Your new HDTV is awesome with its svelte, wall-hugging design and huge screen — but are you getting everything you paid for? Is it set up to deliver a picture so realistic and involving that you feel as though you're peering through a window?
You'd think TVs would be calibrated at the factory for the best possible picture, but in truth, manufacturers push the brightness to "compete" with other sets on the "Wall of TVs" at your local electronics store. Those sets aren't just competing with other screens, but they're surrounded by incredibly bright overhead ligthas, too.
Yes, you can go into the TV's menu system and select a picture preset (like Cinema) or make adjustments to (hopefully) improve the image. But without a trained eye and specialized equipment, not to mention an understanding of the what the myriad settings in the TV's "advanced" menu are and what they can do, you probably won't end up with what videophiles call an "accurate" picture — one that gets you as close as possible to reality and really pulls you into story.
And the best of today's high-definition sets with 4K/Ultra HD resolution are capable of extraordinary image quality.
You probably didn't know this, but for a relatively modest fee of a few hundred dollars, you can hire a professionally trained "calibrator" to come in and set up your TV. These individuals undergo technical training by organizations such as the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) or THX and use specialized equipment to tweak TV images to perfection. Most home entertainment professionals, a.k.a. custom installers, are either ISF- or THX-certified.
So what exactly do these TV geeks do? The first order of business is to make sure everything is properly hooked up — the right cables, connected to the right inputs and outputs to set the stage for optimum picture quality. You'd be surprised how many people use the wrong cable/connection (HDMI connections should be used wherever possible), limiting the TV's potential from the get-go.
Step 2 is using a test disc, or signal generator that spits out test patterns, to make preliminary adjustments, which includes making sure contrast and brightness are set properly for your viewing environment. (This is especially important if the room gets a lot of natural light and you plan to watch movies or TV during the day.)
At this stage, the technician will also dial in the best possible "black levels." Today's best TVs are capable of producing deep, inky blacks and many shades of gray, which reveals subtle shadow details in dark scenes, pushing picture realism up a notch.
Then comes the nitty gritty of professional setup, which involves using a spectoradiometer or spectrometer and hidden calibration controls to adjust parameters such as color temperature and grayscale, all of which requires special knowledge and procedures.
When all is said and done you'll be getting a full return on your investment with a TV that is operating at its full potential and hopefully contributing to a riveting entertainment experience.
To learn more about how home technology pros can improve your at-home entertainment experience, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.