TV Calibration: 14 tips for getting the best picture quality out of your screen

Don't stick with your TV's default settings!

12. Remember that viewing angles can be critical

Although this isn't a major issue with plasma TVs, the picture quality with many LCD TVs is critically dependent on how much of an angle you're viewing them from.

Even if you watch some LCD TVs from as little as 30 degrees off axis you can suffer quite serious drops in contrast and colour. So try to ensure your seating positions are as straight on to the TV as possible.

Curved TVs initially appear to complicate this situation a bit, but we've found that their curvature prevents the usual reduction in colour and contrast with off-axis viewing. However, curved screens create other viewing angle-limiting issues – essentially uncomfortable image geometry.

Overall curved TVs still leave you with a viewing angle limitation of 35-40 degrees off axis.

13. Feel free to use calibration discs

We're increasingly suspicious that some aspects of 'accurate' TV calibration are based on principles that are starting to sell today's TV technologies short. But there's no doubt that using special test signals can be helpful in getting your TV set up to its best advantage.

Unfortunately, though, unless you know your way around the internet there are precious few sources of such test signals that normal consumers can use. The most affordable solution is the Digital Video Essentials Blu-ray, a disc containing a (small) selection of test signals and an insanely long explanation of what you can use each test signal for.

Calibration discs
Calibration discs are rare but can be extremely useful

However, at the time of writing this disc has been showing as 'currently unavailable' on Amazon for some time. Which leaves you with pretty much just one other option: the Spears & Munsil HD Benchmark and Calibration Disc.

In truth this is superior to the DVE offering in its scope and flexibility, though it's also a little more complicated, and costs the best part of £30.

14. Consider a professional calibration

If you're a stickler for picture accuracy then you could consider having your TV professionally calibrated. If you want to be sure this is done correctly, you should try and track down a qualified Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) specialist from the list of dealers found at www.imagingscience.com.

A professional installation will cost anywhere between £200 and £400 depending on the complexity of the job, and also depends on your TV having enough picture calibration tools to make an ISF calibration possible.

Some TVs (including many LG and Panasonic models) are actually approved by the ISF as having all the setup systems it needs to optimise pictures, though a TV doesn't have to be ISF-approved to support a calibration. For instance, Samsung doesn't seek ISF certification, yet its mid-range to high-end TVs have more than enough setup options to support an accurate calibration.

Not everyone will like the way ISF-calibrated pictures look – especially if they're already accustomed to the very vibrant, dynamic images their TV likes to push in its out of the box state. But the ISF images will certainly be accurate to what the people who created a Blu-ray or broadcaster intended.

TVs with a THX certification will have picture presets that have been approved by THX
TVs with a THX certification will have picture presets that have been approved by THX

One great thing about sets with ISF endorsement is that they provide dedicated ISF presets, so you could simply switch to those when watching something 'serious' like a film in a dark room. Then you can switch back to a punchier preset for other types of viewing.

One final point here concerns THX. If a TV earns THX certification it means it has passed THX's stringent and independent test procedures where picture quality is concerned. THX TVs also carry picture presets that THX identifies as delivering the most accurate picture quality.

However, while THX modes on plasma TVs tend to be OK, we often find them to be pretty uninspiring on LCD TVs.

This is chiefly because part of the THX ethos is that their presets won't use any of the features a TV may carry to help improve its contrast performance. Which means that THX modes are sometimes accompanied on LCD TVs by poor black levels and, worse, very obvious backlight clouding problems.