Plasma TV Calibration

Plasma TV Calibration

In this guide, I will explain how to properly calibrate your plasma TV for the best visual experience. This is a process that can be complicated or easy depending on the path you take, the amount of money you want to spend, and your personal abilities. No matter how high the quality of your plasma TV is you can enhance it even more by calibrating it correctly. Also, the calibration process can make a not-so-great plasma TV look better so it is certainly something you should do after you buy and install your plasma TV.

What You Get from Calibrating your Plasma TV

First of all, the overall picture will look better for whatever you usually watch on your TV. You will get better color accuracy so the images will look more natural and also you will improve the contrast which will result in higher detail. You also extend your plasma TV life by reducing its aging rate so you will have a great picture for a longer time. As a side effect of correct calibration, you can expect the power consumption to reduce so you will save a few bucks with the power bill. So basically you get more from your plasma TV while saving money and saving the ozone layer.

Best Way to Watch TV

Some people watch TV during the daytime while the room is well lit by the sun, others during the night and turning off the lights. What you need to know is that ambient light is the enemy of great picture quality. Total darkness is much better but still not the best. Ideally, when watching TV, you would turn off the lights or pull the curtains or blinds if it is during daytime and have a dim light behind the plasma TV.

The role of dim light is to reduce the eye strain you might get by watching TV a long time in total darkness and it also enhances the picture by affecting your perception in a good way. Some manufacturers make plasma TV that has a feature called Ambilight which does exactly this and it does it better (however don’t base your buying decision solely on this). You should avoid at all costs having a light reflecting from your plasma TV screen because that will be very annoying and will have a very bad impact on the perceived quality.

Now you know how to set up the environment for the best experience. Considering that you will normally watch TV in these conditions, you should set up the ambient light in the same way when calibrating your plasma TV. Ambient light affects your perception so you should calibrate your plasma TV in the same conditions you will be when watching it.

But what if you don’t like to watch TV in darkness, you don’t have blinds or you don’t want to change the lighting. In this case, you should perform the plasma TV calibration process with the lights on, during the day, or simply put it in the same conditions you intend to watch it. Another thing you MUST do is to sit at the right distance. If you sit too close to your TV you will certainly see flaws in the picture because your eyes will distinguish the pixels that form the image.

Hopefully, you bought your plasma TV knowing what the optimal size is for the distance you are sitting. If you want to learn more about this subject read the Plasma TV Size & Optimal Viewing Distance guide where you can also find a table with the recommended distances for each screen size.

You Have Three Choices

First is free because you do it yourself (DIY) and you don’t have to buy anything. It is not the best choice especially if you don’t have the eye for this. It is however much better than nothing. The second way to go is to buy an HDTV calibration DVD and use it throughout the calibration process. This will significantly increase the quality of the calibration and it will also make the whole process easier and faster. The third choice is to hire a professional technician to do this.

It is expensive (about $400) but you will get the best possible calibration. A professional technician has both the training and the tools (the expensive kind of tools) to make your plasma TV offer you its best picture. I am going to explain to you what to do in each case – how to do it yourself, where to buy a calibration DVD and how to use it and of course where to find a professional technician.

DIY Plasma TV Calibration

Don’t do this when you are tired or pissed off because it can get you even more tired and pissed off (and I’m speaking from experience). Considering you are not tired nor pissed off let’s get cracking!

Select the Mode

If your plasma TV allows you to switch between different modes, you should do this first. Common picture mode settings are Normal/Standard, Movie, Film, Theater, Cinema, Sports, Pro, Professional, Pure, Dynamic and Vivid. You should avoid Sports and Dynamic and especially Vivid which will wear up your plasma TV screen faster and are highly probable to offer very incorrect and unnatural image reproduction. In the worst case choose Normal/standard.

If you have Movie, Film, Theater, Cinema, Pro, Professional or Pure chooses one of those. Try each of them and see how the picture looks using different signals (SD TV channel, HD TV channel, DVD, HD DVD, or Blue Ray). Depending on that and what you intend to watch on a regular basis choose a picture mode from the recommended ones.

Disable Image “Enhancements”

Many modern plasma TVs have settings that are supposed to enhance the image. Such enhancements have names like Autocolor, Color Correction, Auto contrast, Noise Reduction, Edge Enhancement, Detail Enhancement, Flesh Tone, Black Level, etc. Unfortunately, if you have a good video source, usually they do more bad than good.

Do try each of them the same way as you did with the “mode” setting and see how they affect the picture. You might notice that on certain types of content they have a positive influence – for example in the case of standard definition TV channels (SDTV), noise reduction and edge enhancement might look better.

Even if for some type of content they seem to do good, turn off all of them for the time you calibrate your plasma TV. You can later use them if you find them to improve the picture quality – and this may be the case with lower quality content as standard-definition programs.

Set Color Temperature

Color temperature setting changes the look of the entire palette of colors. It is important you set this right before adjusting the following settings. The ideal color temperature is 6,500 degrees Kelvin (K). Changing this setting to Warm, Normal, or Low preset (whichever you have) should result in a closer match with the ideal temperature. Again, play with all the settings available just so you see how they look. Do this with all settings from now so you see the differences.

Brightness

This is also called “black level” and it makes the image brighter or darker. Setting the brightness too low will result in losing details in the dark areas of the picture (e.g. shadows, night scenes, etc.). Setting it too high will make the light areas and even the whole picture becomes washed out. You want to set this in such a way that you get a good amount of detail from dark areas without making the picture washed out.

Insert a DVD with a movie that has scenes with dark areas (you will probably want to pause where such a scene is) and set Brightness to the maximum. Start decreasing the brightness gradually until you see the details in the dark area disappearing. Leave the setting at the minimum value where you get full detail in the dark areas.

