitive which helps me out since I don't like reading user's manuals. The main AutoColor Pro II Window allows the user to select the luminance (Y) value in foot-lamberts or nits. The chromaticity coordinates display a reference and the actual value during calibration. The difference between the reference and measured values are displayed real-time to help the calibrator move towards a zero difference. The upper right corner of the screen displays the white reference as well as the measured refresh rate of the video under test. Both the white reference and refresh rate characteristics can be defined in the Setup Window.

The first window is the C.I.E Chromaticity Diagram which shows the calibrator where the current color reading is on the chromaticity chart with both x and y coordinates. Adjusting the three color levels while looking at the real-time diagram greatly simplifies the adjustments. For example, the Pioneer Elite has drive adjustments for the red and blue guns, but no adjustment for the green gun. By adjusting the red and blue levels one can see graphically how green is affected. This helps simplify the procedure. The second window is the Delta RGB Chart. Selecting a refence allows the user to adjust the other two levels. Much like the chromaticity chart, the Delta RGB chart shows the user what to adjust to bring the color temperature to the correct level. The user can define both the tolerance and resolution of the display bars on this graph. This window also indicates the luminance (Y) level of the display under test. The third window is a combination of the other windows showing the CIE coordinate (x,y) and the luminance (Y) level. The actual color temperature is also displayed here for reference. Any or all of the three windows can be displayed at any given time.

Test patterns can be generated using a standard DVD player with the appropriate test disc from either Video Essentials or AVIA. The AVIA disc was produced more recently by Sony and has a noticably better picture. Although due to the different types of material found on the two discs, it doesn't hurt to have both on hand. Test discs offer an affordable way to generate test patterns for your display as well as taking the DVD player's electronics into account when performing a calibration. This can be important if the player has a slight error that can be adjusted out by the calibration. However, there is no reference high-definition material available for the consumer to adjust the television. Sencore realized this need by listening to their customers and decided to develop a full featured multimedia video pattern generator, the VP300. The VP300 is capable of generating NTSC/PAL, HDTV/SDTV (RGB or YPrPb), and VESA computer timing signals. All the necessary test patterns are built in to this unit for the calibration technician. We'll talk more about the VP300 in a separate review.

Once the windowed IRE test patterns are generated on the screen, the CP288 has the capability to record the measured information using the Standard Entry Form or the Extended Entry Form. The final Standard Report and Extended Report are available to the customer for that professional look. The main difference between the two reports is the Standard Report contains the pre and post chromaticity coordinates and Y levels for min and max IRE levels, while the extended report contains all the IRE levels with the associated color temperature readings for pre and post calibrations. Sencore and the ISF have been working together to produce a website that provides specific display information to the calibrator. Simply login to www.sencore.com/color and you'll have access to key information about many of the current televisions and displays.

Sencore's CP288 Color Analyzer is relatively inexpensive for test equipment. The company's fifty year history as a test equipment maker proves that they know what they are doing. Their product line is rich and for the most part affordable. Any installer or calibrator who was once afraid to invest in the necessary test equipment needed for color calibration can now do so without taking a second mortgage out on the house. The CP288's easy to use software saves time for the operator while logging data in a file for future reference. Sencore has come through with a great little unit. While it's hard to believe you've just forked out $2500 for a little probe with a cable and software, the value added is incredibly high for any business involved with the installation or calibration of displays. Too bad they don't include a simple case with this probe. You really do need one. However, when you compare the cost of this unit to other color analyzers, you'll soon find out that the CP288 is a great deal.
- Kevin Nakano

Review System:
Pioneer Elite PRO-610HD HD-Ready Display
Sencore VP300 Multimedia Video Pattern Generator
AVIA Guide to Home Theater DVD
Video Essentials DVD



Review - At a glance
Sencore CP288 Color Analyzer

Features:

  • ISF Certified Color Analyzer
  • Easy to use Windows based GUI (Graphical User Interface).
  • Automatic Sync-Locked Measurements.
  • Displays Yxy, RGB and Color Temperature.
  • Luminance measurements in foot-lamberts or cd/m2 (nits)
  • Customer report generation capability

    Company Information
    Sencore Incorporated
    3200 Sencore Drive
    Sioux Falls, SD 57107

    Website: http://www.sencore.com
    Sales: Jerry Cook
    Source: Reviewer's Purchase
    MSRP: $2495
    Warranty: One Year with Lifetime (Made right guarantee)

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