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.
What do the pros do?
Konica Minolta CS-2000 spectraradiometer
Services in a typical calibration include using the hidden service menu grayscale to the standard of D65, improving color accuracy of the entire palette; setting contrast, brightness, color, and so on using test patterns designed specifically for each of these controls; optimizing overscan and picture position, enabling display of more of the incoming picture; correcting "red push" in the color decoder when possible; and optimizing all DVD, Blu-ray and HDTV input sources using test patterns from discs and/or signal generators.
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 standard white point of D65, which corresponds closely with a color temperature of 6500K. Most TV shows, as well as Blu-rays and DVDs are created to be displayed at that color temperature, so if your TV is set to D65, 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.
How do I get a calibration?
There are a few ways to get your display professionally calibrated. If you bought the set at an independent 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 high-end television or projector.
Another way is to retain the services of an independent contractor. We recommend you choose a contractor who has been certified by the Imaging Science Foundation and who owns their own calibration equipment.
For $299, Best Buy's Geek Squad also offers a TV calibration service that has become increasingly popular. Their calibrators are also ISF-certified and their equipment is standardized to accord with ISF practices. However, Geek Squad calibrators may not have as much field experience as a veteran independent contractor would, and are often under significant time restraints, so we still recommend going with an independent contractor if one is available in your area at a comparable price.