If you've just dropped $1,000 or more on a new TV or projector, chances are you're serious about home theater. For true videophiles, the most effective--and expensive--way to get theaterlike pictures is to have the display professionally calibrated. But some TVs perform well enough out of the box that you may not consider professional service a worthwhile investment. This section will help you decide.
Although the service you get will vary, professional calibrations almost always involve a few common steps aimed at improving the image. Many of these require accessing the display's internal service menu and measuring the image with test equipment--two reasons why the service calls for a trained professional. We strongly advise against tampering with the internal service menu unless you know what you're doing.
Here are the services included in a typical calibration:
Other advanced services include mechanical focus of projector lenses, custom setups for every aspect ratio and input source, full projector installations from scratch, and the like.
Is it worth it for my TV?
Professional calibrations cost anywhere from $250 for a direct-view or plasma set to more than $1,000 for a CRT-based front-projector. If you're on a budget, we recommend you first purchase one of the test discs and follow its DIY calibration procedure. If afterward you still feel like your set isn't performing as well as it should or you simply want to guarantee the best picture, you should get a calibration.
One of the most important components of professional TV service--and one that definitely requires special gear--is grayscale calibration. This procedure equalizes the color of gray at various light levels, from very dark to very bright, at the NTSC standard color temperature (a.k.a. white balance) of 6,500 degrees Kelvin, or D6500K. DVDs are created to be displayed at that color temperature, so if your TV is set to 6,500K, you're that much closer to seeing the image the director intended.
Some TVs, however, have color-temperature presets that come close to 6,500K. That's why CNET's reviews always note the "out of the box" color temperature as we measured it. If that measurement comes close to 6,500K, then the set is in less need of a grayscale calibration. Note that very few TVs come close to the ideal color temperature, even in their warmest mode.
There are two ways to get your display calibrated. If you bought the set at a specialty retailer, the vendor would probably be able to refer you to someone who could perform the service. Some retailers even include calibration in the price of the television.
The more common way, however, is to retain the services of an independent contractor. There are many calibrators operating around the United States, but we recommend you choose a contractor with calibration equipment who has been certified by the Imaging Science Foundation and who owns his or her own calibration equipment. Note that many calibrators perform their services only in conjunction with full audio/video installations and may not offer separate video calibrations.