This is how you easily calibrate your new HDTV

When unpacking and setting up your beautiful new HDTV, the word calibration probably doesn't immediately come to mind. But the default settings may not be ideal, so proper calibration is key to get a good picture. These simple steps will help you with that.

Set your device to home mode

When you turn on your television for the first time, you may be asked whether you plan to use it at home or in a store. Choose the home mode. The store mode is designed to produce the clearest possible image, so that the device catches the attention of buyers in a shop window full of televisions. In store mode, the picture isn't accurate - and the brightness is set so high that your electricity bill is likely to go up too.

If you accidentally set the TV to shop mode, take a look at the manual to find out how to turn off shop mode or go through the initial setup again.

The right picture mode

One of the easiest ways to improve the picture quality of your TV is to set the correct picture mode. By default, the picture mode is set as standard or normal - which is usually not a good representation of the original content. You should be able to choose from many options in the TV's menu, including modes such as Game, Sports, Dynamic, Vivid, Movie, Cinema, THX, and ISF Expert. Each mode will adjust the settings in a way that the manufacturer deems appropriate for each type of content.

First, something about color temperature and why you should choose certain image modes and not others. It is best to set the color temperature to 6504K (D65 in short). For televisions, D65 is the most commonly used standard set by the non-profit International Commission on Illumination (known by its French acronym CIE), which has determined that daylight has a temperature of 6504 degrees Kelvin.

When you look at the Kelvin scale, warmer colors (lower numbers) produce reddish hues, while cooler colors (higher numbers) produce bluer hues. If you set your TV to D65 you get the correct color temperature to accurately display content and where the colors are faithful to those of the source material, as it is intended.

Our many tests of HDTVs have taught us that certain modes are necessary to achieve D65.

- ISF or THX mode: If possible, use one of these modes first. If the mode is available, it means that the manufacturer has cooperated with the ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) or THX to certify the TV with the ISF or THX standards. These modes will get you the closest to 6504K.

- Movie or Cinema mode: If your set does not have certified modes from ISF or THX, choose one of the movie modes. These aren't exactly 6504K, but they're pretty close.

Avoid settings such as Vivid and Dynamic, which produce a very bright and vivid image, but can also create a bluish, unnatural effect. They can also shorten the life of your TV.

Once you've adjusted the picture mode, give your eyes some time to get used to the new settings. Chances are that you initially think the image is too yellow or too red. That's simply because you're used to higher-temperature modes, which look bluer.

Still not satisfied?

Changing the picture mode is a good first step, but for some people the resulting image is too dark or lacks contrast. In my experience, the ISF, THX, and movie modes are best used in complete darkness. That's great if you're watching a movie with all the lights off, but in most cases you'll be watching TV with some lighting or with the curtains open. You can correct the image by adjusting the brightness, contrast and backlight.

Set up your TV environment: Before you change anything, keep in mind that both the environment and the time of day will affect the image quality. If you usually watch TV after work, say between 6:00 PM and 10:00 PM, calibrate your set around that time. If you are watching TV with the lights on, adjust the lighting to match the lighting you have while watching TV.

To adjust the brightness: The brightness control sets the black level of your TV. This determines how much detail you can see in dark areas. If you set the brightness too low, caves will be pitch black, dark hair will have no detail, and black rugs will have no texture. If you set the brightness too high, dark areas will appear gray and washed out.

A good way to adjust the brightness is to find a scene in a movie or TV series that is really dark, or where someone is wearing black clothes. One of my favorite scenes for this is from the Blu-ray disc of The Dark Knight, Chapter 9. The scene is a cocktail party where everyone is wearing a suit. If you pause the film during a close-up of one of the black suits, you can adjust the TV's brightness, starting with the lowest setting. Move up until you can see some detail, but don't make the suit look gray.

To adjust the contrast: The contrast control is the opposite of the brightness control as it adjusts the white level in the image. If the contrast is set too low, the image will appear dull and dull. If you set the contrast too high, clouds lose all their definition and look like white spots, and white clothing or snow scenes lack detail. Try a scene with snow, such as one on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back or in J.J.'s new Star Trek. Abrams from 2009. Start with the contrast on the maximum setting, and go down until you can see the details in the snow.

To adjust the backlight: Once you've got the brightness and contrast set right, let it sit further and adjust the backlight settings instead. Changing the backlight will change the contrast and brightness, so you can preserve the detail in both the darker and lighter parts of the image. Now if you just adjust the contrast, the image would look good in the white areas, but the brightness would be too dark to see anything - unless you adjust it too. Plus, the more you mess with the brightness and contrast, the more likely you'll end up with a worse result than when you started.

What about color, hue and sharpness? To adjust these three settings you need a test pattern and color filters. If you think the color saturation is too high, skin tones aren't right, or the text isn't sharp enough, you can try AVSForum's free test patterns. The forum also provides instructions on how to burn the patterns to a disc, plus a PDF describing how to use them. You will need to buy a blue color filter to adjust the color and hue.

Buy a calibration disc

If you want to go even further with the settings, or if you don't want to buy a separate color filter or burn test patterns, you can buy a calibration Blu-ray disc for about 35 euros.

In the lab, we used Joe Kane's Digital Video Essentials HD Basics ($40 on Amazon), which worked great for adjusting five basic settings (brightness, contrast, tint, color, and sharpness). The disc contains explanations for each test, RGB color filters, and all the test patterns needed to correctly adjust each setting. THX makes a similar calibration disk that we also used, but it's only available to students participating in their training courses.

Keep track of everything

After you're done calibrating, make sure to write down your new settings. Some TVs only save your settings for the input you used to calibrate (HDMI 1, for example). You may want to apply the calibration settings to other inputs you want to use, so write them down somewhere. If a firmware update of your TV erases your own settings, you can re-enter them if you wrote them down somewhere. Finally, if you have a TV with a color management system and white balance adjustments, don't play around with it unless you have the right software and calibration equipment.

This is a freely translated article from our American sister site TechHive.com. Described terms, operations and settings may be region specific.

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