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How to Calibrate your HDTV with DVE HD Basics Blu-ray.

Sharing my personal tips for getting a great picture with Joe Kane's Digital Video Essentials HD Basics.

By Jason Rosenfeld
President of Scenic Labs, LLC

I'm writing this simple how-to based on questions that I've come across from customers over the years.  This cheat sheet is not endorsed by Joe Kane, and I believe that the best way to calibrate your TV is to understand the science behind the image.  I've had the pleasure of working with Joe on various projects over the years, and his sincere goal -- behind all of the patterns, filters and light color meters is to empower consumers to faithfully present the artists' intention on a home theater system.

That said, I've used HD Basics to calibrate my televisions for years, and I think that it's possible to use the patterns without necessarily understanding everything.  The additional information is extremely useful when dealing with a problem that is harder to diagnose.

It's useful to view the current technology (termed the HD communication system in HD Basics) as a descendent in a long line of technologies dating all the way back to the first black and white televisions. 

Television set from the early 1950s crop
Image Courtesy of Wikipedia


As new capabilities came to TV over the years, the features were "bolted on" to the previously-existing features so that the new TVs would be compatible with the older signals (color, stereo, surround, HD, the introduction of digital tuners), but also for practical and economic reasons.  As broadcasters adopted the newer technologies, they wanted their programs to remain compatible with all of the prior technologies, and it didn't hurt if the broadcasters could continue to use some or most of the equipment that they used to broadcast to their viewers. 

When color signals were first broadcast, they were split into brightness  (luminance) and color (chrominance) in such a way that the still-more-common black and white TVs could use just the black and white portion of the signal (although, in the case of some older TVs there were some artifacts caused by the new color data).  This separation of color and brightness exists today.  Turn down the saturation, also known as "color" (chrominance) all the way and you are left with a black and white picture.  A black and white image is a grid of pixels glowing at different brightness levels.  (read more on Wikipedia). 

Another important distinction is that the first TVs were cathode ray tube (CRT) sets.   Most TV shows and movies were edited, color-graded and approved for release on a CRT reference monitor.  Therefore, the best way to faithfully reproduce the artist's intention is to align your TV with the ideal CRT settings, regardless of whether you have a plasma TV, an LCD, LED, OLED or anything else.   You want to make your technology approach the values of the reference CRT.

Every TV is different.  The capabilities are different, and the menus are different, and even the prices are very, very different.  One of the reasons why HD Basics includes a 90 minute lesson on how a video signal is composed is to give a holistic view of what is possible in the "HD communication system."  When you have a chance, check it out.  It's time very well spent and will help you to make educated determinations as to what is possible and about how your television handles the signal.

WAITDon't use the disc yet!  You still have some prep work to do.  :-)  The only things that you need right now are the remote control for the television and the remote control for the Blu-ray player (and a cable to connect the two).

1) Selecting the connection (HDMI or DVI preferred and HDMI is, by far, the most common).


The back of an example television.  The RS-232 port to the very right is not a video input. 
It is used in service, diagnostics and professional calibration.


An HDMI cable.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Your TV may have multiple connections for external devices, such as DVD, Blu-ray players, video game systems, cable boxes, and others.  I'm assuming that if you are interested in calibrating your TV in 2013 or beyond, you are using an HDMI or DVI connection (both digital).  If not, your Blu-ray player will not output a 1080p signal due to copy protection built into the players which forces output at a lower quality to reduce piracy.  

If you only have a non-digital connection, you may (depending on the TV and Blu-ray player) still be able to calibrate color, but the patterns on the disc for everything from geometry to resolution MAY be compromised because the Blu-ray player will downscale the picture or prevent output entirely.   If you are calibrating an older TV without HDMI or DVI, the order of preference for analog connections would be Red Green and Blue component cables, and the worst would be a yellow composite cable and finally S-video.  If the TV has an HDMI input, you should be using a digital connection.

What's the difference between DVI and HDMI?  Both are digital connections, but HDMI includes audio.  However, the cords are not compatible, as seen in the image above.

2) Hooking Up

Hook the Blu-ray player to the TV input that you want to calibrate. 

Also bear in mind that many TVs have separate settings for each cord input  (the image above includes 11 inputs).  Depending upon the TV model, if you calibrate your TV from your Blu-ray player on input 11 above, the input from the cable box might not be calibrated.  If you are using an external video tuner or HDMI switcher, you can use the same settings for all video sources connected to that tuner or HDMI switcher because they all run through the same connection on the TV.  This is also a good way to extend the number of HDMI devices you can connect (in the image above, you can only attach one HDMI device unless you have a hub or external tuner).

