We’ve talked about it many times; having your TV calibration. However, the chances are that you don’t know exactly what this means, why you should do it, how it works and what you have to pay for it. That’s why I teamed up with a professional calibrator to give you a little more insight into the process of calibrating your TV.
What is TV calibration?
Calibration in the broadest sense of the word is the optimal adjustment of equipment, preferably on the basis of measurements. However, the word is also often enough, also by us, used for simple settings that you as a user can change. However, calibration is of course more than that. As Dimitri puts it; Calibration is setting the color according to the industry standard used when recording a movie. This way you get as close as possible to the view as the filmmakers intended. However, a calibrator is not only concerned with color, the other options and settings of the TV are also taken into account to get the picture adjusted as perfectly as possible.
However, you cannot only calibrate an LCD, OLED or plasma television. It is also possible to subject a projector to a calibration. The calibration process is slightly different from the one I describe below, but the premise is the same. It is important to determine whether you only want the representation of 2D material to be calibrated or whether you also value an optimal representation of 3D material.
What does TV calibration cost?
As mentioned, there are not many professionals in the Netherlands who can perform an isf calibration for you. According to Dimitri, the Netherlands is lagging behind countries such as the United States and England in this respect. There, more consumers see the benefit of a calibration and the awareness of it is greater. In the Netherlands, if you want to use the services of Dimitri, you pay an amount that is between 175 and 350 euros, depending on the travel distance and whether you also want to have the 3D display calibrated.
Can you calibrate any TV?
One of my first questions to Dimitri was whether you can actually calibrate any TV. After all, you have TVs of a few hundred euros with minimal setting options and TVs of thousands of euros with all professional (isf) options. Still, any TV can be calibrated according to Dimitri, but you have to deal with the straps you have. Most TVs, even those of hundreds of euros, have the most important setting options to optimize the image display. Think of the greyscale, brightness and white balance. You do not necessarily need hundreds of options hidden in submenus to calibrate a TV, but the more options, the more precisely the display can be adjusted.
Expectations and experiences
Expectations are perhaps the trickiest part of a calibration. What you can expect is that the color reproduction, among other things, meets the standards imposed by the industry, but that is of course nice on paper. According to Dimitri, this is sometimes a bit difficult for people who have their TV calibrated, but he rarely comes across bad experiences. Some people find that their TV shows less intense colors after calibration, something that makes sense because these colors in the TV presets are often saturated and therefore not natural. In many cases you get less color, but color that matches what the filmmaker had in mind. This true-to-life representation is the starting point for a calibration.
Having your TV professionally calibrated does not only have a positive effect on the image quality. The presets of many TVs often have a higher brightness and too high a contrast. This is scaled back during calibration for the true-to-life reproduction, which also reduces the energy consumption of the TV. Less brightness and contrast also reduces energy consumption. If you have a plasma TV or OLED TV calibrated, this reduction ensures that the risk of burn-in is slightly reduced.
In response to some questions under this article, I have added the heading ‘presets’. Many TVs, and especially the high-end models, have preset modes for optimal image reproduction, according to the manufacturer. The most famous mode is the THX mode, tuned by well-known company THX, which has different demands on the image display. The question I’ve asked Dimitri, which also comes from readers, is how these modes compare to a professional calibration. The answer to that is quite simple; a mode like the THX mode is set up by looking at the general characteristics of a display and an average is chosen for this. A THX mode is never set to exactly the panel you have at home (any TV, even of the same model number, is different) and does not consider the exact situation and environment of the TV. These are two very important parts of a professional calibration, also done by someone who is guided not only by measurements but also experience and the eye of an expert. A preset such as ‘THX Cinema’ is a step in the right direction for a true-to-life and realistic image reproduction, but it will never reach a professional calibration. The details, the experience of the calibrator, the panel and the environment are factors that really determine how you get the most out of your TV. A preset such as ‘THX Cinema’ is a step in the right direction for a true-to-life and realistic image reproduction, but it will never reach a professional calibration. The details, the experience of the calibrator, the panel and the environment are factors that really determine how you get the most out of your TV. A preset such as ‘THX Cinema’ is a step in the right direction for a true-to-life and realistic image reproduction, but it will never reach a professional calibration. The details, the experience of the calibrator, the panel and the environment are factors that really determine how you get the most out of your TV.
What do you have to take into account in advance?
In most cases, a professional calibrator assumes a high-quality HD signal and you will soon arrive at Blu-ray. When playing a Blu-ray disc you do not have to deal with compression and the source material is close to what the filmmakers had in mind. This is what a calibrator gets to work. It is therefore important that you have a Blu-ray player with which you can display footage on your TV. Now that will not be a problem for most people considering a calibration, because these are often the real home cinema enthusiasts who like to watch a film in the highest quality a few times a week.
However, the Blu-ray player does not have to be an extremely expensive model, with every Blu-ray player the image reproduction can be optimally adjusted. However, a calibrator does nothing with the settings of the Blu-ray player. This must transmit the image signal as pure as possible to the TV, which then provides the correct image with the calibrated settings. So make sure that your Blu-ray player, and possibly receiver if it is in between, do nothing or hardly anything with the image itself.
I can imagine that you also watch a lot of normal TV programs, but calibrating this display is very difficult, according to Dimitri. The signal varies a lot by provider / region and can even vary by channel. We are talking about the color reproduction, but also about the compression and general quality. Blu-ray is the main starting point, but the picture settings used for this can also be used for the digital TV signal or another digital source without any problems.
