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!