Why Everyone Must Calibrate Their TV

In my mind, I’m an evangelist for audio and video calibration to international standards (or at least my standards). In the real world, I’m a bumbling nerd who spouts random and contradictory facts and theories that never end in a coherent point.

When a co-worker or acquaintance asks my advice on the next TV or AV receiver they should buy, I make them sorry they asked by the end of a few sentences,”Wow, yeah, I don’t know…a plasma TV, huh? What else do you have in your system? Sony Dream Theater hooked up to some old Bose bookshelf speakers and surrounds that were installed by the previous owner of your house? Ouch. You have no light control? In a green house, yeah, humidity may be a problem. Sure Circuit City sells things. No, I can’t help you, unless you’re willing to spend at least $3000. $500? For that kind of money I could suggest a great boutique AC power cable. Sorry.”

Here’s my clear bit of evangelism: You must calibrate your TV. I don’t care who does it. Hire a professional ISF calibrator. Hire me, a semi-professional (my emphasis) calibrator. Or do it yourself with a calibration disc or two (like Avia Guide to Home Theater or Digital Video Essentials).

Not everyone shares my passion for perfecting your home audio and video experience.

On Saturday, I finally visited my local high end audio/video shop, Holm AV. It’s a typical high end store with small dedicated listening rooms split up into low and high end analog and digital audio playback and a few video rooms plus a room stacked with demos and close-outs. I was greeted by one of the sales guys with an awkward pause. I offered that I hadn’t been to their shop before and just wanted to look around. He gave me a quick walk down the hallway pointing out the different rooms. Then he left me alone.

On my way out I complimented the three salesmen by the cash register on how good their various Sony TVs looked. I asked if they were calibrated, “No we just do it by eye, whatever looks good.” But when you do installations for your customers you calibrate the displays then, right? “No, we’re not ISF or anything, our customers don’t really ask to be calibrated.” Oh, that’s too bad, I calibrate TVs as a hobby and was thinking of starting my own business. “Yeah, you need lots of expensive equipment to do all that stuff.” I just drop it with a “Okay, thanks, nice shop.”

Holm’s attitude here is terrible. As a high end dealer you have a duty to your customers, existing and potential, to give them the ultimate AV experience possible. The ultimate experience is missed without proper calibration. Holm is counting on their customers spending tens of thousands of dollars on equipment plus hundreds if not thousands of dollars in consulting fees. If the enthusiasts’ experience is crippled by an uncalibrated display then they may as well just shopped at Best Buy or Fry’s.

So, how do I convince people that TV calibration is a good idea? I don’t or I can’t. Maybe if anyone was willing to take the trip out to my house and experience my front projection system first hand, I’d have a chance. Even then, what would they compare it to? Most of my relatives have commented that it’s like a cineplex (with bonus pausing and a healthier snack bar). I never feel like anyone appreciates the difference between the hours I’ve put in measuring light off my projector and their new 42″ flat panel blaring the “Sports” picture preset. The guys at Holm AV may have it right.

The only way I can quantify the benefit of AV calibration is my deeper immersion into the fictions of movies and music. Now I’m no longer distracted by video artifacts like edge halos and color posterization. Plus, the sense of rightness—knowing I’ve met a standard—gives me peace of mind.

I’ll end with a plea: if you watch TV today press the menu button on your remote and pick the “Movie” setting instead of “Sports.”

2 thoughts on “Why Everyone Must Calibrate Their TV

  • August 28, 2006 at 4:02 pm

    In your honor, I went home and turned all my TVs to VIVID!

  • August 29, 2006 at 6:23 am

    Heh, Heh Fuzzy’s kidding, the Vivid picture setting is worse than Sports.


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