Monday, May 17, 2010

How to Calibrate your High Definition TV

High Definition TVYou may have just spent thousands of dollars on that brand new 52" HD TV but unless you calibrate it you may never even know what you're missing. Shopping for an HD TV right now is like stepping into a swirling miasma of contrast levels, back lighting, processing power, widgets, gray scale, ambient lighting, resolution, output format, I could go on. The point is that everything is advertised as HD ready which deludes you into thinking your TV has already been optimized when that couldn't be further from the truth. The problem lies with the manufacturers' default settings which usually pump up the color settings and contrast to make them stand out better under the thousands of watts of light shining down on you in the middle of Best Buy. Put simply your HD TV is almost guaranteed to be nowhere near the home viewing experience you could be getting.

A properly calibrated television could end up looking better than a factory defaulted TV of nearly twice the price. Blu-ray content especially is sensitive to calibration and you will be absolutely surprised at the differences. My friend had just bought a High Definition LCD TV Monitor and we decided to test out the waters by watching Pan's Labyrinth on Blu Ray. I thought the picture quality was superb and was congratulating him on purchasing such a sweet TV. That's when he decided to open up all the settings on his TV and he actually sat down to calibrate the TV while I watched. He asked my opinion on a few setting since he is partially colorblind but it was easy enough to get through. We tossed in The Dark Night on Blu Ray immediately after and my jaw dropped at how much better the picture looked. I was truly stunned at the image quality. I could count the hairs on Christian Bales five o clock shadow and was almost blinded when the picture would switch from dark scenes to brighter ones. I felt for the first time that I had seen what the Blu Ray technology could actually do and it sent chills down my spine.

So how exactly do you go about calibrating a High Definition TV? The process is quite simple and is often ignored in the manufacturers instruction manual. The first and most important step you should take when calibrating your TV is to mimic the ambient lighting in the room that you normally watch your movies in. For example, if you find yourself watching your TV mostly in the middle of the day open the curtains and let in some light. Otherwise, if you watch a lot of movies in the late evenings, try dimming the lights and closing the curtains.

Brightness or black level is one of the most important settings on your TV. Your goal when calibrating this setting is to try and lower the brightness right down until blacks look deep on all levels of darkness. If there is a loss in detail when viewing varying levels of dark you don't have your setting correct. When tweaking this setting its a good idea to find an image or movie with a great dynamic range. Something that displays both dark shadows with clean and bright scenes such as The Dark Night.

Once you are done with your black levels the next setting you will be moving onto will be your television's contrast settings which may also be called white level. Basically you want to raise the contrast until whites get as bright as possible while still being crisp and not blurred in any way. A poor contrast ratio will have a negative effect on the color quality which may cause your picture to look washed out or like there's a transparent black sheet draped over the TV. Adjusting contrast ratios can prove difficult as any changes you make will affect the brightness levels previously mentioned.

Next up is sharpness. Sharpness could more accurately be called "artificial edge enhancement" and generally only improves the aesthetics of lower-quality signals like standard cable and satellite programs. Increasing the sharpness may give you the illusion that you're getting more detail, but the end result is definitely not a more accurate picture. Too high of a sharpness setting will often creates halos around the edges of objects onscreen and create hard looking edges. Take into consideration that most movies already have this edge-enhancement filter applied during mastering so as a general rule you can leave sharpness very low or even at zero as sharpness is not needed for HD sources.

Color levels are perhaps the most difficult and subjective setting you will need to tweak on your TV as these color changes will affect your previously tweaked settings. The best thing to do with colour levels is essentially do it by eye. Fortunately, factory settings for color are usually close to where they should be. You want to avoid a picture where it looks like everyone is sunburned or some of the colors have been amplified to an extreme. Some of these color level settings are called tint, hue, and color temperature. Remember, you simply want to try and balance out the colors as best as you can without negatively affecting your previous adjustments. If you're used to watching TV with a high contrast and brightness setting you may find that your picture seems a bit dull. If so, try living with the new settings for a few days before changing them back. Your eyes may not have gotten used to a more naturally balanced picture and we as humans typically avoid change.

If you want to take much of the guesswork out of manually adjusting your TV's settings and get great results at the same time, you may consider purchasing a calibration DVD. These discs include test patterns and specifically created videos and scenes that make it easy to match your TV's settings to broadcasting standards. If you want to be 100% sure you're getting the best possible picture your TV can deliver, consider hiring a certified professional to calibrate your HDTV. These experts will be armed with specialized test equipment and an extended knowledge of the inside of your TV and more advanced settings which should definitely be left up to the experts.

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