If your plasma TV doesn’t have very good black levels you might prefer trading detail in the dark areas for deeper darks. See what looks better for you, after all the calibration process should make YOU happy.

If you bought a calibration DVD, this step will be more easy and accurate. I will explain this in the appropriate section of this guide.

Contrast

The contrast setting is also called “white level” or “picture level” and has to do with the amount of detail you see. Again use a DVD with a movie that has black and white (or very close to that) areas side by side. The border between the black and white areas should be very sharp as opposed to a smeared/blurry one. Go to a scene where you have a lot of white with impurities on it like a white shirt where you can see the fabric texture or a large area covered with snow where you see cracks in the snow or light shadows. The key is to have the contrast as high as you can while still seeing those cracks in the snow or the shirt texture. It should not become completely white; you should distinguish well the slight differences in color of the snow cracks and shadows.

As in the case of brightness, the contrast setting is best adjusted using a calibration DVD.

Color

It is also called saturation and it controls how intense the colors are. A saturation of 0% (zero) means the picture appears black and white. A too high setting will make the colors look unrealistic. A too low setting will make the picture lose its impact making it look washed.

This is a somewhat tricky setting because when you use it to make certain color tones look well it can make other tones look not that great. For example, if you calibrate it correctly for skin tone you might end up with a setting value that makes the overall picture a bit unsaturated. If you make the picture look vivid, you might end up with skin that looks too redish like it would have sunburn.

Use a DVD with a movie as usual, find a scene where you have a close-up on somebody’s face, ideally having other objects of various colors in the picture and adjust the saturation until that person’s skin looks natural but without making the other objects and colors look too faded and without life.

Note that saturation can affect the three base colors (red, green, and blue) differently. For example red might be too red while green or blue are more washed out. It is usually the case with red to be too saturated because it is enhanced by the plasma TV’s processing system.

Tint

You can play with it to see how it affects the image but it should be left at 50%. If you are using a calibration DVD you have chances of using this correctly, otherwise, you will just mess things up.

Sharpness

If you have a sharpness setting you should leave it turned off when you watch high-quality content as HD DVD, Blue Ray, or regular DVDs and high definition TV programs. Applying the sharpness filter on a high-quality image will make it look unnatural.

When you watch standard definition programs or low-quality content from other sources you can try it because it will probably enhance them a bit. Remember that a plasma TV, as well as any HDTV for that matter, is great at watching high definition content but for SD content it will probably enhance the flaws in the picture. The expression garbage in, garbage outcomes in mind.

Edge Enhancement

Again it is a good idea to turn this off. This is somewhat a variation of the sharpness filter because it does the same thing (makes the image look sharper) but it’s supposed to be smart enough to sharpen (enhance) just the edges of the objects in the picture. It is also called VSM or SVM (Scan-Velocity Modulation).

Using a Calibration DVD

Unless you want to pay a professional calibration technician which would get the best out of your plasma TV, at least buy a calibration DVD because it can make the difference between an acceptable result and a good result. You can only go so far using DVDs with movies as a reference. A calibration DVD will give you an edge over doing it yourself without a good reference. It will also speed up the whole calibration process. We highly recommend you to spend a few bucks on a DVD like this because is definitely worth the money.

First of all, I’m going to tell you where you can buy one. There are many online stores selling calibration DVDs but personally, if I have to pick one I would recommend Amazon. For specific products, you might be interested in the ones featured on the right side of this page.

Now, considering you have a calibration DVD, the first step would be to read any documentation or tutorials that come with it. If there is no such thing, you will probably have instructions on the DVD itself to guide you through the calibration process. Follow them and at the end, you should have a calibrated plasma TV ready to delight your eyes.

Basically, the steps when using a calibration DVD are the same as the ones explained in the DIY Plasma TV Calibration guide. If you haven’t read that part of this guide yet, it would be a good idea to do so. There are some differences however with the steps where you tune brightness, contrast, color (saturation) and tint settings.

These are the most important settings when it comes to TV calibration as they affect the most elemental picture settings. Your particular calibration DVD may have other additional steps and if this is the case you should complete those also. So, let’s see how the calibration process changes from the DIY method.

First of all you don’t have to find in movies on your DVDs, scenes that are approximately what you need because the calibration DVD gives you exactly the images you need, and those images offer you the optimal ingredients – a gradient of gray tones from pure white to pure black, gradients for each primary color and lots of other images to help you accurately calibrate your plasma TV.

You also have images with high contrast elements. You have color bars with the main colors and you can see both how correct the colors appear and also how the edges between them appear. Basically, it’s DIY calibration on steroids.

Hiring a Calibration Technician

If you want to get the best possible picture quality from your plasma TV, hiring a calibration technician is the way to go. It will cost you more than buying a calibration DVD, but you know that your plasma TV is perfectly tuned up.

Where to Find a Calibration Technician

You want to find somebody who offers calibration services in your area. The best way to find one is to go here, enter the details and search in their database for ISF-trained technicians. Pretty easy!

How Much Does It Costs

It depends on the person you hire to calibrate your plasma TV. There is not a standard price for this kind of service. As a rough educated guess, I would say it costs about $300 – $400. The best thing is to find a certified installer and find out directly from him exactly how much it will cost you.

Does It Worth the Money?

Depends on how much you like your plasma TV or how much you like it after you calibrate it yourself. They are people who don’t even calibrate it and are very happy with it, while others really want to know they are getting the best from it. There are many people who used the services of professional technicians and were very satisfied by the results – they are visible results. One phrase from the ISF site sums it up pretty well. They have the photo of a calibration DVD and near it is written:

This article was last updated on August 27, 2021 .

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Categorized as TVs

By Adam

The Display Blog staff account. We know display.