Calibrate my HDTV

Alex Goldstein wants to know the best way to adjust a new HDTV.

When you turned on the TV for the first time, did it ask if you'll be using it in a home or a store? Most of the new HDTVs ask that question, which is a good thing. TVs generally leave the factory set up to look good on the showroom floor, which means they look lousy in your home. By simply asking that question and adjusting the set accordingly, the TV solves the most common cause of badly-adjusted television.

But not the only one. Some calibration is still a good idea.

I don't know your TV, your home, or your viewing habits, so I can't give detailed instructions. But I can point you in the right direction.

Unless your TV is in a windowless room unaffected by the time of day, adjust your set during the time of day you're most likely to watch--probably after dark. If your set is an LCD, you can adjust for other times of day by increasing and decreasing the Backlight setting. That's better than adjusting Brightness, which can send other settings out of whack. There's no equivalent setting for plasmas.

Your TV probably has a Menu button. The menu that comes up when you press it has a submenu that's probably called Picture. That's where you'll find the adjustments you need to make. The hard part is knowing what adjustments to make and how to make them.

Don't entirely discount eyeballing it. You can get a pretty good picture that way, even if it's not an exact reproduction of what the filmmakers intended. For that, you'll need a calibration tool. I suggest investing in one of the following. With some careful shopping, you can buy any of these for under $20.

HDTV Calibration Wizard: This DVD put out by Monster Cable is the easiest of the two, and my recommendation if you're not technically inclined. Narrated by singer Jenna Drey, it uses live video instead of test patterns--a user-friendly touch. For instance, it will show you a close-up of a man's black shirt and coat, and you adjust the black level setting until you see the difference.

Digital Video Essentials: This Joe Kane Productions disc is far geekier. This is easily the most c

omplete, the most exhaustive, and the most intimidating consumer-level calibration tool I've yet seen. Be prepared to have it increase your technical vocabulary with words like pluge while it helps you adjust your set. But if you slog through it successfully, your HDTV will look as good as it can. The DVD version is out of date (for instance, the introduction assumes that most HDTVs are CRTs), but still useful. The Blu-ray version is better.

In Video: How to Fine-Tune Your HDTV

Add your comments to this article below. If you have other tech questions, email them to me at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

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