Calibrating an LED TV – is a Professional Calibration Needed?
The decision to calibrate your own LED TV, as opposed to professional calibration, is mostly a matter of the time involved and your own perceived ability to adjust and fine tune colors in a high definition environment. Performing a calibration can be quite detailed – but here’s the thing. We all tend to see colors a little differently. From those of us who have a finely tuned artistic sense of color to those who are “color blind” – we just see things differently. If you’re a bit unsure regarding your ability to judge colors accurately (and you want a “showpiece TV” that will entertain and/or impress your friends), then by all means, have your new TV calibrated professionally. But if you want your set to be tweaked to your particular specifications – then you just might enjoy calibrating that new TV yourself.
What was the goal of the factory?
First of all, you may notice that the TV has been adjusted for maximum brightness and contrast – right from the factory. This is a marketing strategy that will allow the TV to stand out from other models. Now this may be how the manufacturer wanted you to view the display – but it may not be the way that the director of the movie you’re watching wanted you to see their film. You’ll probably want colors that have a natural appearance and not resemble a trip to the circus. By setting the proper contrast, brightness and color on your TV, you’ll be on your way to a much more enjoyable viewing experience. Let’s face it, we live in a real world of beautiful, vibrant natural colors – we don’t live in a “cartoon”.
Why would you want to calibrate?
If you’d like to have the best possible display images, you just can’t assume that your new set has been calibrated properly at the factory. A good example of this can be seen when you’re viewing all the different TV models in your local store. Take a good look at all the various models displaying the same signal. Why do they all look different? Simple – each TV manufacturer has a different idea of what look best suits their product. This is usually a marketing ploy to accentuate the product’s strengths, and minimize its weaknesses.
Another consideration is the room lighting. Is the store showroom lit in the same manner as the area where you’ll watch your TV? I thought not. The displays on the showroom floor are set very bright to compensate for store lighting. However, the subsequent loss of detail will be quite noticeable in the more quiet lighting of your home. Not only that – but continually running your display at those high, bright settings may also damage your set, in the long run.
Now that you’ve decided to perform the calibration, yourself – we can give you a few tips that you may find useful in your endeavour. The first step has to do with observing your surroundings. Sit in the same location that you’ll normally be in, when watching your LED set. Now, adjust the room lighting to match the way the area will be lit when you’re watching a movie. If the room is too brightly lit, you might overcompensate by adjusting your display to be too bright, as well. You don’t want the room to be too dark, as well, since this can lead to eyestrain. A dim light to the rear or to the side of the set would be best – just be careful to avoid any reflections or glare.
Your display should be allowed to warm up for about a half hour before proceeding with your calibration. This ensures that all display components are at their regular operating temperature. While you’re waiting, you may wish to review the controls on your model set, using your manual. Here are some standard controls (they may differ on your particular set):
- Black Level (can be found usually on the “Brightness” control)
- White Level (“Contrast” or “Picture”)
- Sharpness (“Detail”)
- Color Saturation (“Color”)
- Tint (“Hue”)
Those are the basic settings, but newer TV models may come with additional “enhancements” that do little by create an annoying artificial color scheme. These might be labelled something like “flesh tone correction” or some similar nomenclature. It’s safe to say that if the control is not one of the 5 mentioned earlier, you can turn it off. Also, Cinema or Movie mode is fine – use Normal mode if those two are not available. But modes like Dynamic, Vivid or Sports mode is a venture into cartoon-land.
With backlit LEDs, you may want to look closely at this
For options that can control your backlight settings, you may want to note that the factory settings are usually the highest possible. This will spoil your picture, increase your electric bill and eventually limit the life of your set. Lowering this setting to its “normal” value is usually best. But in dimly lit rooms, a “power saver” mode will work well.
Finally, a word about “Color Temperature”
This refers to the red (warm) and blue (cool) hues that influence the color schemes. Your best bet is to find a setting that will give you the most neutral gray color possible. This is the closest you will come to “perfect” without professional tools.
Calibrating by using direct visual observation will most certainly give you a better picture than the one obtained from the factory settings. However, in order to get the very best visual details, you will need to do one of two things. You can have your set professionally calibrated or you can use a set of test patterns to calibrate the set, yourself. Professional calibration can be very expensive – sometimes costing hundreds of dollars. The advantage, of course is the time saved and the knowledge that your LED will be visually optimized. The advantage of doing the calibration, yourself, besides the money saved, is that you can adjust your home lighting and then get to know your new LED TV and all of its controls – which can actually be fun.
