Using Your Computer to Calibrate A/V Gear

Home Theater Calibration

How a computer, some low cost software and a little knowledge can help you calibrate your A/V gear.

Mar. 13, 2009 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

When will your speakers sound their best?

According to Denon’s Director of Product Management and System Integration, Jeff Talmedge and John Murphy, a physicist and audio engineer with over 20 combined years of experience in the research and development of audio products, the only time your speakers are perfectly tuned is when they leave the manufacturing plant.

But these words of wisdom will not help Diane Weist to re-tune her high-end portfolio of audio/video equipment strewn around her home.

“It’s sort of a digital humpty dumpty after the painters came and went. But in trying to recreate the sound and vision that I so carefully crafted the last few years, my first effort at putting things back together has been a miserable, frustrating experience,” Weist says.

While her rather upscale entertainment products look to be in the right place, they don’t seem to sound as good as before. And her blu-ray discs look sharper on her bedroom TV than on the larger than life living room TV.

Is it her imagination? No! Can she rearrange the products and/or the furniture and get back that magic feeling without bringing in a $250 an hour custom electronics designer? Maybe!

For the record, here’s a list of equipment in Diane’s den and living room:

  • Dahlquist and B&W Speakers
  • Denon AVR-4308CI and 3808CI, ASD-3W Wi-Fi iPod Dock
  • Sony home theater system with Samsung HDTV (42 inch)
  • ION digital turntable and burner
  • 52-inch Panasonic HDTV with Cablevisions newest digital set-top box

With a notebook PC, some low cost software and a little knowledge, Diane can get her system sounding right again.

True Real Time Audio
With everyone on a tight budget, more people are trying to do calibration and analysis of their home entertainment products themselves, says John Murphy who developed software dubbed True Real Time Audio that calibrates and redesigns audio systems.

Murphy was not a fan of computerized audio engineering until he realized there are certain areas of A/V technology that require computer assistance. “The present day audio spectrum is so much larger and the technologies like 7.1 channel audio are so more challenging to accurately access, that the computer can be a better tool for this kind of calibrating,” says Murphy.

Murphy says Diane can restore her system’s sound by using the free Level 1 edition of his RTA software. Other experts claim that True RTA Level 4 edition (under $100) exceeds the performance of many $3,000 laboratory analyzers. Most consumers would do well with the Level 2 edition ($39).

As for the video equivalent of RTA, Spyder video calibrators may replace the installer expense. The Datacolor Spyder3TV can deliver an easy-to-use solution for optimizing all the TVs in your house so you can see your movies and shows as the director intended. Spyder has systems as low as $49 at some web sites.

“The color calibration can save on your display’s energy consumption and extends the life of your TV,” says David J. Weinberg, an engineering consultant and technical expert on audio, video and film technology. “Spyder and other computer or Internet based video analyzers are for those who need a scientific way beyond the self help DVDs, that can calculate the correct adjustments to brightness, contrast, color, tint and temperature.”

Shareware programs offer an even cheaper alternative to True RTA and Spyder. These programs are written (usually) by industry professionals who ask as little as $10 for the downloadable software. You can even run a fully featured program several times on a free trial.

The following sites offer a wide range of audio-video productivity software:

Both with the True RTA System and shareware, you simply run the software program and either use a mic to “hear” the audio and/or directly connect your notebook PC via USB to a Internet connection on the audio equipment. The Spyder System connects to your TV via a suction cup and/or USB port. Then you use your PC and Spyder software to read the lighting and color results, and then adjust your TV set or PC-TV monitor accordingly.

Built-in Analysis
Denon’s Jeff Talmedge, who holds the highest certifications in both audio and video engineering, reminds us that many high-end audio systems come with built-in analyzers. “Many of our components and systems come with Audyssey, which we think is the best room calibration system. And it’s easy to run right out of the box.”

But Talmedge warns customers that by changing a room’s layout, paint, adding or subtracting carpets, rugs and wall coverings, you are unlikely to recreate the ambiance from your audio.

He too supports the latest in computer based add-ons (in addition to his company’s built-in analyzers) to re-create your favorite audio feeling. “Many of our systems which connect to the Internet can run third party software that can tune and adjust, and our models that don’t have Internet access can still be worked on using a notebook computer and a decent Behringer type mic.”

How did Diane make out in her the rearranging of her living room and den? Using the True RTA system, some simple shareware, a mic to realign her speakers and the Audyssey feature in her Denon receiver, she’s close to recreating the terrific experience in her living room and den. And with the help of shareware and exchanging her Cablevision set-top box, her home theater experience in the smaller den is better than ever.

For the record, Diane did not have to do anything to her ION deluxe digital turntable. “The LPs and 45s and 78s sound the same as they always did no matter what is connected to the turntable and, when I burn the albums, I have saved them permanently for posterity.”

Related articles:
Adventures in Home Theater Calibration
What is the Best Way to Calibrate my 5.1 Sound System for Movies?
Coming Soon: Self Calibrating Home Theaters

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