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How To Calibrate Your HDTV

How To Calibrate Your HDTV

Flip through any of our display reviews and you’ll quickly learn that we are firm proponents of calibration. Even though modern screens are more accurate out of the box than ever, you still need to take that final step to get maximum performance out of your new monitor.

The same is true for HDTVs. It's probable that you spent a good deal more cash on the 50- or 60-inch panel in your living room than your desktop monitor. In fact, it’s quite easy to drop eight to ten times more money for a good television. So why would you accept an out-of-box configuration as its best performance mode?

The truth is that even the best TVs benefit from an instrumented calibration. Consider the picture below.

On the left is what you’ll see from a typical HDTV’s stock picture mode. The flesh tones have just a hint of blue. The detail in Gavin’s arm is a little flat. And the darkest areas are more of a gray than true black. Millions of people watch their televisions like this every day and are satisfied. Why? Because they don't know any better, and haven't unlocked the full potential of their other displays to experience the difference.

On the right is the same image after calibration. Clearly, there are subtle changes that make the picture look more natural with greater detail and maximum dynamic range. The best part about taking this step is that you’ll find yourself less fatigued after long viewing sessions. Within a week or so, all other TVs will just look wrong.

We like to compare display calibration to piano tuning. Is a piano tuned at the factory? Of course it is. But by the time it reaches your studio, it’ll need professional attention to realize its full potential. Your HDTV is no different. Buy it, set it up, and then dial it in to maximize your investment. And unlike a piano, you won’t need to re-calibrate every few months!

If you’ve read our monitor reviews or any of our previous calibration features, then you have a good understanding of what we’re talking about. HDTVs have a few features not found in computer monitors and calibration procedures differ slightly. We’ll highlight those differences as we go.

For those who haven’t seen our previous articles, here are links for your convenience.

Display Calibration 101: Step-By-Step With Datacolor's Spyder4Elite

Display Calibration 201: The Science Behind Tuning Your Monitor

Do It Like Tom's: Calibrating Your Monitor With CalMAN RGB

In the pages that follow, you'll find a step-by-step guide using Datacolor’s popular SpyderHD package. It’s a broad-spectrum product that works equally well for monitor and HDTV calibration. Everything you need is included in a single $349 bundle. There are tools for photography as well, but we’ll stick to its application as an HDTV calibration solution.

First, though, we’ll give you a little primer with a glossary of items from a typical HDTV menu and a rundown of the SMPTE standards used in television and film production.

Christian Eberle
Christian Eberle is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He's a veteran reviewer of A/V equipment, specializing in monitors.