How to improve the picture and sound on your HDTV

Calibrating your television and surroundsound can improve your movie experience

Once your new HDTV is set up and connected to your home theater, it might seem that you can just power up and watch your favorite shows. But not so fast. You'll first need to calibrate your set to get an optimal picture. And as for the sound, you'll need to make sure that your speakers are put in the proper place to ensure immersion in high-quality audio. These tips will walk you through those steps, so you can finally relax and enjoy all your HD content.

Calibrate Your Picture

Now it's time to calibrate your picture to make sure that it's accurate. The right color, contrast, and brightness settings can vary widely depending on your particular viewing environment; they can also vary depending on your source material, such as movies, games, or TV. Using standardized test patterns can help you optimize these settings for the best viewing experience.

For quick and easy "free" calibration, you can use pretty much any disc with a movie recorded in THX audio. THX DVDs and Blu-ray discs have calibration tools in the DVD setup area. Just click on "THX Optimizer" and follow the on-screen instructions. Before you start any calibration, though, adjust room lighting to your normal viewing level; turn sharpness down to normal; and make sure the color temperature is set to 6500 degrees Kelvin (the video standard, sometimes referred as D65). Some TVs offer Warm, Normal, and Cool color temperature options; check with your manufacturer as to which setting comes nearest to 6500K. For example, on Panasonic plasma HDTVs, Warm is the closest setting.

The THX Optimizer will then lead you through five test patterns for adjusting settings. Onscreen instructions for each will tell you what to look for, and what parameters to adjust. It's best to go through this procedure while standing close to the screen. (As you might expect, the THX Optimizer also includes surround-sound setup tests. See the next page for more on audio testing and optimizing.

For pro-level calibration, hire a consultant or do it yourself with a high-end setup disc like Joe Kane's Digital Video Essentials (DVE). DVE comes in both DVD and Blu-ray versions. Get the latter if you have a Blu-ray player, as the disc includes both 1080p and 720p test patterns. Both versions come with a set of red, green, and blue filters that you can hold over the screen to aid in color corrections, which are hard to make by eyeball alone.

DVE also has a video tutorial that leads you through basic calibration. It includes many additional test patterns and an extensive manual explaining how to interpret them. You'll become a video expert with this disc.

Eliminate Judder

Most new 100 and 200Hz LCD HDTV sets boast that they use their fast refresh rates to smooth out motion blur, which can occur at normal 50Hz refresh rates. These smoothing or "de-juddering" technologies basically interpolate additional frames to reduce motion blur.

Some people love the effect, which results in a very smooth and stable image. Others hate it, saying that it looks unnatural, especially for film sources; film's lower native refresh rate gives it a distinctive feel that is different from video. So you may want to turn off or reduce smoothing for film sources (along with turning on the 24Hz playback mode if your TV supports it), and maintain smoothing for video sources. Experiment with the smoothing setting and different sources to determine what looks best to you.

See Every Pixel

Even if your TV has a native resolution of 1920 by 1080, you're not guaranteed to see every pixel of your Blu-ray movies. Many HDTVs use overscan, which means that the set first upscales the original image slightly (typically 2 to 10 percent) and then cuts it off at the edges. Overscan helps eliminate the edge noise common to standard-definition sources, but it is bad for true HD signals, reducing resolution and introducing interpolation artifacts.

If news tickers at the edge of your screen are slightly cropped off, you likely have overscan deployed. Check your set's manual for a mode like Zero-overscan, Full Pixel, 1:1 Pixel, Pixel for Pixel, or Dot by Dot. Also use this mode when you're displaying an image from your computer; otherwise, small type will likely be distorted and unreadable. Be sure to set your PC's output resolution to match that of your TV.

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