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THX and ISF Calibration – is it worth it?

THX and ISF Calibration – is it worth it?

The longer we lived with pictures delivered via the calibrated Onkyo TX0NR5010 AV receiver and Panasonic P50VT50, the more we grew to love them. The simplest way to describe the changes delivered by Mark’s work is to say it shifts the Panasonic P50VT50’s picture quality from brilliant to just plain exquisite. So much so that as self-confessed AV geeks, going back to more workaday tech using the sort of picture settings most normal people will stick with is really quite depressing.

Obviously taking video quality to the extremes we’ve looked at here isn’t cheap. The THX/ISF Panasonic TV cost north of £2,000 when it first came out, though now that it’s soon to be replaced by the VT60 series, you can actually get one for around £1,450.

The unique Onkyo THX/ISF TX-NR5010 receiver, meanwhile, costs around £3,000, though ISF-certified Onkyo receivers start from around £1,000. Professional calibrators will likely charge you anywhere between £250 and £500, depending on how many sources the calibration process has to deal with.

THX and ISF Calibration 5

If you're spending thousands on high-end AV gear, professional calibration is a no-brainer.

But while you may need to spend big to get the all-out best picture quality available, it’s not absolutely necessary to spend so much on gear to get decent results. Mark is adamant that calibration can work wonders with pretty much any TV or receiver, so long as they have a decent set of picture adjustment tools. So even if you just splash out for a pro calibration for your standard TV, at least you’ll end up with a picture that’s both much better and much more likely to be getting the best out of your TV.

Despite all our findings, we're not suggesting that a professional picture calibration will suit everyone; some, maybe even many normal TV users will be unable to resist the shallower charms of typical TV presets, and we have no intention of denigrating such users. In fact, we've frequently made the point that for us what matters with a TV is that it's flexible enough in its pictures to satisfy as many 'tastes' as possible.

However if you’ve already spent a few thousand pounds on a TV, receiver and surround sound setup, or are planning to do so, we definitely recommend setting aside a little more money to get a professional calibration. When you’re spending that much on your home AV, it’s churlish not to give it the best chance of delighting you every day.

For everyone else, we’re working on a new guide to calibrating your TV on a tighter budget.

Next, read What is 4K TV? 10 reasons why you should care


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

Try Adblock in Chrome. Makes this site usable again!


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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