Step-By-Step: Polish Your TV's Picture
Watching a poorly adjusted TV--whether it's the standard-definition variety or a high-definition set--is like being served overcooked food: Regardless of how much you paid for it, you're not getting your money's worth. And HDTV benefits from careful calibration even more than a regular set does. You can improve almost any TV's appearance by using a calibration program and the set's five basic controls, which are usually referred to as contrast, brightness, sharpness, color, and hue. My description of calibration follows the $50 "Avia Guide to Home Theater" DVD from Ovation Multimedia, but the procedure is similar with other calibration programs, such as DVD Acquisition and Development Group's $25 "Digital Video Essentials."
1. Set the scene: You'll get the best effect by watching TV in a dimly lit room (theaters are dark for a reason). If you watch TV in a bright room, however, calibrate in that lighting. Hook up the DVD player to the TV with a digital visual interface (DVI) or high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) cable, if either is available; if not, use a three-wire analog component-video cable.
Enter the set's on-screen menu and shut off any built-in features that promise to enhance flesh tones, edges, or black levels. Then choose a picture mode with a name such as 'professional' or 'movie'. Avoid settings such as 'vivid' or 'sports', which may increase the television's saturation, contrast, and/or brightness. Finally, select a neutral color temperature setting; in many cases it's labeled 'low' or 'warm', and it may also include either 'NTSC' or the number '6500' (read more about your TV's color temperature setting at the end of this article).
After your TV has warmed up for 30 minutes, insert the Avia DVD. You can watch the program's (slightly dated) tutorials, or you can skip to the calibration exercise by selecting Chapter 7, Audio and Video Calibrations in the main menu. On the screen labeled 'Chapter 7 Calibrations', choose Basic Video Adjustments.
2. Adjust the contrast: Select White Level (Contrast, Picture) to optimize whiteness. This setting uses the contrast control (sometimes labeled 'picture' or 'white level') along with a needle-pulses-and-steps pattern (see Figure 1
3. Find the right brightness: Click Black Level (Brightness) to adjust the set's deep black. Set Avia's black bar and half-gray pattern so that the moving dark bar on the left blends into the background and the lighter bar on the right is just visible.
4. Blunt the sharpness: Choose Sharpness (Peaking, Detail). A TV's sharpness setting creates the illusion of crisper images by adding artificial details. To see the real picture, turn this setting down until the vertical lines across the top of the screen look evenly bright, and halos around lines and letters in the center of the screen disappear (see Figure 2
5. Tweak the color and hue: Finally, select either Saturation (Color, Chroma) or Hue (Tint) to use Avia's blue filter to adjust the TV's color (both menu options will run the same tests and use the same patterns). Alter the color setting until the flashing inner squares blend as much as possible into the blue bars (see Figure 3
6. Watch for a while: Images may now appear dimmer, colors lighter, and the focus softer. A properly calibrated TV more accurately reflects the look that the director intended. Kill Bill (both parts) will retain the bright colors and flashes that Quentin Tarantino envisioned, while Mystic River will have the gray skies and pale winter complexions that Clint Eastwood had in mind.
What's Behind Your TV's Color Temperature Settings?
The settings on many of today's televisions include one for color temperature. In many cases it's labeled 'low', or 'warm', and it may mention the term 'NTSC', or the number '6500'. Color temperature refers to the overall color cast of screen images--slightly reddish, slightly bluish, or neutral. The number 6500 refers to the temperature (measured in degrees Kelvin) at which a specific theoretical material (referred to as "black body") will glow the color of sunlight at noon. Developers of the NTSC system adopted 6500 degrees Kelvin as their system's reference standard. DVDs and the ATSC (high-definition TV) system use 6500 as well.When directors or production crews balance the color of their TV or movie shots, they work on reference monitors calibrated to 6500. For this reason, colors should display as the director intended if the material is viewed on a TV that is also set to 6500. There's is nothing magical about 6500 degrees Kelvin. We could achieve very similar color results if everyone made 5400 Kelvin or 7000 Kelvin the reference point instead. But 6500 Kelvin is the developers' choice. The key thing is that everyone has a reference point to adjust their monitors to, so we all see the same thing (or as close as possible to it).