Poll: Is Your HDTV or Projector Calibrated?

If we home theater fans demand that every Blu-ray release be the best quality it possibly can, we should also put in the effort to make sure that our high-definition displays are fine-tuned to their optimal performance. Is your HDTV or projector calibrated?

In the early Laserdisc and DVD days before high definition, I couldn’t afford to have my TVs professionally calibrated (assuming that was even available at the time), but I still adjusted my settings to the best of my ability using self-calibration discs like ‘Video Essentials’. Later, when I upgraded to my first HD projector, I was fortunate enough to have an engineer friend with his own colorimeter and calibration software who would occasionally come to my apartment and spend hours late into the night dialing in my video quality. He continued to do this for me though several projector upgrades.

When I finally bought a house last year, one of the critical steps of building a proper home theater was to purchase and learn how to use the SpectraCal CalMAN calibration package. That was quite a rabbit hole I jumped into. Some day, when I find the time, I’ll write up a more detailed post about that.

In the meantime, what do you do for calibration – if you do anything at all?

Is Your Primary Home Theater Display Calibrated?

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30 comments

  1. Mike Attebery

    If I tried to do more than the Disney WOW disc, my wife would kill me. As it is, she cringes when I load up the disc and climb up by the projector to tweak things every few months, cause she knows I’ll need her to hawk eyes to help me get the focus right.

  2. Chris B

    Personally, I use a combination of the factory preset on my 50″ Samsung LED and a few hours of tweaking the settings to my liking (which also manages to drive the wife nuts).

    After purchasing the TV, I researched some settings for the particular model online and tinkered around with a few recommendations from HD gurus who had reviewed the TV. I soon found that my personal viewing preference seemed to differ from what most of them seemed to think was the most desireable i.e. a very “natural” looking picture. I found that approach just made things look washed out an dull.

    Maybe I’m in the minority, but I much prefer a rather dynamic image with high contrast and razor sharp edges. I’m satisfied with the picture quality as of now,
    at least until I spring for a new model down the road….

  3. William Henley

    I’ve used Digital Video Essentials in the past, but the factory settings on my new Vizio M-Series is so good, I have not bothered with this one. Actually my last Vizio was the same. The Philips I won from a contest was the last television I attempted to calibrate, and the white levels on the set was so hidious, it ended up frustrating me because I couldn’t get it anywhere near calibrated. My Toshiba Regzia that I had before that was the only television I have been able to calibrate successfully.

  4. Option 7 – Calibrated by my eyes, verified by a buddy that does it professionally. Exchanging favors is not really paying for it is it? I guess I would vote paid for as he would not have just come into the house to do it for free! He indicated that I had it VERY VERY close and that only his equipment could tell the difference.
    I had used the settings from tweaktv and then slightly adjusted from there to suit my room and eyes.

  5. Chris B

    I may be mistaken, but would it not be more favorable to have equipment proffesionally calibrated only if one has a dedicated media room where natural light sources are not an issue?

    If I pay to have my TV in my living room calibrated, would those settings not become N/A as the light in the viewing area fluctuates throughout the day?

  6. I’ve never seen what a calibrated picture looks like , so I haven’t really had the urge to have it done. Is it something where I have to keep changing the settings? I don’t like doing that, so I just trust my eyes. I have used the features on the Pixar discs to “calibrate”, but that’s the furthest I’ve gone with it. I would like to see two of the same exact tv screens with the same picture still, one calibrated, one eyeballed to see if it’s worth it. Is there anywhere I could see this?

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      Once you’ve calibrated your TV, you should not need to touch the settings again unless you have stored separate calibrations for daytime and nighttime viewing in order to deal with ambient light. (That may or may not be important, depending on your viewing conditions.) As your TV ages, its settings may drift over time, so you may need to recalibrate periodically, but a typical TV can go a couple of years between. (Projectors may need to be calibrated more often, depending on usage.)

      As far as comparing a calibrated set to an uncalibrated one, you’d have to find someplace that has two of the exact same television side-by-side, one of which was calibrated. Maybe you might find that in a dealer showroom, but you won’t find anything calibrated at a Best Buy.

      I don’t think that would really be terribly useful anyway. Once your TV has been calibrated, it may take you a little while to settle in with it and get used to it. A spur-of-the-moment comparison will probably lead you to favor the brighter image, regardless of whether that bright image is correct or not. That’s just the way that human perceptual bias works.

