How to calibrate your TV to get the best picture possible

A few simple tweaks can wring out the absolute best quality from your TV. We'll show you how.

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RGB gain and offset: If your colors are skewed towards red, green, or blue, you can reduce or increase their level using these controls. Generally, you’ll use a white image and adjust the component colors so the image is actually white, or as close to it as the TV will render it. Again, you’re at the mercy of the technology. Many cheaper TVs simply can’t produce an accurate green or red due to the blue skew of the white LED lighting they employ. Also see White Balance.

Gamma: In several paragraphs, we could tell you what gamma is exactly (it has to do with interpreting a color space in terms of luminance). Instead, think of it as the equivalent of an audio mid-range control for your image. Gamma doesn’t affect white or black, but the luminance of colors in between. Too high a setting and they’re too dark; too low and they’re too light. The goal, unless you’re trying to match the output of another type of device, is to retain detail in dark areas, while not blowing it away in lighter areas.

Adjustment by phone

No, we’re not talking about calling tech support. This is about using THX’s Tune-Up app, which is available for both Android and iOS devices, and others. Install it on your smartphone, connect the phone to your TV via HDMI, and the app will display calibration images (we used some of the older ones above), walk you through adjustments, and measure levels using the phone’s camera.

It’s free, aside from the video adapter you’ll need to display its images on your TV. You could use Chromecast, but compression might prevent you from getting accurate colors and this functionality is broken according to the latest reviews. The app has not been updated in a while, so you’re on your own for that.

THX tune up open screen iOS THX

Run this free THX calibration app on your tablet or smartphone (Android and iOS versions are available) and you’ll have your TV image in tip-top shape in no time. You’ll need a hardware connection to the TV (HDMI) for best results.

Spears & Munsil test disc

We’ve recently taken to using this $40 calibration disc as part of our own test suite, as it features a veritable host of tests for motion, brightness, line and pattern rendering, etc. It’s as comprehensive as they come, but some of the actual calibration tests require that you have a light/color meter of at least passable accuracy.

This could again be your phone, or you could grab something like the portable UPRTek MK350N spectrometer than we now use—but that’ll cost you a cool $1,700. There are a lot of options in between, but your phone is likely to be as accurate as your perception and you can always upgrade if needs be.

We also recommend the test disc for those still shopping. If you ask nicely, maybe your salesperson will let you play the disc on the TV. This of course assumes the store actually sells the increasingly rare Blu-ray disc player.

The high-priced spread

Now if you’d like really like everything as close to perfect as possible, but you don’t want to spend a lot of hours being certified or learning about calibration, there is an alternative that’s widely supported: Portrait Displays’ $145 CalMan Home comes in versions for Samsung, Sony, LG, and Panasonic TVs. Each is brand specific in terms of its AutoCal function, though you can use them manually with any TV. You will need a supported meter.

calman autocal ui screenshot SpectraCal

SpectrCal’s CalMAN calibration software interface. If you really want to get down to the nitty-gritty, this is the level of complexity you’re going to deal with.

If you want the ability to cross brands, there are professional versions of CalMan starting at around $2,000, but again, the meter is sold separately. Note that the original developer SpectraCal was acquired by Portrait Displays and the formerly mentioned Enthusiast bundle is no longer available.

With any TV or projector that supports CalMan, which also includes models from JVC and Sharp, you can use the AutoCal function to automatically adjust the settings in a few minutes. Depending on the TV, generally all that’s required is pushing a button or two and running the meter over the display surface. Sweet. If you have the right TV and—a meter.

Final Advice

Far be it for us to tell you what you want to do with your TV, but calibration can be a very interesting and educational experience if you have the tweaking gene (or compulsion). Our own vintage SpectraCal setup is a hoot to use, albeit in a much geekier, number-heavy fashion. That said, there’s a reason we bought the MK350N, which spits out nice neat images without the need for data interpretation.

We were pleased results with the THX app, as well as our pay methodologies, satisfied with what we came up with using the standard adjustments by eye, and to be honest, generally satisfied with the picture of most TVs without any tweaking at all. But where’s the fun in that? Have a go with the tweaks, and remember—there’s a picture reset function. Mis-calibrating your TV won’t break anything. Enjoy!

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