Why does your TV need to be calibrated?
You may be surprised when you bring that new television set home to find that its picture doesn’t look that great. Yet it appeared to look pretty good in the store! The picture likely looks blindingly bright, artificial and has inaccurate colours. But don’t panic. The picture controls - brightness, contrast, colour, tint and sharpness - of most modern television sets are calibrated at the factory to capture a potential buyer’s attention on a bright showroom floor. Factory settings generally produce a picture that is excessively bright and very blue, attributes that manufacturers say attract more attention. Unfortunately these settings are far off from producing the natural looking picture that we all desire. They can even lead to permanent damage or lower the life expectancy of your television set, especially in phosphor based displays, CRT and plasma.
There is somewhat of a quick fix that you can apply right away. Your television set offers several picture preset modes such as Dynamic, Vivid, Standard, Movie, Game, etc. Out of the box the set is usually set to the Dynamic preset but this is not the mode that the manufacturer intends for viewers to use at home. The quick fix is to use the Movie or Standard picture presets because they usually produce a much more accurate picture. In addition to this, your television has a colour temperature control which can be set to Low, Medium or High. The Low or Medium presets are usually the most accurate. Sometimes, these controls are labeled with actual colour temperatures in Kelvin. If this is the case with your television set, use the 6500 K setting.
However, if you would like your television set to produce the most accurate picture, you’ll need to properly calibrate it or pay a certified ISF calibrator to do it for you. Many reviewers and home theatre enthusiasts adjust their TVs using calibration DVDs such as Digital Video Essentials (DVE) or Avia. These calibration discs sound attractive because the cost only between $20 and $50. Unfortunately, they are rather difficult to use for most consumers and depend heavily on human vision, which is subjective. Heck, even we at CANADA HiFi had a bit of a hard time trying to figure out these calibration DVDs when we first started using them. Going the ISF calibrator way, on the other hand can cost a few hundred dollars.
Meet the SpyderTV display calibration system
Datacolor’s SpyderTV display calibration system, priced at $229 US, promises to be simple-to-use and takes a scientific approach to adjusting a TV’s picture controls. It uses a colorimeter to measure contrast, brightness, colour, tint, and colour temperature presets on your TV, instead of relying on the human eye. As the colorimeter takes the measurements, it tells you what adjustments are necessary in order to achieve the optimal picture quality on your television set.
The SpyderTV package consists of a colorimeter, a test pattern DVD and the SpyderTV software on CD. It is designed to calibrate all modern TV types including plasma, RPTV, DLP, LCD and CRT. The SpyderTV software requires a PC equipped with an 800 MHz Pentium II processor and 256MB of RAM or better, with Windows XP or 2000 installed.
The calibration process
I used the SpyderTV system to calibrate our reference Pioneer PDP-4360HD plasma television, which was previously calibrated using the DVE disc. The SpyderTV software took only a few minutes to install on my laptop computer. I attached the colorimeter at the centre of my TV screen using its suction cups and plugged it into the laptop’s USB port. Finally, I placed the supplied test pattern DVD in my DVD player and launched the SpyderTV program.
First, the program asked me about my current settings for Brightness, Contrast, Colour, Tint and Colour Temperature. I was also asked to provide the range for each setting (i.e. I had to enter the minimum and maximum values for each setting). During these steps, SpyderTV learned the details of my TV’s picture controls.
The next part of the process took measurements using the colorimeter and determined what the optimal values were for each picture setting. Clear prompts on my laptop instructed me to select specific video patterns from the test pattern DVD and adjust picture controls on the TV set. For example, the program asked me to set the Brightness slider to several different positions, as it took a measurement at each position. Based on these measurements, it determined the optimal Brightness setting for my TV. This process was repeated to find the optimal value for each of the five picture settings.
