Polar Alignment Software
The following is a list of all the polar alignment software that I am aware of. Some are freeware and others are not. Obviously there could be others that I am not aware of. I intend to include more detailed comparisons, but in the short term, I hope that the following is useful.
As a general rule, polar alignment software calculates polar alignment error by one of two methods. Either by recording the drift of a star, similar to conventional drift alignment, or by comparing the position of stars within an image or through the eyepiece to a known database, as is the case with PoleAlignMax and Align Master. One point to bear in mind with software of the latter type is whether or not it takes into account the JNOW/J2000 offset. If not, alignment can be inaccurate by several arc minutes.
I have not used all of the following software, but have and do use PoleAlignMax, Align Master, EQ Align and PemPro. They are all excellent software and from my experience, it really is a case of "horses for courses". If you have a portable setup and only use your telescope for visual observing, there is no point in spending too much time trying to achieve extremely accurate polar alignment. On the other hand, if you have a permanent setup and spend most of your time imaging, you probably want to invest several hours achieving the best possible polar alignment.
So, what is accurate polar alignment. From my experience, a good quality polar scope will align a mount to within 5 arc minutes and some, particularly the Takahashi polar scope, can achieve greater accuracy. For visual observing, 5 arc minutes is accurate enough to achieve acceptable go-to's and tracking. For CCD imaging I consider that accuracy to 3 arc minutes is probably the minimum standard and this should permit un-guided exposures of up to two minutes. For a permanent setup, polar alignment to 1 arc minute or better is certainly achievable, although this level of accuracy usually requires considerable time investment.
PoleAlignMax - Freeware by Larry Weber and Steve Brady. Requires Maxim DL or CCD Soft, a CCD camera, ASCOM and star catalogue such as GSC1.1. The latest version of PAM is 2.0.55. To upgrade to 2.0.55, first install version 2.0.35 and then download the 2.0.55 upgrade files from here or the files section of the FocusMax Yahoo User Group. Extract ALL the downloaded zip files into the PoleAlignMax program folder.
Version 2.0.55 of PoleAlignMax does not compensate for the J2000/JNOW offset. However there is an Excel spreadsheet available in the files section of the FocusMax Yahoo User Group for calculating it. I believe that Larry and Steve intend to incorporate the JNOW offset into future software releases.
Align Master - 14 Euro with 30 day free trial. Excellent software by Matthias Garzarolli and at a very reasonable price. Align Master does compensate for the J2000/JNOW offset and can be used with either a CCD camera/web cam or illuminated cross hair eyepiece. It is very easy to use and there is an excellent Youtube video tutorial on the Align Master web site. Because it is so quick and easy to use and doesn't require any sophisticated equipment, it is ideal for both permanent and portable mounts. From my experience, Align Master is capable of achieving polar alignment accuracy to around 1 arc minute and at 14 Euro, I consider that it is definitely worth having it on your computer.
EQ Align - Freeware by Antonio Fraga. EQ Align is an excellent program, capable of achieving very accurate polar alignment. According to Antonio Fraga it is capable of polar alignment to within 5 arc sec's. EQ Align can also be used to measure and analyses a mount's periodic error, be used for autoguiding and as a complete go-to platform. Because EQ Align calculates polar alignment error using drift alignment, the JNOW offset is not an issue.
EQ Align calculates polar alignment error by measuring the drift of a star, either close to the meridian for azimuth adjustment or in the east or west for altitude adjustment. Having tracked the drift of a star for 10 minutes or longer, the program then calculates the alignment error and
provides two circles on the computer screen for making the appropriate adjustment. Because drift can be measured over a long period, EQ Align can provide extremely accurate results. For anyone with a permanent setup, who wishes to achieve extremely accurate alignment, it is well worth spending a couple of hours using EQ Align.
A couple of tips. Firstly, EQ Align supports various cameras/web cams. Make sure that you connect the camera to the computer before opening EQ Align. Secondly, for polar alignment only, don't concern yourself with the guide camera settings. A quick start guide in English for polar aligning with EQ Align can be found here.
PemPro - US$149.95 with free trial. Version 2 of Ray Gralak's excellent periodic error correction (PEC) software includes a polar alignment function, mount backlash checking function and a star finder function. PemPro's polar alignment function operates on the drift alignment method, so the JNOW offset is not an issue. The polar alignment function operates on a similar basis to EQ Align. The difference being that PemPro displays the polar alignment error and correction information in real time, rather calculating it over an extended period.
WCS - 21 Euro with 30 day free trial. Software written by Wolfgang Ruthnerfor for drift aligning with a web cam. I haven't used WCS, but I believe that it is very popular and it certainly looks easy to use. As it operates on the drift alignment method, the JNOW offset is not an issue.
Polar Finder - Freeware. Calculates the correct offset from Polaris and does not require a camera or web cam.
K3CCD Tools US$49.99 with 35 day free trial. Very popular software for web cam imaging, which I believe can also be used for polar alignment.
StarTarg 2.0 - US$19.95. Drift alignment software for German Equatorial Mounts
TPoint by Software Bisque, used in conjunction with TheSky - TPoint will provide polar alignment data which can be used to polar align the mount.