How to Calibrate a Video Display

8 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Connecting a Home Theater

To calibrate a video display, you adjust things like contrast, brightness, tint, and color. Most video displays come from the factory improperly calibrated. The brightness, contrast, tint, and color are set at unnatural levels to make the video displays stand out on the showroom floor (in a brightly lit store). At these settings, if you put them in a darkened home theater, the picture looks awful.

If you have a plasma display, you have an additional reason to calibrate your video: The overly bright settings that most of these units come with can reduce the life span of your display! Even if your display is not brand new or fancy, a calibration can breathe new life into your picture quality.

On your average display, you (as a nontechnician) can make five adjustments. A few sets let you adjust more, and service techs with the proper manuals and codes to get into the service menus of the display can adjust just about anything. A non-techie can adjust the following controls:

  • Contrast (white level): In terms of display adjustments, the contrast control adjusts the white level, or degree of whiteness, your screen displays. In video displays, whites and blacks are measured on a scale called IRE (Institute of Radio Engineers) units, which are represented as a percentage: 0 percent is black, and 100 percent is white. You can actually drive your TV beyond 100 percent if your contrast is improperly set. If you do this, white portions of your picture tend to bleed over into the darker portions surrounding them.

  • Brightness (black level): The brightness control on your display actually adjusts the black level that you see on the screen. If the black level is set incorrectly, you can’t discern the difference between darker images on your screen.

  • Sharpness: The sharpness control adjusts the fine detail of the picture — its ability to display minute details on the screen. If the sharpness is set too low, you have a fuzzy picture; if it’s set too high, your picture appears edgy, often with blobs around the edges of objects instead of clearly defined lines.

  • Color: Along with tint, color is one of the two controls that let you set the balance of the colors on your display. If your color setting is too low, images begin to appear as black and white. If it’s too high, images take on a reddish tinge.

  • Tint (hue): On most TVs, this control is labeled tint, but a few are more technically correct and call it hue. The tint control adjusts your display’s color within a range between red and green — your job will be to find the perfect balance between them.

Probably the best way to adjust your video is to use a DVD home theater calibration disc. Unless you’ve had a professional calibrate your system, you should definitely consider getting one of these discs.

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