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THX and ISF Calibration – is it worth it?

THX & ISF Calibration - The Results

Having finally declared himself happy, and with the measurements to prove it, Mark finally headed off, leaving us to get stuck into his calibrated pictures.

We’d already tested the Panasonic’s presets, and a calibrated picture achieved via the sort of basic calibration tools readily available to normal members of the public. And as our Panasonic TX-P50VT50 review proves, we were more than happy with the results. However, the improvements Mark’s efforts wrought turned out to be pretty profound – once you’ve acclimatised yourself to some of the changes, that is...

THX and ISF Calibration 1

All this gear needs professional grade software to go with it, too.

THX and ISF Calibration – Acclimatisation

At the very least you will probably find post-calibration pictures looking less bright, less heavily colour saturated and probably less sharp than those you were looking at pre-calibration. This might initially have you wondering what all the fuss is about, but stick with it. As Mark points out, a key part of the calibration process is acclimatisation; you need at least a few hours to get used to the ‘surface’ changes a professional calibration causes and start to get excited about the good stuff the professional calibration has done.

In our case, though, our long history of testing TVs meant that acclimatisation didn’t actually take very long at all. In fact, within minutes we’d started to marvel at the wealth of picture improvements professional calibration had delivered.

For a start, the black level response from both the sources we were testing through the receiver and TV was simply gorgeous; deep and completely natural in hue.

Even better, the perfectly judged balance between black level and luminance helped us see outstanding levels of shadow detail in dark scenes, helping such scenes enjoy a sense of depth and authenticity that matches perfectly with bright scenes.

This helps the calibrated TV avoid that niggling sense of inconsistency you get with uncalibrated screens when shifting between light and dark scenes.

THX and ISF Calibration 7

A flavour of the info the calibration software throws out

THX & ISF Calibration – Improved Detail

The appearance of more detail in dark scenes also helps pictures generally look more textured and ‘HD’, despite the calibrated picture not looking as forensically sharp as it usually does with regular TV presets. This fact illustrates the point that sharpness and detail are two very different things, with the modern tendency to over-sharpen pictures generally achieving little more than making images look noisy.

It’s not just the greatly enhanced shadow detailing that helps HD pictures look more detailed, either. Colours also look more nuanced, as removing the previous overblown saturations lets the Panasonic panel to render more tonal subtleties.

The much better balance to post-calibration colours is also hugely welcome. As well as making tones across the board look more natural, it also means you become more immersed in the image as a whole, rather than having your attention drawn to certain parts of the image by any over-dominant tones.

THX and ISF Calibration 6

Only plasma TVs currently qualify for the THX picture standard

THX & ISF Calibration - Picture Processing

High-end calibrations invariably turn off most – if not all – noise and motion picture processing systems on a TV. This might sound counter-productive on paper; after all, surely manufacturers built these processing tweaks into TVs to make pictures better, not worse, right?

Um... actually, as we often point out in our reviews, more often than not heavy-duty noise reduction and motion enhancement systems cause pictures to look unnatural – something which is, of course, anathema to the ISF and THX.

Because of this you might find motion on a post-calibration picture looking more juddery than it does using typical presets. But the point is that with motion processing deactivated the screen isn’t interpolating any extra image data; you’re seeing just what’s there on the source. Also, although TV technology is obviously different to celluloid cinema technology, leaving a bit of judder in the image is more akin to the 24fps cinema experience than images that look perfectly smooth.

For us, though, the single most important thing about not using heavy processing with our newly calibrated pictures was that there are no unpleasant processing side effects – shimmering, flickering, haloing and suchlike – to distract us from the extra sense of immersion we were enjoying with our post-calibration images.


May 30, 2013, 2:01 am

Very interesting article, now if only you can less flash adverts on the site so that my not-that-bad laptop can open more than 2 tabs of TR at a time, that'd be great


May 30, 2013, 11:48 am

Interesting, my budget £500 LG has some ISF tools, and I've calibrated it using the internal 'optimiser'. I've not a blu-ray optimiser disk though, so I've not gone further than that. It took about 30mins to do, and well worth it.


