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Calibration review of my HDTV (really long)

Old 03-18-05, 12:43 AM
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Calibration review of my HDTV (really long)

I just had my Mitsubishi WS55819 calibrated by Craig Rounds last week and after now having a few days to watch the TV post calibration I thought Iíd post my impressions.

Please indulge me and let me start with a bit of history first. When I first bought this TV 3 years ago I was immediately impressed with it but knew it could be better. I work in the graphic arts industry so I know a bit about accurate color rendering and usually try to apply that knowledge to video.

I had waited a few months after the purchase to allow the TV to break in before I did any major tweaking but immediately used Avia to calibrate the user controls. After allowing the TV to break in for a few months and studying the Mits tweaks at HomeTheaterSpot I finally put aside a weekend to try and improve the overall image for the 480p output from my Panasonic RP56, which was one of the better rated DVD players at the time. It wasnít until recently that my cable provider started offering HD programming so the majority of my viewing was 80% DVD and the rest from standard analog cable.

I first removed the screen and cleaned the lenses and CRTs. When I removed the lenses I found bugs, wood chips and various other dirt and dust under and on them. This is not unusual from what I understand and most CRT based RPTVs are shipped in this condition. While I had the screen off I installed Duvutyne to remove any internal light reflections which also reportedly improves black level and color saturation. I then replaced the lenses and performed both electrical and mechanical focus adjustments. After this was down and the screen back on (this time removing the protective shield which not only causes glare but is tinted so that color and contrast is skewed) I used Avia to adjust my geometry and convergence to 5% overscan all around where it was 7%, 10%, 8% and 5% before. I then readjusted my user controls for color, tint, contrast, brightness and sharpness using Avia and turned off Scan Velocity Modulation in the service menu. Unfortunately on my model Mits the color decoder is locked out of the service menu so the only way to fix red push is to either put a signal attenuator on the component cable or hack the EEPROMS using a a PC and a I2C cable that you can build. I opted to use the attenuator but that only fixes it for the component cable itís connected to so I was stuck with turning the color level down a few notches for regular cable TV.

The result was a big improvement but I still knew it could be much better if a pro worked on it. The geometry grid still had slight waves to it and since then I still felt I was readjusting convergence too often. I thought my greyscale while decent needed to be fixed and the only correct way to do it is with the expensive specialized tools that only pro calibrators typically have. Then there was that red push on all of my inputs other than the DVD player where the attenuator was connected. So I kept telling myself that eventually a pro would need to be called. The problem was always that funds would be needed in more important areas of a married man with a kid and a mortgage because I didnít budget this in at the time of purchase. I just couldnít justify the money now after the fact to make my DVDs look better.

So now here we are 3 years later and I finally get HD programming from my cable company and I see that the 1080i scan rate for my TV is pretty messed up. The red push is about 25% and the geometry is whacked. A pro calibration is starting to look more like a necessity. Well the stars finally lined up just right and I received a bonus from work, Craig announced a calibration tour of my area at just the right time and 3 years of begging the wife meant that I could get this TV calibrated the right way.

Still with me so far? Good. Letís start talking about Craig and the job he did.

Letís start with how professional he is. I emailed him to say I was interested in hiring him and he replied right away stating what he does and how much along with extensive instructions on how to sign up for the tour. Once I was confirmed he sent me an email with a confirmation date and instructions on how I could help him by preparing my TV before he arrived. When the day approached he called me to confirm the time heíd be there and go over any last minute details with me. One the day of the calibration he arrive when he said he would and although I could tell he was tired from all of the traveling heíd done prior to my appointment greeted and treated me as if I was the first stop heíd made. Heís a true professional in how he conducts himself.

I helped him bring his tools into the house and showed him the way to the TV. We discussed what I had already had done to the TV and where I though it could be improved while he unpacked and got ready to dive in. He took and initial look at the PQ and said heíd seen worse but that he thought Iíd be very happy when he was done. He got right to work by removing the screen and taking a look at the insides of the cabinet. As I stated earlier I installed Duvutyne myself and he noted that the lenses and CRTs looked good but showed me where the black material had left some fibers on the lenses. He commented that the Duvutyne that I bought and used was some pretty good stuff since heís seen some brands that leave an oily residue on the lenses. (I should note that Craig does not install Duvutyne as part of the calibration so if you want this done you should do it yourself before he arrives.) The mirror still looked very clean and he didnít touch it just as I left it alone 3 years before.

