How can you tell that your TV or front projector is operating on all cylinders? That simple question can be quite deceptive because we all see things a bit differently. And since most displays come with a default setting that’s rarely on the money, getting the best image is always going to come from tweaking the various controls until it looks good to you. Still, there are a few things to look for that can give you a clue as to how well your display is working. So with a nod to Rod Serling, we submit for your approval the following favorite scenes as examples of what can show off - or show up - that image you are watching.
Bullitt (HD DVD/Blu-ray - Warner Home Video)
Passing over just how cool Steve McQueen is here, right from the opening credits to pretty much any scene (especially those at the airport), the one thing that stands out in this film is the grain of the image. It should look crisp, not blotchy. The contrast level should be moderate enough to keep dark and light areas from going to extremes. For why high-def makes a DVD sorry, check out the lab scene with Jaqueline Bisset and that rotating “hypnotic eye” - which will also let you see how cleanly black and white is being resolved.
Blade Runner/The Final Cut (HD DVD/Blu-ray Warner Home Video)
In the “Eye On The City” chapter you get an incredible overlay of decrepit architecture, technology, and people. All that urban debris should be distinct to the eye, while not blending into one another. The colors may be muted but still separate without any bleeding.
Exotic Saltwater Aquarium (Blu-ray/DVD International)
This disc provides a fast report on how the display reproduces a broad range of colors, both subtle and bold. Start with the Classic Tank and as waves of relaxation flow over you, look for how well the fish are delineated in the water. There should be fine detail without any motion blur or “smearing” as the fish pass by.
The Matrix Revolutions (HD DVD/Warner Home Video)
Focus on the final non-stop battle between Neo and Agent Smith. Is the display giving you separation between the overabundance of black wrapping the characters and the CG rain falling on top of them? Having a well moderated contrast is a must here or else objects will start to merge together, and if the display has problems with fast moving objects, it will certainly show up here.
Paprika (Blu-ray/Sony Entertainment)
It’s The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (DVD/Warner Home Video)
Academy Awards Animation Collection (DVD/Warner Home Video)
Pure animated films provide a way to check color balance, contrast and black and white levels. “Paprika” works well because it has a riot of color both strong and subtle. Another choice is one of the older Charlie Brown DVDs, because the simplified color palette makes it easier to know if the images are too soft or lacking contrast. And the remastered Superman cartoon from Max Fleischer’s Studios (found as part of Warner’s Animated Academy Awards Collection) can provide an astounding image, thanks to the most expensive budget for a cartoon at the time and the use of motion-capture. The display should have no problem capturing the solid, yet somewhat soft and muted colors, as well as the rich detail. A great example is the aerial view of a devastated Metropolis witnessed from the Man of Steel’s perspective as he whisks the Mad Scientist off to jail.
Across the Universe (Blu-ray/Sony Entertainment)
There are fair amounts of detail but the one thing this film tosses out in abundance are skin tones. So check out how the characters look: are their faces pancake-flat or is there the shading and subtle details that render faces real to the eye? Of course that all goes out the window when “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” starts up: offering a rare chance to evaluate a psychedelic glow of colors without an out-of-body experience.
Good Night, and Good Luck (HD DVD/Blu-ray Warner Home Video)
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. - The Complete Collection (DVD/Time Life Productions)
A black and white film easily betrays whether colors don’t stay “put” and are infiltrating an image. The advantage of viewing “Good Night” in HD is that you can quickly see whether the contrast levels are where they should be. This is even more true of older titles where film grain can also become more agitated as a result, such as the burst of smoke that Thrush uses to render the agent in the tailor shop entrance to U.N.C.L.E.’s HQ.
Die Hard (Blu-ray/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment)
The first of the series suffers greatly in high-definition. But it provides a template for comparison to other films as to how your display handles serious imaging issues. Focus on the scene where Bruce Willis jumps from the roof as the helicopter explodes overhead with a number of image artifact problems surrounding the scene. Watch how light reflects off objects, the explosion and even the main character’s torso to see whether the display can handle “grittier” color with some extreme contrast.
You Tell Us
What’s your favorite calibration scene? How about audio? Comment below!
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