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How To Calibrate Your HDTV

Now Go Forth And Calibrate!

I hope we’ve at least whetted your appetite for HDTV calibration. Even if you don’t want to invest in a package from Datacolor or SpectraCal, you can make a noticeable improvement for just thirty bucks if you add the Spears & Munsil HD Benchmark to your video library.

You can see from our rundown that display calibration is mostly a balancing act. There is never just one right way to set a particular image parameter. It’s the way they work in concert that makes or breaks ultimate picture quality. We say over and over that the goal is simply to maximize dynamic range, achieve accurate color that is true to the source content, and to have an image that is free of edge enhancement and other algorithm-generated artifacts.

Of course, making that investment in a color meter, test patterns, and software can yield even better results. Datacolor’s SpyderHD is a complete package that brings calibration into the home without the added cost of training or pro-grade gear. The simple wizard-based interface walks you through every step and tells you exactly what pattern to measure, what control changes to make, and what your new image should look like.

The two things we missed from SpyderHD were grayscale and gamma calibration. While they fall into the category of advanced techniques, many HDTVs have a two-point white balance function and multiple gamma presets. With Datacolor’s experience in designing easy-to-use wizards that hold your hand every step of the way, the company should be able to add an advanced mode for users that want to maximize their display’s performance.

Modern HDTVs are better and more accurate than ever before. You saw in our review of Samsung’s F8500 plasma panel that it needed very little adjustment in its Movie mode to post near-reference quality results in all of our video tests. But those few tweaks took the picture from great to excellent.

If your interest has been piqued beyond the need to buy test discs, and you want to do more than just get your feet wet, we recommend taking a hands-on class with either the Imaging Science Foundation or THX. It is an expensive proposition at $1600 or more, depending on options. But even if you don’t become a professional calibrator, the knowledge gained is tremendous.

Speaking of professionals, there are over 5000 certified individuals nationwide (at last count) who can calibrate your HDTV or projector in the home for a $300-$400 fee. That’s about the price of a basic kit from Datacolor or SpectraCal. But the pro will be equipped with more precise tools like signal generators and spectrometers. And there’s no substitute for the experience of having calibrated thousands of displays!

Whether you hire a pro or immerse yourself further in the hobby by buying your own equipment, display calibration is a rewarding pursuit. Once you’ve enjoyed the results and become acclimated to your more accurate HDTV, it will be difficult to watch TV anywhere else. Realizing all the performance your display has to offer means you’ll never settle for an uncalibrated image again.

We realize this article is more of an overview than a definitive guide to HDTV calibration. If you have questions, we’ll do our best to answer them in the comments section.

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