The Pursuit of Accuracy: A New Video Series About TV Setup & Calibration

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The Pursuit of Accuracy: A New Video Series About TV Setup & Calibration

Video-Calibration-video-series-small.jpgHow interested are you in the accuracy of your TV's image? If you were taking one of those scale-based surveys, you could answer anywhere from "not at all interested" to "extremely interested." On one end of the spectrum are those who simply plug in their TVs, connect their sources, and go, with nary a thought as to whether the picture could or should look any better than it does right out of the box. On the other end are the hardcore enthusiasts who have purchased calibration equipment, taken certification courses, and precisely adjusted every display device in the house. Many of you likely fall somewhere in between, and a variety of resources exist - both inside and outside the TV - to help you achieve the level of accuracy you desire. Simply changing your TV's picture mode from Vivid, Dynamic or Standard to Cinema, Movie or THX should get you much closer to accurate, compared with the out-of-the-box settings. The next step up in commitment would involve purchasing a setup disc - such as DVE: HD Basics, Disney's World of Wonder, or Spears & Munsil: HD Benchmark - and making adjustments to the TV's basic picture controls, including contrast, brightness, color, tint, sharpness and color temperature. Some TVs even include test patterns and will walk you through a basic setup process (LG's Picture Wizard is one example). Achieving an even higher level of accuracy requires professional measurement equipment to analyze and adjust the TV's grayscale, color and gamma, which means either hiring a professional THX/ISF calibrator or investing the time/money to learn how to do it yourself.

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A new resource can now be added to that list, courtesy of THX Video Systems instructor Michael Chen and THX-certified video calibrator Ray Coronado of SoCal HT. The duo has produced a series of educational videos, located on Michael's website (which is itself a great resource), breaking down all of the various aspects of picture quality, setup and calibration. As I write this in May 2013, the series includes 28 videos, with new ones added regularly. The videos are low-budget, low-production affairs in which Michael simply stands in front of a TV and talks you through a certain facet of video performance or calibration, with the occasional onscreen graphic or text overlay to clarify a point or provide more detail. The video series loosely follows the basic structure of the three-day THX certification class, in a more condensed form that obviously doesn't give you the hands-on instruction and interaction you get from the class. A full THX certification class costs $2,000 (and an equivalent ISF class would cost $1,800), while these videos cost $10 apiece or $150 for six months of unlimited access to the complete series. (You can actually watch four videos for free and extend the unlimited access for $20 per six-month period.)

Some of the videos are targeted specifically at calibrators who own a meter and calibration software, like the X-rite I1Pro 2 spectrophotometer and SpectraCal CalMAN 5 software that I use for my reviews. One of the primary purposes of the video series is to provide a reference for THX students on the fundamentals of calibration and to serve as a guide on how to present the material clearly and concisely to their clients. But there are also lots of enthusiasts out there who have purchased (or plan to purchase) measurement equipment to adjust their own displays, and the videos make an excellent training resource for someone who can't afford the full THX or ISF class. The "higher-level" video topics include how to take pre-calibration measurements and understand Delta Error, two-point and multi-point grayscale adjustment, color correction using a color management system, 3D calibration, proper equipment setup, how to properly calibrate a daytime mode, and more.

I want to call special attention to Videos #2 through #8, which are outstanding resources for any TV/projector owner, whether you have measurement equipment or not. These videos discuss basic picture controls like contrast, brightness, color, tint, sharpness, and overscan. Michael doesn't just show you how to properly set these controls; he clearly explains why and shows the effects of improper setup. What exactly happens when you adjust color and tint? Why is it a bad idea to crank up the sharpness control to make the picture seem more detailed? How exactly do you set brightness and contrast? He also discusses why TVs aren't set up to look their best out of the box and explains what calibration is really meant to accomplish. In a casual, conversational manner, Michael successfully delves into some weighty video concepts in a way that anyone can understand. A number of video setup discs are available to help you adjust these basic controls (I named three above), and some are better than others for the newbie who is trying to understand how it all works. In my personal experience with setup discs, contrast is a difficult parameter to explain clearly, with test patterns that can be vague and confusing. Spend some time with Michael and Video #3 on contrast, and you'll definitely come away with a better understanding of how to properly set this control. Gamma is another tricky subject; you'll often hear reviewers discuss a TV's accurate or inaccurate gamma, usually in a conversation related to black level and/or black detail. You've been told you should care about a TV's gamma, but how many of you can really describe what gamma is and why a TV gamma curve looks the way it does? Check out Video #13 for a simple but thorough discussion on the topic.

Ultimately, your interest in this video series will depend on how you answered my original question. Someone who's not at all interested in their TV's accuracy isn't going to invest a couple hours to learn about proper video setup and/or calibration. Then again, that person probably isn't reading this article. If you've made it to this sentence, it's safe to assume that you fall somewhere higher up the scale in your desire to get better, more accurate performance out of your display device. Whether that desire leads to a basic video setup or a full-scale calibration, we encourage you to act on it. The TLVEXP video series can be an invaluable tool that lets you learn as much as you want to know, on your time and at your convenience. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Additional Resources
• Read more original content like this in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more LCD HDTV, LED HDTV, and Plasma HDTV news from Home Theater Review.
• Explore reviews in our HDTV Review section.

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