A cheap, and easy to use, calibration tool is the THX optimizer that is included on many DVDs – just look for the “THX Certified” logo. This optimizer provides a set of patterns that be used to obtain acceptable results. But, in order to obtain the best results, you should get a dedicated Home Theater setup disk which will provide more fine-tuning options. You’ll also have the benefit of step-by-step instructions to assist you in your calibration. Eventually, there will be online control setting instructions designed to suit your particular model LED TV – check online before you begin. But no matter what disk you use, the adjustment processes will be similar and will follow the steps outlined next:
LED TV manufacturers like to brag about their latest technology’s improvements in “contrast ratio” – which refers to the display’s relationship between its darkest blacks and its brightest whites. Indeed, this is key to establishing the most realistic picture possible. Half of the goal in achieving the deepest blacks will lie with the calibration control usually labelled “Brightness”. One thing to keep in mind is that your DVD player needs to be set to send “below black” signals.
It’s quite common for LED TVs to come from the factory with their white levels set way too high. This will result in bright shades bleeding together with the whites. To adjust the white level, you’ll use a test pattern featuring a pure white area. You will then need to distinguish between a slightly darker object from the pure white box area. This ensures fine details will be visible in a very bright scene.
Adjusting the Sharpness
This is probably the toughest subject of LED TV calibration to explain. Mostly because what we see is a subjective experience and can’t be measured by any physical means. But to start with, it might be helpful to understand what this control can and cannot do. For example, it cannot decrease or increase the TVs physical resolution (this relies on the number of pixels available to the display). What it can do is to make the color transitions appear sharper to the eye. The thing to watch out for is to not set the sharpness level too high. Setting the sharpness to its maximum level will introduce unwanted image artifacts and can even cause eye strain. When the sharpness setting goes past the optimal viewing level, any edge between whites and blacks will exhibit minute artifacts. The THX Optimizer doesn’t include a sharpness pattern but other disks will.
But the final decision is up to you. Some people prefer a softer picture image, while others like a little extra sharpness in their details.
Tint and Color Saturation Adjustment
Color adjustments are pretty much the most critical areas for good picture quality.
Good quality video calibration disks will come with red, blue and green films that will address this part of your calibration. THX will offer a set of blue tinted glasses that can be ordered through their website. The problem is that THX combines the color and tint tests while the more sophisticated calibration disks will provide more choices.
Basically, Color Saturation boils down to one thing – there is a point where your LED display is showing the precise color data that is being sent by your DVD. This is the level that you should be looking for. Your LED display most likely comes from the factory calibrated to boost all the color levels. This is unrealistic and presents a distorted image of what the film director wanted you to see. It’s extremely important, however, that your TV is in a “neutral” mode before you begin this phase of your calibration. Stay away from the “vivid”, “sports” and other cartoon network-type modes. Once the color is set, then you can move on to tint. The thing to remember, here is that color and tint are dependent on each other. After setting the tint, you may wish to go back to the color control, in order to create a balance.
What you see is pretty much what you get…
When considering the benefits of calibrating your LED TV, there are several things to keep in mind. From our earlier discussion, it should be clear that the main issue with display calibration lies within the white level adjustments and the black level adjustments. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first reason has to do with the longevity of your new (and expensive) LED television. By allowing the settings that were adjusted in the factory to provide maximum brightness (when competing with harsh store lighting), you are, in effect “overdriving the pixels”. This is similar to turning up the electricity in a light bulb – the bulb will, most assuredly, burn out faster. It’s the same principle with your LED TV set.
Surrounding conditions count, too
When it comes to accuracy, taking the time to adjust the sharpness and color levels to their correct states will allow you to see that film the way the directed intended you to see it. Note, though, that the surrounding light will also play an important role in how you view your display. But let’s face facts – it’s your TV and you can, of course watch it any way that you wish. If you think that the picture is too “soft” – then increase the sharpness a bit. Want crayon-green grass, even in mid-winter scenes – then, please avail yourself of the sports mode and crank up the color mode. When your friends ask; “What’s wrong with the TV?” – Just tell them that you like cartoons.
Calibration Settings for your LED TV
Using professional equipment is easily the best and most accurate way to adjust your settings. But my guess is that you don’t have that type of equipment at your disposal. A professional service, with the proper equipment can be an expensive proposition – but you may find it worth it.
You do have another option, though. As time goes on, more and more LED TV models will be reviewed and the optimal calibrations settings will most certainly be posted online. Even if the specifications of your particular model are not listed – a comparable model’s might, which would give you a good starting point for your own LED TV. By understanding the controls on your set, and how they affect your picture, you have the option to adjust the set in ways that will please the most important person watching the show – you.