With the optics cleaned he moved on to the focus. He did both the electrical and mechanical focus like I did but he also adjusted the focusing magnets at the base of the CRTs. I stayed away from here when I did it due to high voltage concerns and not knowing exactly what I should be touching. He had an Avia pattern on the screen with the grid and the dots inside each grid square while he made his adjustments. Now Iíve looked at that grid so many times over the years and always thought that the dots were square and on my TV they became oblong as they went further to the edges. Boy was I wrong. He adjusted the magnets so that they're pretty much the same shape across the screen and that shape is now round as theyíre supposed to be.

Next up was the geometry. He connected his Accupel signal generator and proceeded to get my overscan amount down to 4% and more linear and straight then I ever could. I had always been tempted to zero out all of my settings and start over to try and get the minor bumps out and get it more linear but was always concerned that if I did that I would actually make it worse. Well he was able to zip in and out of the service menus and take a long, tedious process and make it look like childís play all the while taking measurements with a ruler to make sure it was all straight and lined up and asking me if there was anything that I noticed that could be straightened more.

With the optics clean, the focus perfect and geometry better than if I had spent weeks making adjustments it was time to move on to the color decoder. He set up his Sencore color analyzer and started to take his reading to see how far off I was. He connected his I2C cable to his laptop and saved my original EEPROM file to the laptop. He then reprogrammed the file to remove the red push for all of my scan rates and inputs and also removed the extra edge enhancement that Mits adds into the programming of the processing of the signal. So now I donít need an attenuator for any input and the color level can be set where it should be for everything as well as the reduction of any extra ringing and EE that the TV was adding. He also has another modification that he can do at an extra charge that can reduce ringing further but I didnít have this done so I canít comment on it.

It was time now for the greyscale, color and tint adjustments. He set my user controls as they would be if I had just bought the TV or pressed the reset button. He then adjusted the color, tint, contrast, brightness and sharpness in the service menu to the levels that they should be at for proper viewing. So now even if somebody plays with my settings all I need to do is press reset or recenter the controls and Iím back to the proper calibration levels. He setup his analyzer and continuously checked the readings, going back and forth from one setting to the other since they interact, until he had these settings perfect or as close to it as my TV would allow.
For the greyscale he used his Sencore analyzer to take readings and make adjustments to bring my High color temp to 6500K since this setting is global across all scan rates on my TV. He showed me where my reading were by using a chart on his laptop that plotted a line across the temperature graph for each step on the greyscale. By eye I had known that my greyscale was off since Iím used to looking at greyscale patterns on my job but without some sort of instrumentation I didnít really know how far off they really were. I knew the blacks had too much red in them and that the whites had were too warm. What I didnít realize was just how much my whites were off. From about 40 IRE to 100 IRE my 480p greyscale plotted fairly flat but it was below 6500k with reading from about 6000k to 6100k. But from 40 IRE down to 0 IRE it trailed off the charts and bottomed out below 5000k from 20 IRE down. My 480i and 1080i scan rates werenít much better but after a lot of time spent by Craig fighting wrestling with my TV heís got all scan rates plotting within 100k or so across the scale with of all scan rates 480i being the best one. The one I use the least the TV decides to do the best. Go figure.

This is as good a time as any to point out that the results of a calibration have as much to do with your TV as the person doing it. Even in the skilled hands of a pro like Craig whoís using the proper instruments, sometimes your TV doesnít want to or canít be made to perform exactly to a spec like 6500k. You can get it close but due to variances in manufacturing, electrical current, components, etc.; there will always be concessions to be made and in the end you can only do so much.

With all of the adjustments made we cleaned up a bit and Craig popped in a few DVDs with scenes that heís familiar with to check his work. He used the opening of the Fifth Element and the regeneration scene from the same movie, some scenes from Monsters Inc. as well as some scenes from Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Iím also pretty familiar with all of these scenes so I immediately started analyzing the image for improvements. At first it was subtle. I saw deeper, richer blacks in the space scene of 5th E. I saw increased detail and color tone in the overall picture in all of the scenes. But then something unexpected happened. I started to notice things Iíve never seen before in these movies Iíve watched so many times. The scene in LotR where Arwen is on her horse and leaving for the Grey Havens was the first. I always thought that the cape and hood she wears was simply blue. I had never seen the fine intricate detail of the embroidery on it before. Since then Iíve been popping in other DVDs I own that Iíve watched countless times and I keep noticing things Iíve never seen before. The diverís mask that falls from the boat in Finding Nemo was alwaus green and black but now itís green and black that has texture. The green looks like terry cloth while the black is detailed where the strap meets the mask. On the score board in Monsters Inc. that is made up of several monitors seperated by black boarders I can now see that the edges are beveled and has light reflecting on the edges. The scene that introduces you to Bruce the Shark in Nemo looks like heíll come through the screen it looks so 3D. Movies with plenty of darks scenes in shadows are now revealing detail I never was able to see before. The nature shows on DiscoveryHD are now more than pictures on a screen but it actually looks alive in my living room. My wife came home from work as we were watching these things and she noticed right away the improvement in detail, clarity, color and depth of field.

