What is video calibration?

Albert Einstein once said, “You never really understand something until you can explain it to your grandmother.” It is a simple gauge, yet one that can be very humbling when we deal in complex topics. Nowadays, most of us have been introduced to, and/or have some level of understanding of what video calibration is. Still, we might find it a bit challenging to describe what calibration actually means.

Before and after video calibration

In general, video calibration means to measure and adjust precisely against a known standard. The U.S. television system is based on video standards for capturing, broadcasting and reproducing the images you see. Television cameras and post production TV monitors in studios are very carefully calibrated to produce accurate and consistent colors based on these standards. Most consumer TVs have controls (some more advanced than others) that can be adjusted to adhere to these color standards to produce more accurate and detailed images as the director intended. Basically, video calibration adjusts the electronic systems of your video display to produce an accurate picture.  What is an accurate picture?  An accurate picture is one that correctly reproduces what the producer/director intended.  When TV programs are produced, transferred from film, broadcast or cut to DVD, the process is precisely monitored on video displays calibrated to industry standards established by the NTSC (later replaced by the ATSC)ATSC, and SMPTE. Your video display cannot accurately reproduce these images unless it is calibrated to the same industry standards. The Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) is an organization founded in 1994 that is devoted to providing the means for the consumers display to be calibrated to industry standards through a community of certified calibrationists.  Certification is obtained through testing after attendance at an ISF seminar.  The ISF teaches a systems approach that considers all elements of the video system in obtaining the right picture (an accurate picture), the whole picture (maximum resolution, minimum overscan) and nothing but the picture (reduction of video noise and artifacts).

Why do you need video calibration?

The primary objective of video calibration is the accurate reproduction of images, based on established video standards. Rarely does a display device leave the factory with a perfect image setting. Manufacturers typically “torch” the adjustments to make their units look more vivid than real life to “wow” you in the store. This can shorten the life of your investment and cause eyestrain when viewed. Video calibration brings the set up to the industry standard and makes viewing an enjoyable experience. The picture quality of a television is heavily influenced by the viewing environment, particularly as it relates to ambient light levels. Because TV manufacturers have no knowledge of your home viewing environment, they assume the worst and use picture settings that will make the TV look reasonable, regardless of where it ends up. But do you really want to watch a TV that was set up for the “worst case” viewing environment?

Having your TV professionally calibrated will ensure it has been optimized for the best possible picture. This includes, at a minimum; calibrating the grayscale/white balance to bring it as close as possible to the D6500 standard and adjusting contrast, black-level, sharpness, color balance and color decoding correctly for your viewing environment. Additionally, depending on the adjustment controls available, a calibrator will ensure that you are able to enjoy the full resolution your TV is capable of delivering, while minimizing edge enhancement or other types of artifacts that may prevent you from seeing the image as intended.

Benefits of calibration include:

Stunning picture quality – Calibration procedures will bring out the sharpest edges and most accurate color representation on your screen. Your HDTV also features amazing contrast-ratio potential, and calibration will optimize your set to produce the deepest darks and most vivid brights.

Reduced eyestrain – The human eye is designed to absorb the colors, contrasts and brightness levels that occur in the natural world. Therefore, the more lifelike the images on your HDTV, the less work your eyes have to do. Calibration can help ensure the lowest amounts of eyestrain in the space where you watch your HDTV, in all lighting conditions and at all times of the day.

Maximum TV life – When your HDTV is properly calibrated, its individual pixels expend less energy to fill the screen with images. This helps to promote the longest possible functional life of your set. Your HDTV will look better and last longer.

Energy Savings – ISF Calibration has been known to reduce HDTV power consumption by up to 50%, average savings of up to $150 per year.


What happens during video calibration?

  1. Connect calibration equipment.
  2. Take and document pre-calibration measurements.
  3. Adjust user menus based on your viewing environment and components (standard and high-definition TV, digital cable, satellite, off-air HDTV, progressive scan DVD, Blu-ray, etc.).
  4. Adjust advanced and/or hidden service menus to THX and ISF calibration standards using test equipment and software.
  5. Adjust signal path and source equipment as needed.
  6. Take and document post-calibration measurements.
  7. Verify calibration with known video. (This is the fun part!)
  8. Review and explain our calibration results with you.

When we’re done, your HDTV should produce an image that is as close as possible to what would be seen on a professional post-production monitor.

Before and after video calibration 2 That means your TV should:

  • Show a sharp-focus, full-resolution image
  • Provide full detail in the darkest and brightest parts of the image
  • Maintain accurate color balance at all picture light levels
  • Produce a full range of accurate colors, including flesh tones, grass, sky, and sports jerseys (typically rec. 709)
  • Contain minimal picture artifacts (distortions)

Any TV can benefit from calibration! For the best results, your new TV should have at least 100 hours of use. That gives the electronics a chance to stabilize, so your calibration will hold better. Plus it saves you the hassle and expense of having to do a second calibration if your TV turns out to be defective.