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What is the TV Calibration? And is it worth the money?



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David Katzmaier of CNET calibrates a television for a review.


Sarah Tew / CNET

From the TV salesman to the television critic you can sometimes hear the word "calibrate". TV calibration is often claimed to improve performance, increase accuracy and lower the power consumption of the TV.

But is that it? At what price? And is it worth it?

We can simplify the launch a bit:

  • The calibration adjusts the settings of a TV beyond the basic controls.
  • Special equipment and software are required to objectively measure the image of a television.
  • The service Calibration should improve the appearance of your TV, but it depends on exactly how the initial settings were in advance.
  • It usually costs a few hundred dollars or more, so it's usually worth it only for high End TVs and viewers who demand top performance.

Calibration vs. Set up.

First some semantics. Often, the words "calibration" and "setup" are used interchangeably. That's wrong. Setup is what you do with the basic TV controls with either just your eye or even better with one of the many excellent setup Blu-ray discs can available. Calibration requires special test equipment (which we will discuss shortly) and a trained calibrator who knows how to use it.

If you want to start with the basics, here's my beginner's guide about setting up an HDTV .

Everyone should do the setup with their new TV. If you make the basic picture settings correctly, your TV may look great. It would have shown, for example, what was going on in this episode of Game of Thrones (19459005). You can do much of what a trained calibrator does only with one of the above setup discs.

  Disney WOW: World of Wonder contrast pattern "data-original =" https://cnet4.cbsistatic.com/img/su6pUC3QvGAp-isWcyOjMOqVqsI=/2011/05/10/26b51d00-f0f5-11e2-8c7c-d4ae52e62bcc/ Disney_WOW_Contrast_Pattern.jpg

This is one of the patterns of the Disney WOW disc that lets you adjust the contrast. There is a similarly designed pattern for adjusting the brightness.


Screenshot: Geoffrey Morrison / Pattern: Disney

Calibration costs money, and although most of it is taken out of your TV, the difference between a calibrated TV and a non-calibrated TV is in the most accurate settings, such as: As in movie or cinema mode, usually not large.

  http://www.cnet.com/ "height =" 110 "width =" 196


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What happens

Let's go over what happens when you hire a calibrator first.

If you have not done anything to your TV, first make sure it's set up correctly. This may include checking that you've connected the correct cables that your sources are outputting the correct resolution, and so on. If you're not familiar with all of this yet, a professional look at your equipment can be handy.

The Calibrator then uses a setup CD or a test pattern generator to check all settings on the TV to make sure it looks optimal. This includes properly adjusting the contrast and brightness controls to make sure the TV is as bright as your viewing environment should be, and has the best possible black level without obscuring the shadow details.

  color temperature "height =" 0 "width =" 370 "data-original =" https://cnet3.cbsistatic.com/img/KQt5aVZoy2sKkpIp_JxTCjv37BE=/370x0/2011/06/26/b20a66fd-fdbf-11e2-8c7c -d4ae52e62bcc / House_Master_610x769.jpg

What different color temperatures look like. The middle picture is the original. The top is too warm. The picture below – too cool – is what most televisions look like when unpacked.


Geoffrey Morrison / CNET

You can do everything you have described above with one of the above setup discs. The next step is not possible.

If you adjust the color temperature of a TV correctly, you can not really do it with your eye. Sure, you may think that you have selected the right temperature just by looking at it, but as I explain in my article on the color temperature it is almost impossible to get it right. Look at the three pictures on the right. What is right?

When it comes to color temperature, the eye can be deceived, so a calibrator uses a meter to measure the color temperature of the display. (CNET uses a Konica Minolta CS-2000 spectroradiometer for this.)

The goal is to bring white as close as possible to the D6500 standard used in the world of film and television. This will ensure that your TV looks as close as possible to what the director of the movie or television program intended.

Some TVs also allow adjustment of the actual color points, so a calibrator can make all colors more realistic. Properly done and on televisions that support this, this is one of my favorite aspects of calibration. I love accurate colors and would not own a TV that does not have accurate colors. Not all calibrators can accurately set the color dots as this will depend on the meters used and the controls available on your TV. If that interests you, you should inquire in advance.

To add another wrinkle, today's high-dynamic and color-scale televisions require additional, specialized calibration. Again, this requires special training and equipment and should be discussed before hiring a calibrator.

The Benefits

A properly calibrated television will probably look more appealing to the eye and may consume less power, even longer, depending on the light output thereafter. This is because a calibrated TV generally has a darker image than the default "Burner Mode" settings. Since the TV produces less light, it consumes less power and can enjoy a longer life thanks to the lower load on the light generating parts of the TV. This is especially true for OLED TVs, but also for LCDs.