So I guess Iíll wrap this up by saying that even though I performed a lot of tweaks on my TV there is something to be said for a real pro calibration. I understood that a tweak here or there can make a difference but the effect of having somebody like Craig who knows what heís doing using the correct instrumentation rather than by eye like many of us do is nothing less than stunning. We buy these HDTVs in order to see the improvement that DVD has over VHS or HD has over SD programming but unless you get the display calibrated you really arenít seeing all you could be seeing. Craig is true professional who really understands the ins and outs of these displays and it really does make a noticeable difference. And on top of that heís a really nice guy to hang with for 7 hours.

Thanks again Craig.
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Old 03-18-05, 10:56 AM
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I've been putting off having my HDTV professionally calibrated due to the cost. But, seven hours? If they're spending that long, I understand the price!
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Old 03-18-05, 11:11 AM
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So how much was it?
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Old 03-18-05, 11:17 AM
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Chipmac - nice review. Is this the same Craigr from the HTS? I hope to one day have my TV ISF'd as well. I've also heard good reviews about Craig M's work, but I think he's retiring
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Old 03-18-05, 12:52 PM
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Originally Posted by sdcrym
So how much was it?
See his web site at http://www.cir-engineering.com/ for pricing and more details as to what is covered.
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Old 03-18-05, 01:36 PM
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I just read an article in the LA Times yesterday about how because of the complexity of newer TVs, ironically we're going back to the old days of needing technicians to come into our house to set them up! I guess if you invest that much in a product, it's worth the price to get it decently tuned. It's good to know that these guys do much more than just tweak some settings with AVIA or something...
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Old 03-18-05, 02:18 PM
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Originally Posted by fujishig
I just read an article in the LA Times yesterday about how because of the complexity of newer TVs, ironically we're going back to the old days of needing technicians to come into our house to set them up! I guess if you invest that much in a product, it's worth the price to get it decently tuned. It's good to know that these guys do much more than just tweak some settings with AVIA or something...
Whether or not you see a value in spending the money on a complete calibration is an individual decision. But be careful as there are some people out there that aren't as comprehensive as Craig and don't do much more than use Avia. This is part of the reason I wanted to write this review. There are many people that think that making adjustments with Avia is enough and that you can't make it better then that. There are also people that you can hire that go all out like Craig and it makes a big difference even if you've tweaked the TV yourself like I did. For some it doesn't matter if their display is underperforming but for those that do care I highly recommend it.
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Old 03-21-05, 10:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Chew
But, seven hours? If they're spending that long, I understand the price!
It's well worth it - I'm saving up the necessary funds right now (and letting my tv break in, too). The ISF calibrator in my area has calibrated both my brother-in-law's tv and his best friend's - he took at least 7-9 hours for both of them. It's pretty interesting to see everything that he does and having him point it out for you.
Originally Posted by fujishig
I just read an article in the LA Times yesterday about how because of the complexity of newer TVs, ironically we're going back to the old days of needing technicians to come into our house to set them up! I guess if you invest that much in a product, it's worth the price to get it decently tuned. It's good to know that these guys do much more than just tweak some settings with AVIA or something...
Just read that article this morning.
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Old 03-22-05, 05:39 AM
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Originally Posted by kliiez8
Chipmac - nice review. Is this the same Craigr from the HTS? I hope to one day have my TV ISF'd as well. I've also heard good reviews about Craig M's work, but I think he's retiring
Yup same guy. CraigM has retired but me thinks CraigR is more than up to replacing him. During the time I spent with him he told me some pretty cool things that aren't even posted anywhere for fear of lawsuits from the manufacturers. The guy knows his shit and being an engineer he has the skills to figure stuff out that isn't documented in any service manual such as some of the modifications he's come up with.
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Old 03-22-05, 12:12 PM
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I should have done this last year since I needed tax write-offs.
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Old 03-23-05, 10:05 PM
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Originally Posted by BJacks
I should have done this last year since I needed tax write-offs.
OK, I'll bite. Just how would you justify an ISF calibration as a deduction? I would think the IRS would flag that quickly for an audit, even if the tv was claimed partially for "business use"!
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Old 03-25-05, 12:15 AM
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This is a great post.

I really want to save up and do this. Maybe next year some time.
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