How To Calibrate Your HDTV Using The Top Set-up Discs
By Adrienne Maxwell
So youve waded through all of the confusion about HDTV vs. EDTV, DLP vs. plasma vs. LCD and digital vs. analog connections, and boldly dropped your hard-earned cash on a new digital television. Youve ordered an HDTV package from your cable or satellite provider, youve hooked up your DVD player, and now all you want to do is sit back and enjoy the experience. But wait. Youve come this far. Dont you think you owe it to yourself and your new TV to finish the job by making sure the picture looks as good as possible?
This may be hard to believe, but most manufacturers dont set up TVs to look their best right out of the box. They set up TVs to catch your eye in a store. Seldom does a stores viewing environment match the one in your home (at least we certainly hope it doesnt), nor are these settings good for your TV. A few minor adjustments to video settings like contrast and color can make a world of difference.
There are several DVDs on the market that help with this process. Ive chosen to use two for this discussion: Digital Video Essentials and the brand new HDTV Calibration Wizard from ISF. Digital Video Essentials is more advanced, featuring both video and audio set-up instructions and tests. If you read a lot of TV reviews, youve probably heard many a reference to Digital Video Essentials ($24.95, DVD International) or its predecessor, Video Essentials, as they both provide the full gamut of test patterns that reviewers and professional TV calibrators need to properly set up a television. DVE isnt the easiest disc to navigate (most of the tests I refer to are located in the Video section, Title 7) and many of the explanations are fairly technical.
Monster Cable, in partnership with Imaging Science Foundation and Microsoft, recently released the HDTV Calibration Wizard DVD ($29.95), which is aimed toward the everyday user and, no surprise here, more toward men than women. A sexy, softly lit blonde, Jenna Drey, explains each video setting and walks you through the corresponding test scene. HCW doesnt delve deeply into the technology behind each setting; it just shows you how to make the adjustment. It takes only about 20 minutes to get through the disc, and theres no audio set-up, which makes that $30 asking price seem a bit high. You also have to sit through several sales pitches for Microsoft and Monster Cable in the process. Nevertheless, the tests are more accessible and clear for the average consumer.
Neither of these discs, nor the video adjustments they describe, can work miracles. If your TV doesnt have a great black level to begin with, adjusting the brightness can only help so much. If its color points arent in proportion to one another, adjusting the color and tint cant fix that. What these adjustments can do is maximize your TVs potential.
To get the best-looking image possible, you first need to use the best inputs on your TV. That old-school yellow composite video cable just wont cut it. The vast majority of current DVD players and HDTV set-top boxes (cable and satellite boxes included) have at least a component video output, and the newest ones may have a digital connection like DVI or HDMI. You should connect your gear to the TV using these connections.
If you plan to use several inputs on your TV for different sources, youll want to adjust the video settings for each input. That means connecting the DVD player to each of those inputs and running through the steps described below. All of these picture adjustments should be found in your TVs onscreen menu, in a submenu called video or video settings.