Basic TV Calibration Notes for Viewing Blu-rays

These are rough notes based on my experience producing Blu-rays and using Sony Bravia displays over the last decade. The following points generally refer to these Sony displays and are to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Proper LED LCD/Plasma TV calibration involves a qualified engineer using special equipment to calibrate a display for a particular use. Folk who work in film need to have properly calibrated displays, so they know they’re all looking at the same thing, and how the film was intended to look. A professional’s colour measuring device, specialised software, and expertise are very much worth paying for.

However, there are a number of settings anyone can alter on their TV right out of the box. My main TV use is for watching films, mostly shot at 24fps, on well-authored Blu-rays. So these notes apply to that particular use. All panels are different, there isn’t one easy set of instructions that applies to all models, but the majority of factory default settings on most displays are TERRIBLE for watching films.

Sony’s “Cinema” mode preset (c.2010-onwards) is pretty good now. It’s the easy option if you want to make things slightly better quickly with little fuss.

If you’re going to explore the menus and really get stuck in, settings can be altered for one target input (Sony call this “current”), or all inputs (“common”). Make sure you’re not mistakenly altering the settings for an input that you don’t intend to use. You’ll want to alter the settings for the HDMI input that your Blu-ray player is connected to the TV by.

If you ever have to revert back to Factory Settings, or install a system update, you’ll have to do all this again:

SHARPNESS
Many people’s instinct is to think that “sharpness” = good and thus should be turned up to full. This is not true. Sharpness is not something you want your TV to be applying unnecessarily to the image. A Blu-ray source is already sharp, any further sharpening is not helpful. I turn it OFF (down to zero), if you really must, try and get it well below 50 because it is one of the main causes of film grain looking too prominent on a well-authored Blu-ray. Film grain is an integral part of a well-authored Blu-ray encode (for a film shot on film) but it seems to get a really bad knock from people whose displays are usually badly calibrated, because what they’re looking at is high sharpness settings (amongst other things) that accentuate and mangle the grain.

On Sony Bravia TVs I usually end up with CONTRAST around 70-90. BRIGHTNESS around 50-60. COLOUR around 50-60. Come back to these when you’ve done everything else and have another look. I often just wing it here, doing it by eye, using a few different reference quality Criterion Blu-rays as my guide.

I try to have BACKLIGHT switched OFF but usually end up with it on 1 or 2.

100 HZ / HIGH HERTZ / PUREMOTION / MOTIONFLOW
This is designed primarily, I think, for watching sports on TV. I hate it with a passion. The TV interpolates frames (it makes them up by creating a composite of adjacent frames, to create the illusion of a higher framerate). It’s mostly useless and creates that hyper sitcom/sports look that is entirely unsuited to films shot on 35mm or films shot at framerates upto 24fps. Turn this completely OFF.

FULL PIXEL MODE - ON. This is very important! It means that each pixel on the Blu-ray is perfectly mapped to a pixel on your TV, preventing overscan from taking place (ie. you’re seeing EVERYTHING that’s on the Blu-ray).

Turn all this crap OFF (or crap that sounds like this crap. Each manufacturer has different names for it):
AMBIENT BRIGHTNESS / AUTO LIGHT LIMITER / LIGHT SENSOR - OFF
NOISE REDUCTION - OFF
MPEG NOISE REDUCTION - OFF
DOT NOISE REDUCTION - OFF
REALITY CREATION - OFF
NOISE FILTERING - OFF
ADVANCED CONTRAST ENHANCER - OFF
DETAIL ENHANCER - OFF
EDGE ENHANCER - OFF
SKIN NATURALISER - OFF
MOTIONFLOW - OFF
PUREMOTION - OFF

A professional calibration engineer will be doing further tests on your GAMMA with his special equipment. These are things that can’t be altered satisfactorily by novices, but if you sort out the basic things above, you’ll have a much nicer Blu-ray image than you probably have now. –Nick Wrigley, November 2013