3) Warming Up

Find a TV station or some content on a disc (I hear that BluScenes: The Fractal Plane works well ;-), but so too will virtually everything else aside from a non-moving image), and play the TV for about 10 minutes (if you are using an older CRT TV (if your TV is an old fashioned non-flat TV, it is probably CRT), let it warm up for about 30 minutes.  This lets the system warm up and allows for the most accurate image reproduction.

-Intermission-

While the TV is warming up, dim the lights and make sure that the TV is the brightest light source in the room.  Approximate the brightness you would use if you were watching a movie.  Close any window blinds that allow direct sunlight into the room.   You must eliminate glare to complete this calibration because with some of the settings, some of the settings are very precise.

Take some time for your priceless image sensors (your eyes!) to adjust to to the ambient light.  Resist the urge to check emails or to stare at any other screens and give your retinas a rest.  You will be using your eyes to make some precise adjustments.  Give them a chance to calm down.  If you wear glasses, make sure that they are around.  One of the things that gets lost in all of this video mumbo-jumbo is that this is all about faithfully recreating artists' intentions.  A little bit of time well-spent will bring a lot of future enjoyment. 

4) Using the TELEVISION remote, not the cable remote or Blu-ray remote, under the TV's menu system, select a Picture Mode. 

The picture mode is the foundation upon which you will be calibrating.  

What is "picture" mode? Many TVs include different modes, such as Sports, Cinema, Vivid, Normal, Video Game, Standard, Action or others for different types of programming.  These are not fine-tuning settings and they tend to drastically alter the picture.  They are presets - broad strokes -- and many of them cause distortions to the image you should be seeing.   

Think of "picture mode" as a set of filters.  Think of them as Instagram filters for your TV.  You want to calibrate with no filters present, or if that is not possible, as little filtering as possible.

These "quick and dirty"modes mess around with contrast, saturation, tint, color temperature, brightness and sharpness (also called softness filter or edge enhancement) to accentuate certain aspects of the video image. You will want to select the most normal mode available.  The name of the mode will differ between different models of TVs (i.e. standard, normal, basic), and it's possible that your TV will only include one basic or normal mode.  If so, don't freak out.  It's totally, well, normal!

Some discs go as far as to recommend Cinema Mode.  I don't recommend that you use Cinema Mode because it often softens the image and reduces the saturation resulting in duller tones.  Depending on how your TV does this, it might use what is called "destructive filtering," which means that a part of the picture is "thrown in the garbage," and might not be reclaimed through tweaking settings.   The softness added might not be reversible with other settings.  You want the least filtering possible, so you might have to use your best judgement. 

5) OK, Only now, after all of the previous steps have been completed do you actually crack open the DVE HD Basics disc.  :-)

First things first.  We're going to skip the main menu.  In an attempt to streamline and simplify the disc, the previous publisher insisted that an easier menu be "bolted on" to the front end of the disc.  For this "cheat sheet," we are going to bypass the first menu completely by clicking on the "Complete Program Menu" option (the first option).

The patterns in the "Basic Video Setup Patterns" section will play for several seconds and should then automatically pause your player.  If it doesn't pause, use the pause button before the pattern ends.  To return to the menu, just press the play button and allow the scene (the patterns are scenes on the disc) to end, bringing you back to the menu.

 Select "Complete Program Menu" from the first screen (below):

 

You should now see this menu:




Go directly to the "Basic Video Setup Patterns" option. Find the PLUGE pattern (below):



Some bars on the left and right might not be visible.  The brightness settings might be too low, the contrast might be too low, and/or the TV or Blu-ray player might not display below black properly. 

PLUGE is an acronym for "picture line-up generation equipment."  A PLUGE pattern is a grayscale of pattern created by this piece of equipment, and which is also contained in the SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) test pattern, a variation of which you might have also seen on unused cable channels, on late night TV or elsewhere.  Because the adjacent colors are very bright, the SMPTE pattern is not ideal for calibrating your set.  PLUGE is used to adjust the brightness of your set.


