Adjusting your TV with the quick tips on the previous page will yield good results, but you can do even better by investing in a home-theater setup DVD. Each of the discs described below contains explanations and interactive demos designed to get your system looking and sounding as good as it can, short of retaining a professional.
Upside: Wide array of reference test patterns; varied montage of images.
Downside: Difficult to navigate; test patterns not adequately explained.
Best for: Experts who want reference-quality patterns and are already familiar with basic calibration procedures.
The first setup DVD available, Video Essentials is still the gold standard for professional calibrators and other experts who are intimately familiar with its labyrinthine navigation. Created by video consultant Joe Kane, its patterns and excellent video/film montage have tested thousands of monitors--but they're not easy for beginners to use. People who want less of a learning curve should stick to newer, less arcane discs.
Upside: Wide array of reference test patterns and well-detailed calibration procedures; easy navigation; optional in-depth looks at many home home-theater topics.
Downside: Sometimes pedantic tone.
Best for: Beginners with patience and others who want comprehensive explanations of system details.
Although it's not the newest test DVD on the block, Avia is arguably the most complete. This well-designed disc includes an excellent 40-minute walk-through that covers major aspects of home home-theater systems and setup, and curious users will love the in-depth, text-only explanations of topics from aspect ratio to subwoofers. The heart of the disc, however, is the suite of thoroughly explained calibrations that takes you step by step through TV and audio system optimization.
Upside: Simple explanations of calibration and setup routines; nice graphical demonstrations.
Downside: Constant corny jokes; little elaboration of home-theater concepts.
Best for: Beginners who want a quick-and-dirty way to tune up--as opposed to calibrate--their systems.
Endorsed by the home-entertainment reviews magazine, this disc is positioned as an easy-to-use guide to home-theater setup. In most areas, it succeeds. The body of the program consists of a tutorial on equipment, room environment, and calibrations hosted by a lively pair of hosts--whose trite antics become tiresome after the first minute. Common-language explanations and clear diagrams help beginners immensely, but some important concepts, such as variations among different display devices, are glossed over or eliminated altogether.
Upside: Excellent in-depth explanations of up-to-the-minute home-theater concepts; comprehensive test patterns and montages; mastered in 16:9 wide-screen format.
Downside: Sometimes inadequate explanations of setup routines; constant chapter stops; no human host.
Best for: True and aspiring videophiles who want the most current, in-depth video information and don't mind falling asleep to get it.
The successor to Video Essentials, also available on D-VHS in both 1080i and 720p resolutions, has the advantage of being the newest calibration DVD--and a lot has changed in the last few years. Watching the tutorial is a little like attending a class taught by HAL from the movie 2001 since there's no visible human host, and the narrator sounds a little too nice. The explanations are extremely informative and complete, and they include details that other discs miss. But the actual how-to of setup isn't as straightforward; beginners should avoid Digital Video Essentials.
(Editor's note: The author contributed to the production of Digital Video Essentials and is a contributor to Sound & Vision magazine.)