Why calibrate your new HDTV?
We've all seen those movies and TV shows with a stylized “designer” look: new movies made to look old with sepia overtones or artificial film grain, the exaggerated color of CSI: Miami, colored lighting designed to give a subjective “feel” to a scene... It's what the director intended; it's part of the art of television and film.
It seems that television manufacturers have adapted similar techniques, but for very different reasons. I routinely encounter TVs with odd performance characteristics that are created in an effort to stand out from the crowd, to have brand recognition, or to make a quick and distinctive first impression. Sometimes they are disguised as a feature, as when a manufacturer boasts that their set delivers 25% deeper color saturation than what the standard calls for, though other times they're just integrated into the picture without fanfare. Too often, it's not a race to be better, but a race to be different.
Calibration seeks to neutralize these picture editorializations, staying true to what the director intended instead of the PR department's idea of what will make a TV stand out to the masses. With the stylized look stripped away, the beauty of a natural, accurate image can shine through. There are good reasons we have video standards, but those reasons get put on the back burner in an effort to mass produce TVs.
In addition, even if an attempt were made to produce a truly accurate display, manufacturing tolerances limit how well that can be accomplished without crippling price increases. Thankfully, there has been a move in recent years to make calibration controls more thorough and accessible, so achieving a more accurate and ultimately satisfying image is nearly always possible.
“It's not turning the knob; it's knowing which knob to turn”
A decade ago, calibrating a TV meant getting into the secret, cryptic, and dangerous service menu. Recently those formerly guarded adjustments have been showing up in regular picture menus, making them accessible to everyone. So why pay a pro to come out and adjust your TV when the controls needed are often there for anyone to adjust?
Calibration is both science and art: taking objective measurements, using them to align the picture to established standards, and doing it all in a way that compliments the viewing environment and the viewer's tastes. The scientific side demands sophisticated and accurate test equipment; and the artistic side requires experience, a good eye, and sensitivity to customer's needs and desires. In addition, there are compromises and judgment calls that cannot always be decided on a purely scientific basis. It's not a matter of “adjust color control to change brilliance of picture color,” or “adjust gamma control for more pleasing brightness characteristics.” It's using a meter to measure just how your display reproduces the incoming signal, and making corrections necessary for the best, most accurate, and ultimately enjoyable picture possible.