How to Easily Calibrate Your HDTV for Free

If you buy a high-definition TV after looking at it in the store (though I don’t know why you would when you can use Best Stuff for Men to find the top-rated TVs and buy them online for the best prices), you will probably notice when you get your new HDTV home that the picture doesn’t look so good in your living room (or wherever you have placed the TV).

Most of the time, the color and picture settings of TVs on display in stores are set to their most vibrant — some would say “garish.”  This makes the TV picture “pop” and appear impressive under the fluorescent lights of the display area, but those aren’t the conditions under which you’ll watch the TV at home.  How many people have bright fluorescent lights running the length of their living room?

So you’ll want to calibrate your TV to get the best-looking picture.  How you should calibrate your high-def TV will depend to a great extent on the conditions and lighting of the room in which you watch it.  Will the TV screen be competing with a lot of sun glare?  Or do you watch TV in a room that remains pretty dim?

You can easily calibrate your high-definition television yourself for free.  All it takes is a DVD or DVR video and your television remote control.You can hire a professional technician to calibrate your TV.  This can cost up to several hundred dollars (for example, the Geek Squad at Best Buy charges around $150 and reviews are mixed for the quality of their service — some people love it, some are less enthusiastic).  An experienced and competent calibrator can definitely help fine-tune your TV to provide the best picture possible.  But you really don’t need to pay to have your HDTV calibrated.

Instead, do it yourself.  It can be done easily without having to mess with the more arcane settings and controls in your picture-settings menu.  And it’s free.  Here’s how:

  • Light your room in the way in which it will most often be lit when you’re watching TV.
  • Play a DVD or Blu-ray disc, or a DVR video.
  • When you get to a scene that shows a face and some detail, freeze the picture (“Pause” it).
  • Press the Menu button on your TV remote and go to picture setting mode.
  • Try all the various pre-set picture options, such as Movie mode, Cinema, Theater, Sports, THX, Pro, Standard, etc. — whatever types of modes are available on your TV.
  • Note how the frozen picture looks as you try each different mode.
  • Select whichever mode provides the most natural-looking picture.  You can use this setting for most of your viewing.

You’re done!

While it’s possible to spend hours calibrating a TV using calibration discs, going into the Service menu (which is only available to service technicians), and so on, it’s not really necessary.  While the quality may be a touch better than you’ll get using the pre-set modes, if you’ve got a good television it will look great when using your standard settings.

Want to learn more about how display modes on a high-definition TV work?

If you’d like to learn more about display modes, how TVs are set up, and what types of calibration make a difference to viewing quality, start by reading this article:  Display Myths Shattered, which was written for Maximum PC magazine by Dr. Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate Technologies Corporation.  (Also read through the comments after the article.)

If you’d like to shop for a new HDTV at one of the best electronics retailers online, I recommend using Best Buy, particularly their Magnolia section.  They have good customer service, a good selection of the best high-definition TVs at competitive prices (price match available), they frequently offer free shipping, and they also offer the option of having the TV shipped for free to a Best Buy store where you can pick it up.

(In writing this post, I appreciate the suggestions about how to calibrate your TV for free provided by the TV testers at Consumer Reports.)

Best Buy Co, Inc.


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