I was very impressed with this entire process which took about 25 minutes in total. The step-by-step calibration was explained clearly and should be simple enough even for a technically-challenged user. This was definitely a much easier process than using a calibration disc. This fantastic, user friendly calibration process scores 10 out of 10 in my books!
A smooth calibration process means nothing without the results. To evaluate the picture calibrated by the SpyderTV system, I watched a few DVDs including Ocean’s Twelve and Saving Private Ryan.
The contrast and brightness appeared to be calibrated properly. However, the colour and tint were completely off. The actor’s faces looked like they had bad sunburns. It was obvious that the SpyderTV system had set the color way too high and the tint too red. The Movie picture preset on the Pioneer plasma produced a more natural picture!
Just incase something went wrong during the calibration process, I used the system to calibrate another TV in our test lair, a Panasonic plasma. Unfortunately, the results were exactly the same - there was definitely a problem here.
Luckily, Datacolor has an easily accessible customer support. I spoke with a member of their support team who was very helpful and confirmed that Datacolor was aware of the issue that I encountered. They instructed me to download a new pre-release version of the SpyderTV software from the Internet and said that a replacement test pattern DVD would be shipped to me. Apparently, there were problems with both the software and the test DVD. I installed the updated software (version 1.0.15) right away. Three days later, the new test pattern DVD arrived at my house and I calibrated the Pioneer plasma again.
The colour and tint of the picture improved substantially, however they were still did not appear to be correct. The colours were still slightly over-saturated and there was a noticeable red tint in skin tones.
I contacted Datacolor customer support again and was informed that Datacolor is working on resolving the issue, which should be fixed with another software update.
For the time being, it is difficult to recommend the SpyderTV calibration system to anyone because it simply doesn’t work correctly. It does however have the potential to be the simplest to use, most cost-effective solution for enthusiasts to calibrate their TVs, if Datacolor resolves the issue of course. We will bring you an update on the SpyderTV system, when these issues get resolved. In the meantime, check the blog on the home page of our website for up to minute news.
June 18, 2007 Update: After a mid-February conversation with a Datacolor support rep, someone was suppose to call us back in regards to the issues that we were experiencing with the SpyderTV product. No one ever called us back. On June 18, we checked for a software update online for the product but an update had not been released. We contacted Datacolor support again and they opened a new support case for us. One of the engineers of SpyderTV is suppose to call us back.
June 25, 2007 Update: The Technical Director of Home Theater Products together with one of the software developers from Datacolor called us today. After asking us a series of questions, they came to a conclusion that both TVs that we attempted to calibrate must have something Datacolor calls “red push”, in which case the SpyderTV product cannot calibrate the display properly. Datacolor claims that roughly 10-15 percent of the TVs on the market currently have red push. I have copied and pasted Datacolor’s explanation of red push below:
“Typically, a display’s out of box performance will have it producing an image that is far too blue. Humans are drawn to blue images, and this helps displays to sell when they are in the store.
However, the excessive blue in the image makes human flesh tones look cold and ghastly. Some manufacturers have implemented a technique where the parts of the image that close in color to human skin tone have had Red added back so the flesh tones look more natural. This adding back of the Red is the problem, since the excessive Blue can usually be corrected, but this shifting of just parts of the image toward Red is much more difficult to fix.
If the image appears unnaturally Red after performing the Color and Tint optimization, especially in human skin tones, you will need to over-ride the setting that SpyderTV recommends and turn the Color setting down a couple of clicks.
How many clicks? The answer is that you will need to turn the Color control down until skin tones look natural again. We have provided a test pattern with three women of different ethnicities to the SpyderTV Pro test pattern DVD so you can evaluate when skin tone looks most natural.”
Datacolor will be sending us their SpyderTV PRO 2007 package to see if it can properly allow us to calibrate displays. This package contains a more advanced colorimeter and more sophisticated software (which includes gray scale adjustments, not included in the standard version of SpyderTV).
Final update: Datacolor failed to send us the PRO package at all.
$229 MSRP (US)