Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sony KDL-46XBR2 LCD Panel Calibration

With the recent price drops on LCD panels, more and more clients are requesting calibration of these sexy thin TVs. Even though they've been around a few years now, it's still cool to see a TV that's only 3 or 4 inches thick. This calibration was for one of Sony's top-of-the-line new panels the 1080p KDL-46XBR2. This TV has all the necessary calibration controls in the user menu to include grayscale, gamma and several interesting noise-reduction controls. Since my client was switching his satellite box and DVD player (a superb Marantz DV-9600) through a receiver, I only had to calibrate the HDMI inputs on the TV.

Most Sony TVs have a DRC palette control which only works for 480i signals. This TV allows the DRC controls to work on all scan rates. I was able to fully resolve the multi-burst patterns with the DRC controls and use less of the traditional edge-enhancements. The end result was a super-clean noise-free image from all sources. Of course, I set the satellite box to always output 1080i and the DVD to output 1080p. By the way, if you spend enough money on an upconverting DVD player, it really does approach HD quality. It's not quite there but it's darn close.

The color and tint controls required no adjustment so I moved on to grayscale. I got the tracking within 100k of D65, excellent performance. I spent a lot of time checking each gamma setting and finally settled on medium. This coupled with reducing the backlight to its minimum setting gave me deep, detailed blacks and a gamma curve of 1.93. By the way, this panel has a nearly perfect color gamut. Primaries and secondaries lined up beautifully right out of the box. I'm glad to see a TV that makes color accuracy a priority over excess light output and over-saturated colors.

Needless to say, the resulting image was stunning. This is by far the best LCD panel I've worked on to date. It seems like I've had quite the rush on Sony calibrations lately but they really do make some fine hardware. With the amount of control available, this is one of the more ISF-friendly TVs out there. It's a pleasure to achieve such good results without burning incense and chanting to the video gods for guidance. As an added bonus, my client had me calibrate his XBR960 CRT. I've covered this set in a previous post but I'll say it again, this is the last of the truly great CRT TVs. It's hard to beat its rock-solid image with accurate color, excellent geometry and of course dynamite blacks. Two excellent TVs to calibrate in one house, it was a video geeks dream come true!

Hitachi 51F510 Calibration

CRT-based displays are a dying breed. This is unfortunate because they still do some things better than even the best fixed-pixel TVs. Principal of these is blacks. A good CRT can render the smoothest and blackest blacks unmatched by even the best plasmas. You can't beat a display that can turn off areas of the image for a true black. Even plasmas must send a little current to every pixel to maintain response times. CRT does not have this limitation. After spending about 6 hours with a Hitachi 51F510, I can see why some people are hanging on to their older sets.

This TV was about 3 years old and had been well-cared for by its owner. He had removed the reflective screen cover, which not only causes major glare but it creates a color shift as well. He also lined the interior of the TV with light-absorbing Duvetyne. This dustless fabric prevents any internal reflections in a rear-pro cabinet and in some cases can really improve black level detail. He called me in to not only calibrate the set but also to work on the geometry and convergence.

The Hitachi has all the necessary controls in the Service Menu to adjust overscan and centering. I touched this up first then proceeded to the Convergence Menu. Rather than using the Magic Focus which sets the convergence hands-off, I did the 117-point adjustment with the TVs internal grid pattern. I worked out from center aligning red and blue to green. After 2 laps around the screen, I was done and the grid was tack-sharp.

Calibration followed with settings in both the User and Service Menus. There is full color management and color decoder adjustment available with color isolation. I was able to tame the red push pretty well and get the primaries right on spec. After adjusting the grayscale in the service menu, I touched up the color decoder again and I was finished. A long process but well worth it. This client had hoped to get some more life out of this TV rather than buy a new one and I was able to help him do that. CRTs do require a bit more work but the results are well worth the effort. I expect he'll be hanging on to this set for quite awhile longer!

Friday, December 01, 2006

James Bond Ultimate Edition DVD Sets

I have always been a big Bond fan. I owned most of the movies on tape and watched them until they wore out. When I finally went to upgrade to DVD versions, I discovered that all the movies were out of print except Die Another Day. What a treat it was when I found out about the newly-remastered Ultimate Editions. All 20 movies in 4 sets for about $60 each on Amazon. I just received the first 2 volumes (3 & 4 ship December 12).

