How to colour calibrate a new TV
If you’ve invested in an LCD TV recently, you may well be feeling a bit intimidated by the settings control panel.
Manufacturers all have their own proprietary technologies for getting the best image quality out of their sets, but with some obscure or trademarked names for features like colour correction and motion compensation, it can be hard to know what setting does what.
Every TV panel is unique, though, and each one has slightly different optical characteristics that need to be corrected for. Whatever the picture quality of your TV is like when you first bring it home, there’s a good chance that you can improve on it by manually changing some of the configuration settings yourself. You can check your user manual for specific ways to do this according to the manufacturer’s instructions, but here’s some general guidelines that should apply to all sets.
Disable automatic mode
A lot of modern sets use sensors to detect the ambient light in a room and adjust the set’s brightness, contrast and colour settings depending on whether it’s light or dark. This is all well and good, but unless your TV is in a perfect position for scanning the room, there’s a good chance it’s getting its measurements wrong. If your colours look funny or the screen is consistently too dark, turn off any automatic adjustments that may be causing the problem.
Turn off enhancements
Modern TVs are full of clever circuitry designed to make films and live broadcasts look better. Sometimes they work, sometimes not. When you’re setting up your TV for perfection, though, it’s best to get everything as good as possible without their help. Black enhancers, colour boosters, motion compensation, detail enrichments and other tweaks – turn them all off for now. Once the picture is calibrated correctly, you can turn them back on if you need them.
Use a test card
A digital HD version of the BBC's test card, introduced with colour in 1967
You can try and adjust the settings based on a freeze frame of a video or live TV, but how do you know what the scene is supposed to look like? The director may have used a blue filter in front of the camera that you’re trying to adjust for. Many set-top boxes can produce a test card of reference colours that you can bring up on screen when changing settings. If yours doesn’t, DVDs and Blu-rays are available that just play a static image. If using a standard definition DVD, though, remember the colour quality won’t be as good as a native high resolution feed.
Here’s a pro-tip: some Blu-ray discs also have a hidden test card you can use for setting up your TV display. Try tapping 7669 onto your remote control and pressing enter to see if a special options menu appears.
Brightness and contrast
The two most important settings are brightness and contrast, and you’ll need to adjust the two in tandem. When changing them, keep an eye on the quality of pure black areas and pure white. Turning either setting up too high or low will turn these into greys.
Some TVs include a ‘gamma’ control, which can be used to adjust the mid point between white and black. Turning it down will have an effect that looks like you’re increasing the contrast; turning it up too far will make everything washed out and flat.
If your TV seems to be suffering from a colour cast – i.e. reds are too strong, greys are tinted blue and so on – the chances are that you need to adjust the white balance. That dictates the colour that your TV treats as pure white, and all other colours are relative to it. On most TVs you’ll find three ways of changing the colour balance. The simplest, and coarsest, will be a temperature control for ‘Warm, Cool, Normal’ and so on. A cooler white balance means images will appear more blue, warmer means they’ll be more likely to be tinged with red.
The next control will be for ‘Hue’. This is a fairly difficult one to get right, and probably best left alone unless it’s obvious that there’s a red or green cast.
Finally, most TVs now let you tune individual colour channels for red, green and blue response. You can increase or decrease these to change the white balance with a high degree of control. Remember that although you only have three channels, you can reduce the intensity of other colours by mixing these together. If everything seems to have a yellow tinge, for example, take the red and green channels down a couple of notches.
And finally, don’t be afraid to play around with these advanced controls. If you make things look worse, you can always reset everything to default setting and try again. And if there’s a fault that you just can’t tune out, contact our helplines to see if your TV needs a part replacing or fixed.