How to calibrate your HDTV

If you haven't calibrated your HDTV, you're probably not seeing the picture you paid for. Here's how to get a near-perfect image on your high-def screen without breaking the bank.

You spent a lot of money on your fancy new HDTV, but its picture probably isn't as good as it could be. If you want to see exciting sports events and movies that look the way the broadcasters and filmmakers intended, you need to calibrate your HDTV.

If you have a few hundred dollars to spare, you can hire a professional to do the job for you. But after you've spent a load of dough on the set itself, the prospect of spending more for calibration may not be appealing. Armed with a few facts, the right software, and a little time, you can handle the task yourself for just a few bucks.

What Every TV Owner Needs to Know

Sure, everyone knows how to plug in a TV and tap their way around a remote. But if you're looking for a great home-entertainment experience, here a few important things to keep in mind.

Don't stick with the factory settings: TVs leave the factory calibrated to look good in a store, where they must compete with a lot of ambient light and every other TV on display. Such an environment requires superbright, garish settings that look awful. Just turning down your TV's brightness and contrast will be a big improvement.

Remember that the time of day matters: Unless you watch TV in a windowless room, the difference between day and night is like, well, the difference between night and day. If you're willing to take the time, calibrate one programmable mode (your TV will have several) at night and another during the day. Or just calibrate it at night (when you're likely to watch more TV), and pick an existing, brighter mode for day.

Avoid Dynamic Mode: At least at night, anyway. Because it turns sharpness and contrast way up, Dynamic Mode results in overly bright, garish images. On most TVs, the Normal, Movie, or Cinema modes are likely to produce an accurate picture.

Calibrate each input separately: Getting the picture right for images from your DVD player won't help the images from your TiVo, cable box, or VCR.

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