TV Calibration

A few years, ago, I bought one of the last high-end rear-projection TVs based on CRTs – a Pioneer Elite 620HD. I did some basic calibration with the Avia disc and did some other minor adjustments, but never got around to getting a real calibration done.

Calibration is the process of getting the TV to be as close as possible to NTSC settings – the same settings that were used when the program was created. That means getting colors and gray levels as close as possible to what they should be.

But, if it’s a high-end TV, why isn’t it set from the factory to meet NTSC settings? Well, the simple fact is that TV manufacturers play games to make their TVs stand out in showroom settings. That generally means pictures that are far brighter than they should be (with corresponding poor black levels), colors are off, and the picture is over-sharpened.

Some newer TVs let you choose a setting that’s close to NTSC, but in most cases, calibration can make a big difference. If you have a LDC or Plasma set, start with a disc like Avia and see what you get out of it (Avia also has calibration for surround sound, which may also be useful).

In my case, my set needed cleaning, focus adjustments (because it’s a rear-projection set), convergence (because it has 3 CRTs in it, one for red, blue, and green), and geometry (because it uses CRTs). You can find local techs in my area who can do calibration, but because my set is fairly rare these days, I wanted an expert, and hooked with David Abrams from Avical, working out of LA, when he was on a trip in the Seattle area.

David is a really nice guy and did a wonderful job. He spent 90 minutes on the geometry of the set (making sure straight lines are straight in all 3 colors), and about 60 minutes on the convergence (aligning all three colors). I only have about 5% of the patience he has when he’s doing those kinds of things.

So, after cleaning the set, setting the focus, setting the geometry and convergence, he was on to setting the gray levels and colors. With his test pattern generator (running through the TV’s component inputs, which is all I use…) and his $18K color analyzer, that part went pretty quickly. He then worked through all my sources (Tivo HD, DVD, XBox 360) and verified that everything was set right. Finally, we looked at some source and he did some final tuning.

The results were pretty impressive.

The downside is that the differences between HD feeds is now really obvious – some look great, but others really fall short.


Comments (4)

  1. Mark says:

    It’s exactly the same with computer monitors these days — people often remark about how "vibrant" their TFTs are after buying them, but they soon realise that something is not quite right (namely the luminance, colours, contrast etc.)  As you pointed out, eye catching vibrancy does not necessarily mean good, especially when you’re staring at it for most of the day.

    Some manufacturers actually set up some of their monitors very well.  There’s been a few reviews I’ve read where a midrange monitor came set up with a colour delta of ~2.5 which is excellent for out of the box accuracy.

    Anyone who demands nigh-on perfect colours will probably just buy a calibration tool which corrects colours via the video card, but that’s no excuse for the companies that ship horribly configured monitors.  

    Even low specification TN matrix panels can achieve decent performance these days; manufacturers really need to serve their customers better instead of misleading them.

    If any readers doubt the impact this can have on a computer user, hear me out.

    I use 2 oldish 19" TN panels at work and they’re well configured.  The colours etc. are slightly subdued, but they are fine for gaming and I have no problem with eye strain despite staring at Visual Studio all day long.

    I recently bought a 24" PVA panel for my home PC and I can’t use it for more than a few hours without feeling like I’m staring at the sun.  Moreover, its menu options are lacking and the only way to get some respite is to turn down the brightness in the video card driver.  If I had to use this thing at work all day I think I’d be blind by now.

    So… be careful and always configure your monitor if you have the chance 🙂

  2. yoohee says:

    I agree… you should configure it so that you will know if there is something wrong onto it.

  3. ericka says:

    this is a lesson for those buying stuff without much knowledge onto it. study the item first and know its features and all.

  4. amber says:

    we have the same experience.. i spend more than half of it. now i learned.