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Plasma Calibration without Spending a Single Dime

By Vince Teoh

Ok, you've gone out and bought a brand spanking new plasma TV, but how do you make sure that you're getting the best picture out of it? To do that you need to adjust the picture settings on your plasma TV, otherwise known as "plasma calibration" in the AV industry.

Before you start, you should know that the best calibration for your plasma TV will depend on your source material (i.e. what you're watching), your input device (e.g. DVD player or satellite box) and the amount of ambient light in your home environment... among other things. You should also be aware that your plasma TV needs to be run in for at least 200 hours to allow the phosphors to stabilize, or else you will have to repeat your plasma TV calibration in the future.

You may not own a plasma TV calibration DVD, so this article will try to walk you through the steps using readily available material. Remember to use the best available connection to connect your input device to your plasma TV. In descending order, the cleanest signal (and hence best picture quality) can be obtained via: HDMI = DVI > VGA = component > SCART (RGB) > S-Video > Composite.

  1. Adjust Brightness. This actually determines the black level on your plasma TV: too high a setting and black will look gray; too low and dark grays are swallowed into blackness. To set brightness to its proper level, simply play a DVD with lots of black scenes (e.g. opening scene from Star Wars). Now crank your brightness up until the black on your plasma TV look gray, then slowly dial your brightness down until the black in the movie JUST matches the black on the black bars on top and bottom of the movie.
  2. Adjust Contrast. This determines the white level and is responsible for how much light your plasma TV actually emits. To set contrast correctly, play a DVD scene containing a shiny bald head/forehead (e.g. The Fifth Element). Now increase contrast until the bald patch is glaringly hurting your eyes, and then tone it down until you're satisfied that you can see all the detail within the white.
  3. Adjust Sharpness. For most poorly-encoded source material you want to use this to enhance the edges, but if done excessively this will introduce haloing and ringing around edges. It's best to bring up a "User Menu" (from your DVD, satellite box, etc) to adjust sharpness: increase it until lots of ringing artifacts occur around the edges of the words, then decrease it until the ringing just disappears.
  4. Adjust Color. Color can either be too saturated or too dull... either way the picture will not look right, with the most noticeable errors found in skin tones and green foliage. As a rough guide, you can use a DVD scene with a hand and tinker with the color until the color matches that of your own hand.

What I've described above is 4 basic steps for plasma calibration using only what's available to you. If you wish to strive for more accuracy you can get a HDTV calibration DVD, but you’ll need to know which one to buy and how to use it to calibrate plasma TV because the majority of them are still catered for the CRT market.

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