Today I watched Diamonds Are Forever. These DVDs are advertised as 4k Lowry Digital frame-by-frame transfers. This means the film is scanned at 4000 lines of vertical resolution. They are then down-rezzed to the standard 480i DVD resolution. The result is quite simply the best DVD I have ever seen. I just couldn't believe I was watching a 35-year old movie! Not only was the color and dynamic range stunning, the clarity was razor-sharp as well. There wasn't even any film grain! When I see DVDs of this quality I have to ask myself: is there really a need for HD-DVD and BluRay when standard DVD has such potential? If more movies were mastered with this kind of care and precision, the world would simply be a better place.

Equal in quality to the images was the sound reproduction. All the movies have a remixed soundtrack done in Dolby Digital and DTS. The original films were monoaural and stereo. It's just incredible what can be done with such old material. I recently ordered a Denon DVD2930 and AVR3806 from Crutchfield. I can't wait to install these components and watch more of these Bond flicks. These discs have given me more than enough reason to watch all these wonderful movies again and again. Bond fans rejoice!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sony KDL-40XBR LCD Panel Calibration

I recently had the pleasure of calibrating a 40-inch version of Sony's 720p LCD panel, XBR model. This set is a superb value for an LCD offering excellent image quality and adjustability for a reasonable price. As I've said in other posts, 1280x720 is still a lot of pixels and a properly calibrated 720p TV can look every bit as good as a 1080p TV for less money.

This panel has an excellent contrast ratio. I measured 910:1 on a 4x4 ANSI checkerboard pattern after calibration! This is the highest ratio I've recorded to date. Unlike other Sony TVs I've calibrated, some of the options in the Advanced Video menu actually improved the image. I left Live Color on (Low setting) and chose the Wide Color Space. Usually, these options put the primaries way outside spec but in this case, the primaries weren't too far off. It was then on to the service menu to adjust grayscale. My first pass had the tracking pretty good but Delta C was not to my liking. After more tweaks, I got Delta C under 1.0 from 20 to 100 IRE. I was very happy with this. Dark scene quality took a big jump despite having no control over the gamma curve. I couldn't quite get it to 2.2. I finished by setting the backlight control, which is independent of the brightness and contrast controls. I lowered it quite a bit on the DVD input, down to 3.

The final result was quite improved especially showing dark content. Black levels are a weakness of any LCD but this panel looked quite good in that regard. I strongly suggest some sort of bias lighting to improve the viewer's perception of black levels. This set was in a room where the panel had an open staircase behind it. This provided a bias light of sorts. If your panel is on a wall or stand, getting some 6500k lighting behind it will greatly improve image quality. Actually, this method works with any type of TV.

Another Sony TV successfully calibrated!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Samsung HL-R5067W calibration

The Samsung DLP rear-projection TVs are in the product category of "well-kept" secret. Why? Because they have the greatest potential for truly stunning picture quality. Even the HLR series which I'm writing about today, which has the fewest adjustments of all Samsung DLPs, will blow away nearly every other TV I've worked on when properly calibrated. This is a 720p model which is now discontinued. It has 2 component and 1 HDMI input. Picture out of the box is fair from a color standpoint. Banding and macroblocking are evident in both dark scenes and fine-gradient images like sky and hazy mountains. A few tweaks in the user menu will improve black and white levels immensly. The default contrast is set to mega-torch mode. A 100 IRE full-screen actually hurts the eyes.

As with all Samsung TVs, you have to go right to the service menu to perform your adjustments. The reason is all user menu settings are reset to defaults when you do this. Fortunately, everything you need is in there. I begin with the CCA menu. First a warning, don't try this at home! To use the CCA properly requires the use of a colorimeter to set the baseline for the light engine. Simply changing the target values will not adjust the color accurately. I worked in a totally darkened room to be sure of accurate measurements. After setting the baseline, I worked the targets until primaries and secondaries were nearly dead-on spec. Only red wouldn't quite hit the bullseye. I suspect I am being limited by the actual color wheel segment colors. After engaging WB_Spread to send the settings to all inputs, I moved on to grayscale. This is set for each input in the DNIe menu. Since the color management is so good, I barely needed any adjustment here. When I finished, I was within 100k of D65 from 20 to 100 IRE, superb performance. I only wish this display had an iris. I couldn't get a gamma better than 2.1. The curve tracks almost perfectly though with a slight rise from 20 to 60 IRE. Once service menu adjustments are complete, I exited to the user menu and made the final tweaks to black level, white level and sharpness. Since only color saturation was available, I increased that to compensate for the undersaturation of the red primary.

