Secrets Q & A

Professional Display Calibration: What It Is and What It Means to Your Home Theater Experience



What Will Professional Calibration Do For Me?

Now we arrive at the question: do I need to pay a professional to calibrate my display?  The simple answer is yes, if I want to achieve an image standard that has been determined by decades of scientific research and the work of thousands of dedicated engineers.  SMPTE standards are designed to create the most realistic image possible with the least eye fatigue within the limitations of display technology.  A professional calibrator will also adjust your HDTV flat panel display or projector with respect to the viewing environment.  Different lighting conditions can change one’s perception of levels and color.  A professional calibration can compensate for the conditions present in your particular room.  Since we’re talking about home theater, the movie experience is the most important thing.  The idea after all, is to replicate a cinema in the home!

Filmmakers have a vast array of choices available to them with regards to film stock.  These different films will allow for more or less grain, a certain color reproduction, or a particular range of light and dark values, just to name a few.  The telecine process, by which film is transferred to video, allows more options in the post-production process.  Add to this the possibility of an all-digital production with CGI graphics, and you can see that every filmmaker can easily achieve a unique look to his or her films.  To faithfully reproduce this vision in home theater requires that the display match as closely as possible the monitors used to produce the film.  Professional calibration will accomplish this.

Even the most accurate displays have a huge array of settings and modes that can easily confuse many users.  It’s quite rare that any TV will have an out-of-the-box mode that does everything right.  A professional calibration will strike a balance between all the areas discussed above.  It is also a fact that many of these controls will interact.  For instance, levels must be readjusted whenever there is a change in grayscale settings.  And both levels and grayscale are affected by a change in the gamma setting.  An experienced calibrator will recognize these situations and adapt to them.

Another important reason to consider a professional is that they will possess the proper instruments to calibrate a display.  Every area of adjustment except for levels requires the use of a color meter.  This most often takes the form of a probe connected to a laptop computer.  The probe measures light output and color and is essential for any adjustments that are made.  With the proper software, the user can see exactly what has changed on the display.  There is no interpretation involved, it is simply science.  A professional calibrator will also have the proper test patterns available.  These will be both DVD-based and contained in a signal generator.  A signal generator is a device which displays the patterns with great precision.  It is a reference component which makes the calibration all the more accurate.

Professional calibrators are also an excellent starting point when choosing a display.  If you are considering hiring a calibrator, it is important to know which displays are calibration-friendly before putting your money down.  Some HDTVs lack the critical controls necessary.  The calibrator community shares information on the newest models and consults with manufacturers.  A professional can recommend displays based on their adjustability and their suitability for your particular viewing environment.  Through this sharing of information, a professional calibrator not only has his own experience to draw on but that of others as well.