How to calibrate your HDTV

If you haven't calibrated your HDTV, you're probably not seeing the picture you paid for. Here's how to get a near-perfect image on your high-def screen without breaking the bank.

Good Advice

Regardless of the tools you use to calibrate your HDTV, remember these important tips.

Upscale and deinterlace intelligently: Your TV has only one resolution. Everything that comes into the TV in a lower resolution must be upscaled, and everything that's interlaced (for CRT displays) must be deinterlaced for your flat panel. Your TV can make those conversions automatically--and, possibly, so can some of your sources, such as your DVD player and DVR. But should they? Only if they do a better job than the TV, and that's something you'll have to judge for yourself. Look for output options, such as various resolutions and progressive scan, in each of your sources' on-screen menus. Experiment to see which produce a better-looking image on your TV.

Understand your TV's video settings: Sometimes the labels don't tell the full story.

  • Tint is almost certainly set correctly already. Don't mess with it.

  • Sharpness adds false information to make a crisper image. It's less useful on HD sets than on older analog TVs, so you should probably lower it.

  • Brightness doesn't actually adjust brightness, but alters black level. So when you turn up the brightness, you're really just turning down the blackness.

  • Contrast, called Picture on some TVs, doesn't control the contrast, but the brightness.

Try a better way to control brightness: The backlight control on LCDs and the Iris setting on rear-projection sets allow you to adjust the brightness (the real brightness) in a way that doesn't affect other settings. This approach can be really useful in transitioning from daytime to nighttime viewing. Plasma sets have nothing like it.

Avoid daisy-chaining your HDMI signal: Joel Silver of Imaging Science warns that connecting your source to your receiver via HDMI, and then linking from your receiver to your HDTV, degrades the picture quality.

Calibrate to reduce your energy consumption: A properly set HDTV uses less electricity than one still on the factory settings.

Repeat annually: Sets don't remain properly calibrated forever.

Consider paying a professional: Yes, the service is expensive, and you have to hang around at home waiting for someone to show up, but they know more than you do (we hope), and they have better equipment. Many local companies offer such a service; you can find trained calibrators through Imaging Science. Or you can use Best Buy's Geek Squad, which charges $300 to calibrate two inputs, each in separate day and night modes.

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