Certain TV manufacturers have a relationship with the Imaging Science Foundation, one of the leading companies offering training for calibrators. TVs from these companies have special calibration-friendly image modes such as ISF-Day and ISF-Night. These allow different settings, depending on the expected amount of light in the room, to ensure that the TV looks optimal regardless of the time of day. Other TVs may also offer day and night modes without an ISF connection. Again, this is all something that you should discuss with your calibrator.

In many cases, if someone does not know what a calibrated television looks like, they probably will not like it … first. A properly calibrated TV appears reddish and soft to the uninitiated. This is because the exact color temperature is much warmer (redder) than most televisions. The sharpening control – often set very high – gives everything an artificial edge. This masks true details, but when you remove it, the image initially appears soft, though it actually shows more fine details. To get a preview of what your TV may look like calibrated, switch to movie or cinema mode. This is usually the picture mode that comes closest to "exactly." If you are thinking about calibrating, watch TV in this mode for a few days, and then check if you know Dynamic, Vibrating, or what mode the TV was previously in.

  samsung-qnq7f-series-42.jpg "data-original =" https://cnet2.cbsistatic.com/img/pHuP4_eJpn4EtPSiRj3tPAEUPxI=/2019/05/03/76705e65-1650-4543-b14c-ab360f00 -lg -c9-series-oled-tv-oled65c9p.jpg

Some image modes are often quite accurate without calibration.


Sarah Tew / CNET

It costs at least $ 250. Do you want it?

The cost of a calibration may vary, but a good base is Best Buy's Geek Squad TV calibration, which starts at $ 250. Other retailers pay more or less and there are many variables, for example, how many different inputs need to be calibrated or whether HDR is included.

Is this worth it for you? I can see both sides of it, although it is difficult for me to be unbiased as I can calibrate my own TV. Regardless of what the proponents of calibration say, the difference between calibrated and uncalibrated is not great for most televisions. This difference becomes even smaller as the better modern televisions are usually relatively accurate in the best picture settings (i.e., before calibration). Not perfect, mind you, but much closer than TVs from 10+ years ago.

So, if you set the TV to "Movie" or "Cinema" preference, select "warm" color temperature mode, "http://www.cnet.com/" low "or" medium "in some cases If you use a setup CD to correct your other settings, it will be "close enough" to most users, and probably more than adequate, if you do not want to worry about it or make sure the calibration is as accurate as possible

How to Find Calibrators That Are Trained

Two major companies are training people to become professional calibrators: the Imaging Science Foundation and THX, at these links you will find Calibrators near you, the Geek Squad by Best Buy also sponsors ISF-certified calibrators.

I am an ISF-certified calibrator myself after undergoing training, including the senior editor and TV reviewer n CNET, David Katzmaier. I have not completed the THX training yet, but am familiar with it.

In both courses trainees are taught the basics of TV equipment and the benefits of calibration. Then they are shown how to calibrate a TV. THX claims its course is "more practical," though they both do a great job.

Other DIY Options

You could buy a colorimeter and calibrate your TV yourself, though the more accurate tools often cost more, if not more, than a professional calibration. The cheapest options barely offer better accuracy than what your eye can do alone. Even if the device is accurate (a bit "if"), the learning curve can be quite steep. Some TVs from 2018 will have a kind of "auto-calibration" in which the TV and meter communicate directly with each other. However, this requires the meter itself and someone who knows how to use it.

Another shortcut to calibration is copying another user's settings from the Internet. This is not as useful as it sounds. Every TV is different so that a person's settings are not the right settings for your TV. Sometimes the difference can only be a few clicks in both directions. In other cases, the difference can be very large.

Red, Green, and Blue

The most important thing you'll hopefully get out of this article is: Give yourself some time to make adjustments, regardless of what you do to make the picture more accurate. Your brain will first be convinced that the exact color temperature is inaccurate . Trust it to be correct and give it a few days. After that, you will not be able to return to the cool, bluish color temperatures of uncalibrated TVs.

If you're a DIY enthusiast, most of the time you can bring your TV there with a setup CD and a little bit of your time. With a good calibration, the rest of the process is done to make your TV look as good as possible. For most televisions, hiring a professional does not make much of a difference. However, if you want to make sure your new TV looks great, it may be worth the price.

Note: This article was originally published in 2011, but updated in 2019 with current information and links.


You have a question for Geoff? First, look at all the other articles he discusses on topics such as why all HDMI cables are the same TV Resolutions, LED LCD Vs. OLED and more.

One more question? Tweet him at @TechWriterGeoff then check out his travel photography on Instagram. He also thinks you should look at his best-selling science fiction novel and its sequel.


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