With calibration complete, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Many people have complained that with the HLR series, you can't defeat the DNIe. To see if its effects were still degrading the picture, I turned on the demo mode. Surprise, surprise, both sides look the same! This is with sharpness set to 40 on the DVD input and 20 on the cable TV input. It seems that fixing the color inaccuracies and getting the gamma closer to 2.2 eliminates the negative effects of DNIe.

Based my experience to date, I would recommend a Samsung DLP over other rear-pro sets. With an ISF calibration, it simply won't be beat. As long as you aren't one of the 1% of people that see the rainbow effect, you won't be disappointed with a DLP and ISF calibration. Even with the wildly varying quality of standard-def content, the picture is simply incredible. With hi-def or a good DVD, you will be amazed. I can't wait to get my hands on one of the newer Samsung 1080p sets!


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sony LCD Rear Projection, KDFEA10 Calibrations

I recently had the opportunity to calibrate 2 different Sony KDFEA10 LCD RP sets, a 50 inch and a 42 inch. These are excellent values for 720p HDTVs. They are discontinued now but many dealers still have them in stock. They have 2 component inputs and 1 HDMI input like other TVs of this type. Calibration is through the service menu and is global for all inputs. Grayscale can be set very precisely to track within 150k of D65. To adjust the color decoder, there is a "color axis" setting. This appears to rotate the gamut almost like a clock. There are about 50 different settings. I used the color analyzer to find the most accurate one. Once the grayscale and decoder is set, final tweaks are done with the iris controls. This varies the black level enough to affect the grayscale so I had to compromise to keep each input close to spec. In the end, I left the iris on its minimum setting for the component inputs and medium for HDMI. I also set different parameters for Black Corrector, Gamma and Advanced Iris to adjust for the grayscale shift through HDMI.

This TV was fairly difficult to work on because all the settings were interacting with each other. Luckily, the service and user menus are accessible at the same time. I went back and forth for quite awhile to get the results I wanted. I wound up with a great looking TV when I was finally done. I wish I could hide that awful Vivid picture mode. It's so bright and blue it's painful! Once you've become accustomed to a calibrated image, Vivid is downright offensive!

I still see these sets for sale at the big box stores. The prices are quite low. They're probably one of the best bargains for an HDTV right now. Even after adding the price of a calibration, you've still got a 50 inch HDTV for under $2000.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sony XBR960 CRT Calibration

Last week, I had the priviledge of calibrating an Sony 34-inch XBR960 CRT. This is probably the last truly great CRT HDTV. It has been discontinued but there are still some deals out there. MSRP is around $1800 but they can be found for under $1000. The first thing I noticed is the excellent black level. Not only are the blacks really black but it was totally stable through the different APL Pluge patterns. I had superb notes on this TV's service menu so I dove right in. Grayscale is adjusted for the Neutral color temp at 1080i. Then you adjust offsets for the other scan rates and color temp presets. A complete set of decoder controls is also available. Once again, I was able to use my Progressive Labs analyzer instead of filters to really achieve accuracy. I also adjusted the image position and overscan. When I had finished, the gamma curve was a perfect 2.2, not 2.19 or 2.21 but 2.2! Grayscale tracked within 200k of D65 with all Delta C* points below 1.

Needless to say, the customer and I were very pleased. He is very proud of this set and it was my pleasure to calibrate it for peak performance. Even though CRT is nearly gone from the marketplace, there is still a large base of customers with quality sets that have yet to realize their full performance potential. I look forward to the next one.