A very important part of the calibration, and therefore also something that you should think about in advance, is the incidence of light. In which room do you watch TV and at what time of the day do you mainly do this? Are the lights on and if so, which lights? Is the sun shining in at that time of day? All this information is important to the calibrator because it affects, for example, the brightness and gamma setting to use. If you often watch movies in the dark, for example, a higher gamma setting is desired. Your situation must be thoroughly discussed with the calibrator before the calibration starts and preferably before he or she comes to your home. It is advisable to calibrate your TV at the time when you use the TV the most.
The TV calibration
Once you have made the decision, consulted with the calibrator and scheduled an appointment, the moment of calibration will of course come. For this, the calibrator takes its own equipment, in this case consisting of a sensor (i1Pro) that is placed on the screen and can measure the brightness and color reproduction, and a laptop on which the data received by this sensor is displayed. A calibration disc is placed in the Blu-ray player and test patterns appear on the screen.
However, the calibration is not only done by looking at numbers. A number of important settings are done by eye and that’s where the bit of experience and training of the calibrator comes into play. The situation and the time of day, as described above, are also important in these settings that are made by eye. You get different results with a different incidence of light.
n the points below, we briefly go through the calibration. You should receive a clear explanation of important measurements or settings from the calibrator if you are interested in this. The expectations you have are also discussed in advance so that they can be taken into account. In this article, I won’t go into too much detail about specific settings, that’s something you can do best with the professional yourself.
- As mentioned, you are the first to discuss the expectations you have of the calibration and the calibrator explains exactly what it is intended to do. You can indicate what needs to be taken into account and the calibrator will indicate what he or she wants to achieve.
- The sensor is placed on your TV and connected to the calibrator’s laptop. The special Blu-ray disc with test patterns will be played and the calibration will start.
- However, before the TV is calibrated, the current settings and values are first looked at. A benchmark is created from which to work. The current display is therefore analyzed by the sensor, and measurements are taken from it.
- The calibrator then runs through the general settings of your TV to make adjustments when necessary. Consider, for example, the motion options or settings that increase the dynamic contrast. Ultimately we want a pure and true-to-life image so you will see that many of these options are disabled. If necessary, you will receive an explanation from the relevant settings about why they should or should not be switched on.
- Now the actual calibration will start with measurements, using different test patterns. The calibrator starts with grayscale, from 0 to 100 percent, and then reads that the calibrator adjusts the settings of the TV. In small steps, the display is pulled towards the standards imposed by the industry. The gamma, brightness and contrast, among other things, also come close, all based on test patterns. Film material is not looked at because you must have a calibrated starting point.
- Then the color triangle is added. This is a spectrum of colors through which a line runs that the TV must follow as closely as possible. The calibrator goes to work with the brightness, saturation, and hue of the primary and secondary colors, among other things, to achieve that true-to-life rendering. This color adjustment takes the longest but is perhaps the most important part of the calibration.
- After the colors, attention is again paid to the gray values and the white balance is also adjusted, both on the basis of measurements. But the eye also plays an important role in this. For example, a measurement can say that it is perfect, but the eye of the expert can still see a slightly red tint, for example. So it is a combination of measurements, analyzes, experience and the eye of an expert. Other settings that are also adjusted according to the eye are the brightness and the sharpness.
- The last step is probably the most fun for the person who had the calibration performed. Now you use the calibrator to view some film material, material that he or she has brought along or that you would like to see. The various settings are checked again and of course the eye must give the approval.
An extensive calibration as described above can take 1.5 to 2 hours so you have to take your time. But, is the result there? That was of course also the question of Dimitri after the calibration of our TV was completed. Of course I was already spoiled by the extremely good image quality of the Panasonic ZT60 plasma TV when it came out of the box, but the end result after calibration was certain.
As described under the heading about expectations, colors are indeed less intensive, but you can immediately see that this benefits the lifelike reproduction and the impressive contrast. Black was darker than ever, making black in a film indistinguishable from the black of the bars above and below, and the detail reproduction in dark parts of the screen was also clearly improved. Where white sometimes splashed off the screen too brightly for calibration, it was now a natural white with suddenly much more noticeable gradations and details. All in all, I can only be very satisfied with the calibration and the entire film collection can come by again because you almost have the feeling that you have bought a new and even better TV.
As soon as the TV is calibrated, you naturally want to get started with your best films immediately, but the great thing is that you also get a report of the calibration. The day after the calibration Dimitri provided me with a document in which graphs and figures indicate what the measurements were before and after the calibration. You will receive a brief explanation so that you also (partly) understand what exactly has been done and see that the image reproduction is now closer to the imposed norms and standards. In addition, Dimitri has neatly written down the most important settings, including color management, white balance and gamma, so that you always have a backup if you lose the settings of your TV.
General experience and advice regarding TV calibration
It may be clear that my general experience with having a TV calibration professionally is very positive, partly thanks to the good cooperation of an expert. The result is impressive and that is of course what you do it all for. The eye wants to see that you improve, but that of course remains subjective. However, the report that you receive afterwards and watching an expert during the measurements confirm that your TV now offers an image display that comes as close as possible to what the filmmakers intended.
But, is professionally TV calibration something I recommend to everyone? That’s a tricky one because you do need to know what you’re getting into and what to expect, and that’s what I’ve tried to make clear in this article. If you have bought a TV for 500 euros, chances are that the best possible image quality is not necessarily what you are looking for and then 175 euros is also a significant investment. But, if you are someone who goes for the better models, have the budget for this and are looking for that optimal reproduction of your Blu-ray films, I can only recommend it. On a TV of 2,000 euros, 175 euros is not much money to actually get that maximum out of your TV.