      When a studio transfers a movie to home video, it’s mastered based on specific reference levels. That way, if the filmmaker wants a given scene to be brighter, or darker, or bluer, or greener, or whatever, he has a baseline to start from. You can’t know what “bright” is if you don’t know what “average” is first.

      Calibrating your TV brings it to that same starting baseline, so that everything that varies from “average” does so to the degree that the filmmaker wants.

      If your TV is uncalibrated, you don’t have that baseline to start from. All you have is some arbitrary value that’s who knows how far off from accurate. For example, if your starting point for brightness is set too high, when an actual bright scene occurs in the video transfer, it will appear far too bright, and dark scenes will be washed out.

      • Thank you, very helpful. One more question, does calibrating require going onto tv settings that may void the warranty or is that another issue?

        • Josh Zyber
          Author

          If you hire a professional calibrator, they will very likely be able to access your TV’s hidden service menu, where it has more advanced settings. This may void your warranty if you do it yourself, but I don’t believe it will if you hire a professional to do it.

        • William Henley

          I don’t think I have ever seen two of the exact same models on display at Best Buy – they just don’t have the show room. Stores with a Magnolia Theater may have calibrated sets in those rooms, but you usually will not see the same model up on the wall. What I have seen at Best Buy stores, though, is sometimes the cheaper sets will intentionally have the settings out of whack. I can grab a remote and go to the factory default settings and have it look better than they have it set. Best Buy doesn’t seem to be the only store who does that – many stores will have their Sonys and Samsungs setup to have this great, sharp picture, then their LGs, Vizios, Westinghouses, TCLs and other cheaper brands will have their colors out of whack, and will have their signals going through several video splitters to make sure that by the time it reaches the cheaper televisions, the picture comes out pixilated and / or blury. I have actually seen some stores, such as Sears, run HDMI to the more expensive sets, and RF and Composite (not component) to their cheaper sets.

      • Peter

        Interestingly enough, one of the Best Buys close to me had a setup with two identical 42 inch TVs next to each other, with one calibrated and one not calibrated. I would not normally have much confidence in Best Buy calibrators but I have to say it was easy to tell the difference and the calibrated one looked much better. The uncalibrated TV was brighter but the calibrated one had darker blacks, much better color, and overall a more detailed image. This display was up for about a year but unfortunately they took it down a couple months ago.

        • nanook

          I chose to have my set aligned by a calibrator who came highly-recommended. Obviously, his services come at a much higher cost than what Best Buy charges. However, he spent oodles more time than the Geek Squad is (literally) allowed to do and as such can attain a much higher level of alignment – especially important if your set has a multitude of adjustment options.

          I have been told Best Buy (Geek Squad) utilizes SpectraCal, CalMan software and their folks are trained to use it properly, so the results will certainly be an improvement from most of the factory defaults. They simply won’t have the same experience as a technician who has years of work behind him and an innate knowledge of displays, color, etc., not to mention the strict time window imposed upon them (Geek Squad) to complete their work.

  7. Whenever I get a new TV, I calibrate it with my Disney WOW disc, but always find that it seems to set things a little TOO bright and TOO saturated for my personal tastes (although still much better than the factory settings). For my latest TV (a Vizio), I found a forum online where someone had professionally calibrated it for a room with an average amount of natural light and had written down all the numbers/settings and posted them. I tried that and found the picture to be almost perfect to my personal tastes – so I’ve stuck with that setting rather than the one I calibrated.

    One thing I do insist on doing (as I’m sure most here do as well) is turning ‘off’ all those bells and whistles that most new TVs come with these days – all those options that, if turned on, are supposed to ‘enhance’ the picture, but actually just screw up your ability to view content as ‘purely’ as you possibly.

    • Peter

      This last bit is actually one of the most important things you can do with a new TV. More and more every year, new TVs come with all sorts of processing that makes the picture worse, in particular when watching hi def sources. Some noise reduction might be useful on bad quality standard def, but if you have it with hi def sources you are losing resolution. Those enhanced black modes also usually cause contrast or loss of shadow detail problems. I turn all that stuff since I am watching almost completely hi def except for the occasional DVD.

    • William Henley

      I think this depends on the set and personal preference. On my Vizio, I have a lot of the “bells and whistles”, such as DNR, motion compensation, etc set to a Medium level (which I think is factory default on the M series). This gives me a good picture without looking overly processed. Turning motion compensation up to high makes it look too fake, turning up DNR actually seems to increase the number of artifacts instead of decreasing them, etc.