May 30, 2013, 3:39 pm

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May 30, 2013, 4:22 pm

Might be worth mentioning AVForum's PicturePerfect web-site: http://www.myperfectpicture... with its guides to TV calibration for novices.

On the other hand, I'm looking forward to TR's budget calibration guide, as my expertise only runs as far as setting the TV into Movie mode and disabling the set's picture processing. Hope the article's up soon.


May 31, 2013, 1:28 am

"motion enhancement systems cause pictures to look unnatural"

I couldn't agree more with this. The first setting i changed when i bought my new tv was to switch off motion plus. I find it particularly weird and distracting when watching dialogue, almost like watching something with the sound out of sync or poorly dubbed.


September 26, 2013, 6:57 pm

If you are truly serious about calibration take a look at the Light Illusion website: http://www.lightillusion.com

This is the calibration system used by the professionals, and now available for hight-end home cinema calibration.


October 9, 2013, 8:15 pm

Unless you are uncomfortable or totally inept at becoming familiar with
the basic and Advanced settings of the newer digital HDTVs, it is
foolish to pay for a "pro" calibration by anyone. It is equally as
foolish to spend hundreds of dollars and hours using consumer grade
hobbyist colorimeters or spectros to make TV settings. It is simply. .. .
NOT necessary . . .period. There will be NO night and day difference
that your eye can see between Media Assisted Setting using a test DVD or
Blu-ray with patterns and a "calibration" performed using equipment. . .
on any TV costing under $3,000 or so.

Also, these are consumer grade TVs we are talking about and usually
using a consumer grade Blu-ray or DVD player in the so called
"calibration" process. True calibration of any scientific device
requires a complete chain of equipment set to standards of known
accuracy. A DVD or Blu-ray player does NOT qualify in this regard and
low cost consumer or hobbyist grade meters and software costing several
hundred dollars are also of dubious accuracy.

I've been working in TVs since a teen well before the hype of
"Calibration" and also have purchased and used calibration meters and
softaware. It is a nice diversion and may let you think you are getting
the "best" picture. Not likely. Unless you own a projection TV system
in a home theater costing multi thousands of dollars, or work in pro
photo work with professional monitors. . .. save yourself some money and
make you own TV settings. The skills and equipment of those using
and selling calibration and meters are very much in doubt and there is
NO way for you to know if your TV is any better than doing it yourself.
The "charts and graphs" provided by such things are pretty, but I've
used them none provide meaningful difference in picture quality.

Ohh... I can hear those who sell such stuff gnashing their teeth, but
folks, I've been working in TV since a teen before all this calibration
hype started. It is simply not necessary. Using a Disney WOW disc,
Digital Video Essentials, Spears & Munsil, etc will provide all you
If you want a "warm fuzzy" feeling that your TV is calibrated and
"accurate" go ahead and pay for meters or a calibration for the status
and bragging rights. But it really isn't necessary at all and you really
have NO way of KNOWING that your TV is really optimized because some
charts, graphs or video tech guru SAYS it is.


March 31, 2014, 2:34 am

What does the receiver actually do? Does it have CMS and 10point white balance for each input??


April 27, 2014, 2:54 am

It depends how you define a "night and day" difference. For me there's a night and day difference on my 65" plasma from a basic DVE calibration to proper gamma, Rec. 709 CMS calibration using HCFR and a spectro.
My wife wouldn't even notice the difference. There's also a huge difference to my audio system after an Audyssey calibration but again my wife probably wouldn't notice the difference....at least not consciously.


February 22, 2015, 4:06 pm

Professional home theater audio and video calibration can be very helpful. Here are some client reviews from a popular calibrator in the US http://www.accucalhd.com/re....

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