How to calibrate your TV

TV calibration 101: Here's how to tune up the picture on your new TV

tv calibration 101 how to tune up your new calibrate

Whether you spend $400 or $4,000 on a new TV (or video projector), it is a sure bet that your new display will need some adjustment. When you walk into a store, browsing TVs is a dazzling experience — every display pops with bright colors, attracting shoppers like bees to wildflowers. How do manufacturers get their TVs to impress under the fluorescent lighting of a showroom floor? Usually, by cranking up all the picture settings to the max.

No matter how much of a novice you are, there is some level of video adjustment you can handle yourself.

While TVs were often tuned for the store display right out of the box (meaning they’re brighter than the sun), these days they often ship with multiple presets, including dark and daylight settings, and even sports and gaming options. While this is certainly an improvement, no two home theaters are alike, and therefore the presets likely won’t be best for your viewing environment. That’s when it’s time to head to the settings and get into the nitty-gritty adjustments.

No matter how much of a novice you are when it comes to electronics, there is some level of video adjustment you can handle yourself. If you absolutely must have the best, feel free to call a pro — only they can provide true calibrations. For the rest of us, we offer our TV tune-up guide to help get you through some of the basic and intermediate self-service TV settings so you can get an awesome picture in just minutes.

Pick your process

This guide is designed to help those who want to do a manual adjustment without the aid of a calibration disc. Actually, we recommend you start with an “eyeball” calibration first, even if you do intend to use a disc for help. It will get you closer to your ideal settings and facilitate faster fine-tuning later. However, a calibration disc can bring your TV to the next level.

There are a number of video calibration discs available, but we have two favorites. While many may be wondering about separate techniques for adjusting 4K Ultra HD TVs — especially those with high dynamic range (HDR) — we regret to say there are very few viable calibration discs available to the general public at present. You’ll find some downloadable test patterns available, but they’re pricey for what they are and aren’t the all-in-one solutions that calibration discs are. However, the following examples are still extremely helpful, allowing you to hone in your TV’s picture in no time for impressive results.

Our favorite, and the most accessible for the average Joe, is the Disney WOW: World of Wonder Blu-ray disc. While it may be hard for proud videophiles to admit it, this Disney disc is both comprehensive and intuitive, and the more we use it, the more we like it. As a bonus to all of the display optimization stuff, it comes with several beautiful HD clips of popular Disney and Pixar movies, perfect for enjoying your well-adjusted new TV.

For the more technically inclined, we like the Spears and Munsil High Definition Benchmark Blu-ray Edition. In our experience, this is one of the most intuitive calibration and testing discs available to the enthusiast. It provides clear, easy-to-understand on-screen instructions as well as online support, and does away with the often corny and cheesy voice-overs associated with other calibration discs. The only downside is that it doesn’t include audio adjustment, but if audio help is what you need, we’ve got you covered here.

Other frequently recommended options include Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics, and Avia II Guide to Home Theater.

If you want to try a completely different approach — one that doesn’t involve a disc but rather your iOS or Android device — check out THX’s Tune-Up app. It connects to your TV via HDMI (separate adapter required) and uses your iOS or Android device’s camera to assist you. You can learn more about the app at the App Store (iOS) or Google Play store (Android).

Talk the talk

There are many terms at play when discussing picture quality and its various aspects. Though many of these terms tend to be easy to pick up and understand immediately, TV manufacturers seem intent on making things more confusing by applying their own proprietary nomenclature to terms like contrast, saturation, etc., or trademarked names to technology like local dimming or backlighting.

While we’re going to be using the basic terms in this article, they may be different from what your TV lists. To help make things clearer, we’ve included the following table to describe how different TV manufacturers refer to basic terminology.

LG Samsung Sharp Sony Vizio
Backlight Backlight/OLED Light Backlight Backlight Brightness Backlight
Brightness Brightness Brightness Brightness Black level Brightness
Color Color Color Color Color Color
Color space Color management Color space C.M.S. Advanced color temperature Color tuner
Color temperature Color temperature Color tone Color temperature Color temperature Color temperature
Contrast Contrast Contrast Contrast Contrast Contrast
Dynamic contrast Dynamic contrast Dynamic contrast AquoDimming Advanmced contrast enhancer Black detail
Full/limited RGB Black level HDMI black level Black level Dynamic range
Local dimming LED local dimming Smart LED N/A Auto local dimming Acrive LED zones
Motion interpolation/Motion smoothing TruMotion Auto motion plus Motion enhancement Motionflow Reduce judder/Reduce motion blur
Noise removal Noise reduction and MPEG noise reduction Digital clear view and MPEG noise filter Digital noise reduction Random noise reduction and Digital noise reduction Reduce noise
Picture mode Picture mode Picture mode AV Mode Picture mode Picture mode
Sharpness H & V sharpness Sharpness Sharpness Sharpness Sharpness
Tint Tint Tint Tint Tint Tint
White balance White balance White balance Advanced color temperature Advanced color temperature 11 point white balance
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