Sample SMPTE Test pattern, with PLUGE in the lower right hand corner:


Because a TV has to be able to display every shade of gray, it is necessary to have a range that extends slightly below black and slightly above white.  Just as with many things, "below black" and "above white" are not possible in real life, but they are possible on TV. If you look at the PLUGE patterns in the two examples above, the background that goes around the edges is considered to be VIDEO BLACK.  It looks like charcoal gray in the first image, due to the cranked brightness settings. 

6) Selecting a Color Temperature

Some TVs will allow you to choose between a warmer (yellowish) or cooler (bluish) color temperature.   You can use the PLUGE pattern to adjust your color temperature.

Examples of Color Temperature Difference at 3 different Brightness Levels  (not a pattern on the disc)
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Some TVs give a few nondescript choices, but other TVs go so far as to give you numerical values.  If so, try to choose the number closest to 6500k (kelvin).  If there is no number, don't freak out! 6500k is approximately the color temperature of sunlight on a hazy day.  With many TVs these days, we find that they ship "out of the box" with a color temperature value close to 6500k, so if things look OK or the value is explicitly set at 6500k, you probably want to resist the urge to tweak the color temperature.   6500k light will display the gray  without any hints of yellow.
 
If there are no numerical values, the best way to tell the effect on the picture is to switch between the two or more settings.  If your TV has such a setting,  The color temperature impacts every other color and all shades of gray. 
 
If there is no color temperature setting, skip this step.  (some LCD TVs may lack this setting).   Color temperature is not used to tune your colors.  This is basically the color of the light source of the TV.  As an approximation, think of the difference between warm incandescent and cooler fluorescent bulbs and LED bulbs.  This is what color temperature controls.  You want something more towards the fluorescent end of the spectrum without becoming overtly blue. 

If you are guesstimating a color temperature somewhere in the middle, it's best to approximate the kind of light you'd imagine seeing on a sunny, but hazy day.  If there are multiple settings, switch back and forth to make a better comparison.

7) Adjusting Brightness

Some TVs call the brightness setting BACKLIGHT, and others call it brightness or intensity. 

First, before you go any further, look at the gray block in the center of the screen.   The gray should have a neutral, non-bluish, tone after setting the color temperature in the previous step.  If not, feel free to change settings again. 

The same PLUGE pattern again for reference without having to scroll up:



Using the PLUGE pattern, grab your TELEVISION remote.  Go to the brightness/backlight setting and slowly increase the brightness (starting from well below the medium brightness setting) until the outermost black bars (with the arrows above) JUST barely become visible.  You really want to have to strain to see it.  Those bars represent a shade called "below black."  For the purpose of the video signal, they are considered to be even darker than black.  The HD communication system also can show a shade above white.   This is done so that the entire range of colors and shades can be displayed while allowing for some variation in the source material.  By allowing the below-black to show, you are ensuring that all shades of gray, including black, can be displayed.

8) Adjust Contrast

Also under Basic Video Patterns, using the gray ramp pattern (below), adjust the contrast until you can see equal steps between all shades of gray, leading all the way up to "above white" (the series of 3 dots in the pattern below mark 50% gray, black and white).  The areas beyond those dots (to the left and right) are above video white and below video black.  Ideally, you should also see equal steps through all of the shades from above white through dark gray through "below black."  If you can't show all of the steps in the lower range, you'll want to ensure that you can see the border between white and above white.

You may not be able to display the entire range on every TV, just as you can't accelerate from 0-60 mph in 6 seconds in a Kia. :-)  Just do your best.  Make the most of what you've got.


9) Adjust Color (Saturation) and Tint (Hue)

Color and Tint both use the color bar patterns and the RGB (red green and blue) filter that is included in HD Basics.   

Now, find this pattern under the Basic Video Patterns:
   

Adjust the color setting (also called SATURATION) while looking through the blue filter.  You will see a series of dark or black squares.  Adjust the color setting up and down until the entire blue area is equal in intensity.  It should look roughly like this:

Simulation of color bars viewed through the blue filter with properly calibrated color/saturation:



10) Adjusting Hue (also called Tint)

Once you get the blue filter view close to the image above, look through the red filter.  You might have to adjust the hue to get the pattern to look like the image below.  What the filters are doing is to only allow that particular color of light through, and recreating what some high-end TVs and projectors allow -- the isolation of the 3 primary video colors (RGB). 

Once you are close, go back to the blue filter and ensure that what you see still matches the pattern above.  If not, tweak the color a second time using the blue filter.

