Q&A: Joe Kane, Digital Video Essentials
Video expert Joe Kane, whose Joe Kane Productions has been around since 1982, talks TV calibration basics.
Credit: Joe Kane
May 15, 2009 by Arlen Schweiger

Joe Kane has been producing testing and tweaking tutorials to help calibrate video displays for more than 20 years, from TV to Laserdisc to DVD to Blu-ray. His most recent work, Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics, can be found on Blu-ray; we caught up with Kane to give beginners a start on calibration. He couldn’t share too much, of course—if you just got a new HDTV and Blu-ray player and are trying your hand at calibration, you’ll have to check out the disc yourself.

What’s the first thing on the menu that someone should fiddle with after bringing home and powering on his new HDTV? In the old days of TV sets with picture tubes the answer was easy: Turn the Contrast control down.

In current-generation technologies, no matter which you’ve chosen, the starting point is finding single or multiple options in the set’s menu system that will deliver the best image. It might be a combination of ‘Movie’ and ‘Just Scan.’ The names can fool you though. In one set I’ve seen, the ‘Standard’ mode produce a much more accurate picture than the ‘Cinema’ option. The challenge is finding the right combination of options, and then making adjustments only if they are necessary.

How can using the Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics Blu-ray disc can help improve a high-def image? The challenge in properly setting up today’s sets involves learning to recognize right from wrong. Knowing you can go through the setup options such as ‘Sports,’ ‘Game,’ ‘Standard,’ ‘Cinema,’ or whatever they are called on your set, and find a starting point for an accurate picture is important. If you’re lucky, some sets have a combination of options that will deliver a reasonably good picture. At least some of these options are good enough so adjusting consumer controls won’t be of any further help.

You might think I’m implying you may not need to do anything more. What I’m actually saying is that sometimes on some sets you can get to the best picture by picking the right options, rather than by making adjustments. Knowing what the test signals should look like when properly reproduced, as explained in the tutorial on the disc, can go a long way to helping you pick the right combination of options in your set.

What are the biggest problems some of the test patterns are meant to reveal? The most important revelation is the true capability of a set. Is it really 1080p? Is it true high definition in any of the other important parameters? In many cases we find a set can accept a 1080p input, but can’t display its full resolution capability. Most so-called HDTV sets can’t deliver the color quality specified in the system standards.

The disc can also tell you a lot about the quality of your Blu-ray player and/or the quality of the connection to the display. (Note: Calibration includes brightness, contrast, color, sharpness, display resolution geometry; then there are ‘basic’ and ‘advanced’ test patterns.)

What are the most common video settings that people neglect to adjust on their HDTVs? Are you ready for this? We feel the picture size control is the most neglected option. In current display technology all incoming signals have to be converted to the pixel count of the display (like 1920 by 1080). The picture size control is actually a signal converter and often that conversion is not well done. Picking something like ‘Zoom 1’ instead of ‘Just Scan’ can introduce some terrible artifacts in the picture, seriously degrading the image quality.

We’ve heard so many people tell us that high definition is no better than DVD. Often the wrong selection of picture size is the cause of the problem. There are test signals in DVE: HD Basics that will tell you if this is happening in either a 720p or 1080p set.

How can viewers tell when their display settings are finally fine-tuned appropriately? In the program we tell you a lot about how the test signals should look when they are properly reproduced. In reality there’s sometimes no substitute for seeing what they should look like. Given that limitation, if the test signals are properly reproduced as described in the program tutorials the picture quality will be as good as the system allows.

Does the disc offer help for audio calibration as well? Such as? It can tell you if channel assignments are correct, speaker wiring is correct, if there is an aural match among the speakers, if the crossover at low frequencies is working, if frequency response is good or bad, and if certain frequencies are causing things in the room to vibrate.

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Arlen Schweiger - Contributor, Electronic House Magazine
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com and Electronic House magazine.

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