December 14, 2010

Getting the Picture Right

A week after the installation of my home theatre system (see my earlier post "The Movie Guys Have Landed!" in November), Jeff from AV Designs came over to do his magic - calibration of the TV and projector.

Jeff's tool of trade consisted of a spectrophotometer (that is the name I found google-ing), that is the thing you see hanging on the plasma TV in the photo above, which reads the output of the TV or the projector; a DVD that outputs various test patterns; a calibration software and a notebook PC for the software to run on.

It did not seem to be an easy job. Jeff spent close to 2 hours doing it for both the plasma TV and the JVC DLA-B250 Projector.

Jeff went through an iterative process. He played a number of test patterns from the DVD, the output on the screen was read by the spectrophotometer and displayed on the notebook PC. After reading it, Jeff made a number of changes to the setting on the TV and the projector, then the whole process was repeated again, until he was satisfied with the final result.

I don't have the technical knowledge to tell you everything about the calibration results displayed on the notebook PC (see photo above). Jeff did tell me a thing or two. See the graph at the bottom right corner? That is the measure of the red, green, blue colour outputs at various light intensity. Jeff's target was to get the 3 colours to show a rule flat line with each coinciding with the others - signifying that all the colours are being output at the same intensity level. In reality, Jeff said, this was hard to achieve for every projector model out there, there was bound to be some drift. His job though was to get them as close as possible to the ideal.

It struck me that this is not unlike our audiophile world where we aim for an even frequency response, such that there is no bass boom, bright treble or a forward midrange.

After calibration, the first thing I noticed was that the picture looked dimmer. However, this feeling was short lived, after a few hours of viewing I felt it was just right.

The first improvement I noticed was how natural people's skin tone was. As we look at people every day, that would be the thing we're most familiar with and we'd know instantly whether it is right or wrong - the analogy in the audiophile world would be vocal/speech.

I could also discern more details on the screen, even when a scene is dark - there were details in the blacks.

On the projector, switching back to the original setting, I felt the picture was a little glaring. It was like a bright sounding hifi system, a long listening session would tire you out. Actually, the original picture that came with the JVC projector was already very good, and I did not feel I missed anything before calibration (well, I am a HT novice, what do I know?), however after calibration, I did not want to go back to the original setting anymore.

Picture from Bluray movies was just stunning. There were details everywhere. I found that I enjoyed the movies so much more. Even movies that I previously dismissed, I found myself enjoying it from the beginning till end. On good movies, the watching experience was so much more 'intense'.

Size and details really help in giving us the cinematic experience in a home theatre. On scenes that I found slow moving, say a long dialogue, especially on a movie that I have watched before, I found my attention switched to looking at the 'scenery', so to speak. There was so much more to be seen in the background on every scene. Even on the main characters, I'd be attracted by the details in the facial expression and the costume. On the calibrated projector, every scene was beautifully and naturally rendered.

My home movie watching experience has been transformed!

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