Sound and Harmony remote setup

Last night, I completed work on a customers home theater system. After calibrating his Sony A2000 on a previous visit, I spent about 8 hours total wiring a receiver, DVD player, Tivo, VCR, Xbox into the TV and surround speaker system. The speakers are interesting, they're Definitive Technology BP-2000s. The mains and center have built-in 15 inch subs with their own amps. The remaining drivers have high, mid and low wire terminals as well. My customer was going for mega bass so I wired the left and right subs and bi-wired all three front speakers. We fired up Super Speedway. With the subs turned up to half it was an earthquake! He says, "I need more." I went to the point of distortion and backed off a bit. At this point, my ears hurt and his enormous leather sectional was shaking. He said, "that's the bass I've been waiting for!" He'd had these speakers for several years and never wired them correctly. Once I got his Denon AVR-5700 configured, it was armageddon in there!

I completed the job by setting up a Harmony 890 remote for him. This is a slick piece. Logitech's code base covers over 175,000 products. Take that URC! I had it up and running in about 2 hours. I'm going to get one of these for myself. It supports RF so you can put your rack in a closet or behind the couch if you want.

Bottom line: the customer was happy, I was happy, I had fun. It was my first time doing an entire system setup. From here on out, I'll have a price schedule for sound system and remote control setups. I know there are a lot of people out there that need help with these products. They're so capable and so complicated. Why spend thousands of dollars on technology and not get the maximum performance possible?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Followup work on Sony KD-S60A2000

I first calibrated this TV about 2 weeks ago. Nice set but the color tracking is not quite as good as the KD-SR60XBR1. It does have excellent black level stability and far less edge enhancement artifacts though. The image quality from a good source is excellent. I was able to tame the red push with a little tweaking of the hue control and my trusty Progressive Labs analyzer. My customer just installed the HR-250 Tivo. The quality from this feed is spotty. Some channels like HDNet look fantastic. Others are just soft. Here in NY, all HD channels are fed over the dish, not over the air. I think quality has suffered as a result.

I'm also doing an audio setup and remote control setup for this customer. He has an excellent Denon AVR-5700 and some impressive DefTech speakers with built-in amplified subs. The wiring is a bit unusual but I've got it figured out and I'll be finishing it up next week. I did a basic setup on a Harmony 890 remote. This is a very well designed piece. I'm going to add one to my home very soon. After going through about a 20-minute process on the internet, the remote was programmed with the basics. All I have to do is reconfigure a few screens on it and I'll be done.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sony KDS-R60XBR1 Calibration

I've been wanting to do one of the Sony SXRDs for awhile and I just got my chance. Boy what a nice TV! It's quite a light cannon out of the box. It also adds major edge enhancement especially when scaling up DVD output from 480p. I put up the opening of Star Wars Episode I to see the text scrolling in the beginning. The letters had large white borders around them! The yellow color was almost completely covered. Needless to say, the sharpness was the first thing I worked on. I worked with this control and all the other enhancements available. I wound up turning everything off and dialing the sharpness down to almost the bottom. I could still resolve the 1080i pattern just fine without and extra video processing.

After setting the correct black and white levels, I moved on to the grayscale controls in the Advanced Video menu. I was able to achieve superb tracking (within 100k of D65) on both the component and HDMI inputs with a slightly better result on HDMI. The grayscale was so good, I barely had to touch the color and tint controls afterwards. The secondaries were almost perfectly aligned. Like other Sonys, this set did have a red push but it was easily tamed with a tweak of the hue control. My Progressive Labs analyzer makes it a breeze to get proper color and hue settings rather than using filters which are unreliable with displays other that CRT.

In the end, I increased the contrast ratio from 160:1 to 204:1 (measured with an ANSI checkerboard at 16 points on the screen). Color and grayscale were about as close to perfect as you could ask for. Super TV and even better with calibration.

Lost Season 2 DVD Review

I just got this set in the mail last Thursday and my wife and I have already watched 14 episodes! We're fans to put it mildly. There's no need to go into the specifics of the show, it's covered in a myriad of places on the internet. These DVDs are quite simply the best transfers I have ever seen! Of course, the original is shot in HD which helps. Honestly though, the difference between these DVDs and an HD broadcast is minimal. The sound is also top-notch. All scenes on the beach really show the surround effect with the wave noise enveloping the viewer. The balance of music, dialogue and sound effects is also superb. Dynamic range is excellent with no one element being either too loud or too soft.

From what I hear, these DVD sets can be found either online or in big-box stores for between $35 and $45. I say get 'em while they're hot! If you're even contemplating becoming a Lost fan, you won't be sorry!