How to calibrate your HDTV

How to calibrate your HDTV

Summary: Have you bought a shiny new flatscreen HDTV to replace the old boxy clunker, get it all set up, and notice that the picture is, well, worse?The colors are wonky.

TOPICS: Hardware, Mobility

HDTV TestHave you bought a shiny new flatscreen HDTV to replace the old boxy clunker, get it all set up, and notice that the picture is, well, worse?

The colors are wonky. The contrast is, too. You call this progress?

The New York Times has a great article (that I must have missed) to help new HDTV owners calibrate the colors on their new sets -- you know, so blue jeans and ocean water don't look the same. What they found is that you, the new TV owner, have these options: bring it back to the store for help (Best Buy's Geek Squad will run you $300) or buy a DVD disc and do it yourself.

Naturally, doing it yourself gets you the most bang for your buck. (The THX Optimizer is one such choice.) According to the Times:

Monster sells the HDTV Calibration Wizard for about $30. Digital Video Essentials’ High Definition costs about $35. The Avia II does more of the same for $40.

You could also try to do what the professionals do, though that entails investing in some equipment that will be used infrequently. Datacolor sells a $229 calibration device called the SpyderTV. The color-monitoring device connects to your screen with the help of suction cups and transmits information from your screen to your computer through a U.S.B. cable to tell you how to adjust the contrast, brightness and color levels.

A professional using this kind of tool can get an even better picture by tweaking a hidden service menu in the TV set that must be unlocked by a combination of codes or remote button presses. (It varies from one manufacturer to another)

The service menu gives the technician — or the TV owner if you can uncover the codes — greater control over settings, like individual red, green and blue changes. The codes are not secret. You can find them by typing the name of the manufacturer and the words “service menu” into a Google search. But be warned: fiddling with the service menu without a diagnostic tool like SpyderTV is risky.

What say you, readers? Have you tried to calibrate your new HDTV? Did it work? Tell us in TalkBack. (And, in the meantime, check out CNET's own video on how to calibrate your flatscreen television.)

Topics: Hardware, Mobility

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • I don't have it in front of me right now

    but if memory serves, Windows Media Center has a utility to help calibrate an HDTV. But I don't remember the details of it and don't know how it stacks up to other methods.
    Michael Kelly
    • Who cares ....

      Why should I spend $500+ on a useless/unstable gadget when anybody can just spend as low as $1 renting a DVD with THX Optimizer??
      • But if you already have that gadget...

        then why spend any money?
        Michael Kelly
  • THX Optimizer in Pixar / Disney movies

    I use the THX Optimizer that is included in many Pixar / Disney movies. It really does make a difference.
  • You can do it by eye with a computer that RE: How to calibrate your HDTV

    you know shows a DVD movie correctly. I used my Apple laptop. Hook up the computer via the HD plug or if its an older computer like my Ti use the SVHS plug. Mirror the images so the computer and TV show the same view. With an Apple, once the TV and computer are attached and the TV is set on monitor. Put the Apple to sleep or close the lid, and re-open it or wake it up. The computer will set its screen to the TV format and you can than compare the colors. This assumes the computer shows an accurate color image. A simple way to see if the computer is close is to take a photo in bright sun and look at the photo on the screen. You can than pick a color temperature to match the sceen.

    Some DVDs have a color calibration chart on them too that is great for setting the contrast and brightness.

    Good luck.
  • RE: How to calibrate your HDTV

    I am a certified ISF calibrator and can attest that calibrating a display makes a big difference!!

    Manufacturers set-up the displays to be floor models, which means contrast and brightness will be too high and colors will be overdriven. These attributes help the display look better in the bright lights of your favorite electronics 'Big-Box' store.

    Using these set-up DVD's will improve the performance of your display. Of course, higher end displays such as Pioneer Elite are pretty close to reference just by choosing the 'Standard' picture setting.
  • Step 1: Turn the sharpness down to zero

    Nothing will improve your picture more than eliminating the fake "sharpness", the edge enhancement that simply exaggerates the compression artifacts that riddle everything we watch today.

    But really, get a calibration disc and spend some time to set your TV up properly. In addition to "sharpness", you'll probably find ridiculous brightness and contrast levels out of the box.