  8. Gary

    I have an Epson projector that I tinkered with for hours attempting to get settings just right using a calibration disc. Just when I thought it was fine I would adjust the settings again spending considerable time attempting to get a reference quality look. I ended up having the display ISF calibrated to take the guess work out of what a properly calibrated display should look like. Plus the proper grey scale D65 calibration can only be done with software and a colorimeter. I’ve never looked back as the purity and general dynamic range of the image was just wonderful. It also meant I could finally stop staying up late into the early hours and feeling bleary eyed next morning so for that I am forever grateful. I’m a mad movie nerd so I can highly recommend paying for ISF calibration. I perceived a large difference in quality post calibration.

  9. Wendell

    I have 5 HDTV’s, and have calibrated all of them using SpyderTV and the Disney WOW disc, except for the Mitsubishi 65″ in my home theatre. I found the calibrated settings for that set at a website, and have not changed the settings. I compare the two calibrations, to see how close to one another they are. I’m satisfied with all the settings on all sets.

    • Beerstalker

      I was going to mention the same thing. I know at one time mine had an “uncalibrated” TV and a “calibrated” TV hooked up to the same blu-ray player, playing the same content. What they failed to disclose was the “uncalibrated” TV was hooked up over composite video, and the “calibrated” TV was hooked up over HDMI. Needless to say there was a huge difference in picture quality, but it had nothing to do with their calibration skills.

      I would never believe any comparison setups at Best Buy without looking into them very closely.

      • hanshotfirst1138

        If they’re simply banking on the person who’s not educated about it to go “Oh, wow! I want to buy that one because it looks so good!” while conveniently not telling them the full story, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

  10. Bill

    Over the years I’ve seen sets that have been professionally calibrated. To my eyes they just don’t look right. Too dark and washed out. I realize that I’m technically and logically wrong in this assessment but personally I prefer a brighter, more vivid picture regardless of whether it is “correct” or not. I’m not talking about torch mode but something brighter than what the official specs. call for. It may not be right for the pros but its right for me.

  11. Jason

    with my Epson projector in my light controlled home theater I use the Disney WOW disc and tweak the settings per my personal tastes. My vision isn’t perfect and I’m the tiniest bit color blind in the magenta hues so I just can’t justify paying to have my projector professionally calibrated. No one that has come over has ever complained about the colors so I must be doing alright. but like others, I make sure to turn off all of the garbage auto filters and what not. In the rare event that I go over to a friends house to watch a movie, it really bothers me if they have the “smooth motion” crap turned on. I only use that for live sports. 24FPS or bust.

  12. hanshotfirst1138

    I occasionally eyeball it and calibrate on the fly when a scene or movie is too dark, colors look too saturated, etc. I picked up the Disney WOW disc, but didn’t realize how many hours calibration would entail :p. I keep telling myself I get around to it, but I haven’t yet. Neither of the HDTVs in my house are particularly high-end or fancy, but that shouldn’t stop me from wanting to get the most out of them. But I’m a Luddite too, so even know what half of the setting mean is still an ongoing process :p.

  13. Ross

    Hey Josh,

    I found this old post doing research on calibration and like you I purchased CalMAN and an X-Rite i1 pro meter when I bought my first home and built my dedicated theatre. I know you’ve been posting a lot on your Atmos experience but I was hoping you could post something on your projector calibration experience. I’ve been researching 4k projectors, true 4k and faux and I’m finding many of the calibration reports are not as accurate as the 1080p projectors. This and many other reasons are why I have no intention in upgrading. I’m also reading posts from users who have made the jump and aren’t satisfied. My hunch is most manufacturers have cut corners in order to produce quickly.

    I usually calibrate my projector every 6 months or so and attempted to recalibrate last month and I was unhappy with my results. It was an accurate image but I started to notice my blacks were suffering from light reflecting off my ceiling. At the time I had my screen wall painted black and 3 inches where the wall meets the ceiling. My walls were painted a dark gray matte finish. I decided to hire my painting crew once more to paint the entire ceiling and side walls matte black and wow has it made a difference. Not just in image perception but my accuracy after calibration was greatly improved. My Grayscale dE was 2.20 before painting the ceiling and after it’s more accurate dE 1.24. I also noticed the time spent calibrating was much easier and faster with less adjustments.

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