IntermediateAdjusting 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 or Blu-ray Disc. Each of the discs described below contains explanations and interactive demos designed to get your system looking and sounding better.
Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics
(DVD International, 2008)
Upside: Blu-ray format contains high-definition test material; comprehensive patterns with plenty of set-up explanation.
Downside: Complex menus may tax some players; explanations sometimes difficult.
Best for: Blu-ray home theater aficionados and intrepid beginners who don't mind a steep learning curve.
The Blu-ray version of Digital Video Essentials adds numerous new patterns and set-up options, but its main improvement is in navigation and making setup easier. The introduction guides beginners through the audio and video setup process and explains basic concepts such as how high-definition works and what tricks manufacturers, studios, and mastering firms use to affect picture quality. Fully comprehending and using the disc for setup will take a few hours for even more-advanced users to digest, but if you pay attention and follow the instructions you'll get the best setup any disc can provide.
Monster Cable HDTV Set-Up disc/ISF Calibration Wizard
(Monster Cable, 2006)
Upside: Easy-to-use setup instructions yield generally good results on newer HDTVs.
Downside: Lack of detail may frustrate some users; does not address audio setup.
Best for: Anyone who wants a quick-and-dirty setup of basic controls like contrast and brightness.
The Monster disc happily doesn't command the same price premium as the company's cables. The test patterns on this DVD, which are narrated by adult contemporary recording artist and hottie Jenna Drey, will be familiar to anyone who's used the Windows Media Center calibrator. They include a guy with a black suit, used to set shadow detail (brightness) and ladies dressed in various shades of gray. Generally you can expect your basic settings to turn out well, but more-advanced options are not available. Another big missing extra, found on most other discs, is a section devoted to audio setup and concepts.
Digital Video Essentials
(DVD International, 2003)
Upside: Excellent in-depth explanations of home-theater concepts; comprehensive test patterns and montages.
Downside: Sometimes inadequate explanations of setup routines; constant chapter stops; no human host.
Best for: True and aspiring videophiles who want in-depth video information and don't mind falling asleep to get it.
The successor to Video Essentials, is very similar to the Blu-ray version, just not as polished or easy to use. 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.
Sound & Vision's Home Theater Tune-Up
(DVD International, 2001)
Upside: Simple explanations of calibration and setup routines; nice graphical demonstrations.
Downside: Constant corny jokes; little elaboration of home-theater concepts.
Best for: Folks who want a bit more explanation than the Monster disc provides, yet still don't mind missing many of the details.
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, although it's not quite as straightforward, or as new, as the Monster disc. 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. Overall, we'd recommend Monster over this disc for people who just want to focus on setting up HDTVs, but this one does include an audio section.
Avia Guide to Home Theater
(Image Entertainment, 1999)
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; nearly 10 years old.
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, the original Avia is one of 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. Unfortunately, home theater concepts don't age well, and this disc contains some outdated recommendations. It's also hard to find. Avia II was released in 2008, although we haven't had a chance to check it out yet.
(Editors' note: The author contributed to the production of Digital Video Essentials" and previously contributed to "Sound & Vision magazine.)