Q. How Do I Know if My TV Was Calibrated Correctly?
How to make sure you got your money's worth from a professional calibration.
April 07, 2009 by Simon Scotland

Q: If I have my HDTV calibrated what should I be looking for to determine if the job is done correctly? What equipment would be needed? How would you check to see if you got your money’s worth? - Phil, Jacksonville, FL

A: HDTV calibration is quite a science and a complicated procedure. Start by making sure whomever you hire is ISF qualified. This is no easy qualification to achieve and should give you a good baseline on which to base the quality of the work.

Checking that a calibration has been done properly would require you to get a second person to do it and compare the results. Even then I would always expect them to be a little different. If it was easy to check the calibration yourself - you really wouldn’t need to call in an expert!

The reason why calibration is difficult is because it’s impossible to produce a 100 percent calibrated image. There are standards for where the different Red, Green and Blue colors should be on the chart, but due to whatever display technology you are using, changing the value of one item will have an effect on the other.

Calibration starts by taking readings from your display (with a meter) and then plotting these out. This will give the technician a good clue of how to go about optimizing the image. This process takes time because after each change you have to measure the image again to see how the changes you have made affect the whole picture. At the end of the day, the difference in “before” and “after” will largely depend on just how bad the picture was before you started, how many adjustment parameters the screen has and how responsive it is to these changes.

There are some steps you can take yourself to get a pretty decent calibration at home.

Settings: Delve into your display menus and make sure any form of dynamic contrast is turned off. Try to find one called “Normal” and avoid anything that is labeled as “Vivid.”  I would turn off all the fancy picture filtering and noise reduction, despite the manufacturer selling the set on these features you may find the image looks better without them.

Test DVD: There are a number on the market which come with color filter gels and instructions on how to use them. Even following the first few steps of these will make a big difference. A number of DVDs which are THX approved often include some basic calibration steps and images. You might have one of these in your collection and not know it.

If you want to take it further, buy a Datacolor Spyder. This is a DIY meter from the same company that makes the professional kit. It costs $99 and will allow you to recalibrate your screen as often as you like. Remember, as a screen ages it will need calibrating again. This should give you pretty good results - but as the pro-version costs $3500, it isn’t the same as a full ISF calibration.

Related articles:
Using Your Computer to Calibrate Your A/V Gear
Adventures in Home Theater Calibration
What is the Best Way to Calibrate My Sound System for Movies?

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Simon spent eight years in the feature film production. Upon leaving the industry he formed Beyond the Invisible in London UK which specializes in high end whole house entertainment systems, home theaters and lighting control and currently has a staff on ten. He is a certified CEDIA designer and avid collector of Citroen automobiles.

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