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Sunday 11 January 2009

TV Calibration [Spiny]

Someone like Am, will have a qualified "man that does" come to his gaff and professionally calibrate his home cinema.

For the rest of us, there other options. There are a couple of retail DVD packages that walk you through the calibration process. One is DVD Video Essentials for around 15 quid. However, while it's an AV geek's wet dream the menus & are convoluted & process laborious. A much better solution exists on a few retail DVDs that you probably already own. Toy Story, Cars, Star Wars to name a few.

As well as making and breaking our childhoods & building the leading visual effects company, George "Mr Whippy" Lucas also created a set of specifications for theatre audio & video - THX. Hidden away on the main feature disc of some films is the "THX Optimizer" that will guide you through setting up your picture for the best viewing experience.

Before you start, you'll need to go into your TV settings and tweak a few settings. Most TVs are set to look good in the show room shouting "MY COLOURS ARE BETTER THAT THE OTHER SET THAT'S NEXT TO ME!!!" & come with the colour settings set to something like "Vivid" & the brightness too high. Good for sales, but not so good if you want to view the film as the director intended. On my TV I have to go into the menus & set the picture mode to Custom, rather than Vivid or Standard. This often opens up some other settings like colour temperature which you'll need to set to Neutral rather than warm or cool.

So, once you're set it put in "display what I'm given" mode rather than "give people nuclear suntans" mode you can do the calibration. The optimizer has around half a dozen tests, but the main ones are Contrast & Brightness. Get those dialed in and you're 90% done. There's also a Colour tweak, but you'll need the special glasses. See below:

I generally use Star Wars Revenge Of The Sith to run the Optimizer. It can be found by selecting the THX logo in the Language settings of the DVD menus. Sod knows why they make it so difficult to find. Probably to stop pe0ns goosing their setup.

Click that and you're walked through the setup. There's also a more detailed explanation on the THX site.

In brief, here's all you have to do:


Set as high as possible while still being able to see all the different "white" blocks. Bosh.


Set as high as possible, without being able to see the drop shadow on the THX logo, or the 7th darkest square in the gradient. Some DVD players can't show the "below black" drop shadow on the logo, so use the gradient if this is the case for you. Double Bosh.


To do this test, you'll need the special blue THX glasses. Or you can use the blue filter bundled with the DVD Essentials disc. (The DVD Essentials filter is darker, but it produces the same results apparently). If you have neither, I'd recommend getting the THX glasses as DVD Essentials is not worth it (IMO).


Set to highest value that doesn't show the closely spaced lines as too "edgy". I found this one difficult to judge, (possibly in hindsight because I left DVD up scaling on when calibrating my PS3). Get it roughly right and use the last test to confirm.

Video Clip

On the star wars disc, the optimizer plays a clip of the Obi Wan vs Grievous. I found looking at the texture of Grevious's cloak a much better test of sharpness than the test pattern.

Then just break out the popcorn!


  1. Good work Spiny, share the love.I bought a copy of DVE and it's bladdy impenterable for all the reasons you state. I've found a guide for using it and ONE day I will get round to using it.For the time being, I used the newest THX Optimiser I had in my collection and bosh, set and forget.

  2. Thanks for this great post, i find it very interesting and very well thought out and put together. I look forward to reading your work in the future.
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