Simulation of color bars viewed through the red filter with balanced color and hue:



If you are using a consumer-level LCD or Plasma TV, you probably want to skip the green filter entirely.  Your TV most likely does not have the ability to tweak the green level, and you most likely will not be able to achieve a pattern of black rectangles and a solid green background. However, it doesn't hurt to look through the green to see how accurate it looks.  Ideally, it should look like this:



To the extent that it does not, most consumer TVs don't have a great way to improve it.  :(   But hey, at least you know you don't have to drive yourself nuts.  The green level is actually adjusted when you adjust hue with the red filter.  Ideally, the red and green would be in perfect balance.  It probably isn't, and there really isn't a whole lot you can do unless your TV has separate red, blue and green controls.  95% don't. 

11) Adjust Sharpness

The next step is to adjust sharpness.  The olde-tyme televisions literally shot electron beams at the screen.  If we are old enough, we might remember when our parents would yell at us not to sit too close to the screen.  These beams had to be focused.  Also, as the tube (for those really young folks reading this, tubes were the predecessors to transistors, and for the really, really young, trust me that they are inside your iPad even though you can't open it).

Anyway, a TV tube would weaken over time and the image on the screen would shrink.  TVs made in this era often included an overscan control to enlarge the image to take up the entire screen -- essentially extending the useful life of the TV. 

The use of the overscan pattern is a bit different for us.  I haven't come across a TV made in recent times that projects an image that goes off the screen, but because it used to be very common, there are some areas of the screen that are considered to be "title safe" or "action safe."  Advertisers didn't want the name of their product to be cut off, so the important items were placed inside those imaginary borders.  They'd remain even if the edges of the screen were chopped off.

We are going to use the overscan pattern to set the sharpness of the TV, which might also be called "softness" on some TVs.  When sharpness is set too high, you will start to see some ugly edges appearing around the white and black lines in the overscan pattern.  FInd a setting that looks good to your eyes.  Hint: If you are nearsighted, like me, stand a bit closer to the TV during this step!   Our weak eyes have their own built-in softness filter.  ;-)  We want to bypass it.

Overscan Pattern used for Sharpness Adjustment

12) Verify Geometry and Resolution

OK, so you've got your other settings dialed in the way you like them.  Next up is geometry and resolution.  Even if you failed geometry in school, you can pass DVE HD Basics Geometry.  Find the Geometry pattern below: and stand close to the TV and scrutinize the image.  There should be a white edge around the entire screen.  The lines should all be of uniform thickness, and the circles should not be stretched.  They shouldn't look like eggs and the squares should be perfectly square.  If you are using a front or rear-projector, the white lines should be solid white, with no red, blue or green edges.   This is called proper convergence.
 
 
 
If the image is distorted, your Blu-ray player might not be sending a 1080p signal to the TV.  You can consult the manual (or Google the manual online like me to find a PDF version, since I always misplace them) and look up the picture settings for your particular Blu-ray player.

 13) Pixel clock & phase
In most cases, and certainly for the purpose of this basic "how-to," we are going to use this pattern to make sure that you are seeing a true 1080p image.  Please note that if you are using a 720p TV, you will want to jump to the advanced patterns to find the 720p version.  

Because I've scaled down the size of the pattern below to fit on this webpage, it is already demonstrating the kinds of artifacts that indicate that this is not a 1080p image:

So, let's zoom in on the pattern in the upper right hand side and compare:


This image, which has not been scaled down, shows what you would see in the upper right alternating patterns in the top field, and an example of the kind of artifacts you'd see in the lower field.  Note how in the pattern included above, artifacts appear in all of the fields because I've resized the image.  You shouldn't see artifacts in any of the those fields. 


That's it!  There is still some information to be covered about ambient lighting, but we'll cover that in the next how-to.
 
 
If you have any questions after reading this cheat sheet, it's still a work in progress, and I'd love your feedback and questions so I can improve it.  Feel free to click on the contact form to send some feedback.

Thanks for reading!  Don't just sit there! Go watch some TV!

PLEASE NOTE: It's EXTREMELY possible that the TV will seem dimmer than it has in the past.  Try to give your eyes a couple of days to get used to it.  We're a lot like insects in that we are attracted to bright lights even if they are not very good for us.  Were you attracted to the brightest and most saturated TV at the store?  See? It works.


Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Coming soon: A tutorial on bias (ambient) lighting!

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