How do I calibrate my HDTV?

Home theater
Before you calibrate your HDTV, you need to think about the lighting in your room and how far you sit from the set.  See more HDTV pictures.

Do you remember when you could buy an electronic product, bring it home, take it out of the box, plug it in and have it work just the way you wanted it to? It's getting harder to bring those days to mind as electronics become more sophisticated. That's because many electronic products have highly customizable features -- including HDTVs.

When you see an HDTV at a store, you have to keep in mind that what looks good under the store's powerful fluorescent lights may not look quite the same in your home. In order to show off the picture on an HDTV, most stores tweak the settings so that the set is brighter with more intense colors than you'd want when you turn it on once you set it up yourself. Luckily, there's a solution to this problem: calibration.


To calibrate an HDTV is to tweak the settings so that you get the best picture possible. After investing several hundred dollars in a new television set, it makes sense to take a little extra time to insure you have the best viewing experience possible. What's interesting about this is that it depends as much upon the place where you watch television as it does the TV itself.

You don't have to calibrate a television on your own. Many stores offer installation services that include HDTV calibration. But these services cost money -- sometimes amounting to a few hundred dollars. But does it make sense to pay someone to fiddle with your television's brightness, contrast and color settings?


Professional HDTV Calibration Versus Do It Yourself

The biggest benefit of paying a professional to calibrate your new television is that you'll probably end up with a better picture than you would arrive at on your own. That's because most calibration technicians use precise instruments to measure the images on your HDTV. They also use codes to access special menus to fine-tune settings to get just the right amount of color, brightness, contrast and sharpness on the screen.

Before hiring someone to calibrate your television, make sure that he or she is qualified. Certification from the Imaging Science Foundation is a good credential. While most people in the home theater business are honest and will do their best to make your HDTV look as good as possible, there are a few scam artists who lack any training in HDTV calibration. You could do it just as well yourself and save the money.


Technicians may also take the extra step to offer additional advice. They may demonstrate the best viewing angle and distance to get the most out of your television. A good technician can advise you on wall colors, light levels and other environmental factors that can affect your viewing experience, too.

Most of the time, a qualified technician will be able to produce better results than you could on your own. Whether the difference in quality is worth the price is a matter of individual preference. But you should be able to tell the difference between the factory settings on the HDTV and the newly calibrated set.

If you decide to calibrate your set on your own, there are a couple of different methods you can use. One is to purchase some of the specialized equipment home theater installation professionals rely upon. But that equipment tends to be expensive and you probably won't use it very often. The other option is to use a calibration DVD.

With a calibration DVD and a little patience, you can tweak your HDTV's settings so that they complement your equipment and viewing environment. You probably won't be able to make adjustments as delicate as a professional, but the results may be good enough for you.


What You Need to Calibrate Your HDTV

Calibration screen
During calibration, you'll need to adjust your set's brightness, sharpness, contrast and color settings.

Think about the room your HDTV is in. You'll want to limit light in this room. It doesn't need to be pitch black, but if you have lots of ambient light from windows, you may want to close the curtains before you calibrate your set. If you do most of your television viewing in the evening, you'll want to simulate the same lighting levels as much as possible.

While practically every HDTV on the market has a way to tweak the TV's settings, not every television uses the same interface. It's a good idea to check your owner's manual before you do anything. Once you know how to access the menus, it's time to get a calibration DVD.


Before you rush out and buy a specialized DVD, take a look at your movie collection. Several DVDs -- including Pixar and Lucasfilm movies -- include a THX optimization selection. Choosing this on your menu leads you to a series of calibration tests designed to help you get the best out of your television. The tests guide you through adjusting brightness, contrast, color saturation and sharpness.

To perform the complete test, you'll need a pair of blue filter glasses. These glasses are necessary to adjust color levels. If you don't have a pair -- or you don't want to order one -- you can choose an alternative test.

If you want to dig in a little deeper, you can buy a specialized calibration DVD. Several companies offer these discs. Many will guide you along as you make adjustments to your television until the settings are just right.

One thing to keep in mind is you may need to calibrate your television's settings for each input. You can do this by connecting your DVD to each input and running through the calibration process. Or if that sounds too time-consuming, you can use the calibration disc once and then do your best to adjust the settings on each input to match.

Once your HDTV is calibrated, you're ready to enjoy high-definition content the way it was meant to be viewed.

Learn more about HDTVs through the links on the following page.


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More Great Links

  • Carnoy, David. "Pro HDTV calibration: rip-off or money well spent?" CNET. Aug. 6, 2004. (Sept. 9, 2009)
  • Heron, Robert. "How to Calibrate your HDTV." PC Mag. June 7, 2006. (Sept. 9, 2009),2817,1975752,00.asp
  • Mahoney, John. "How to Calibrate Your New HDTV (and Not Lose Your Mind)." Gizmodo. Nov. 28, 2008. (Sept. 9, 2009)
  • Reisinger, Don. "This Is Not a Test: Calibrate Your HDTV." The New York Times. April 10, 2008. (Sept. 8, 2009)
  • Spector, Lincoln. "How to Calibrate Your HDTV." PC World. July 19, 2008. (Sept. 8, 2009)
  • Tovel, Kevin C. "HDTV calibration on the cheap." engadgetHD. July 29, 2005. (Sept. 8, 2009)