No HDTV will look its best using the out of the box picture settings and that’s why a Blu-ray calibration disc like the Spears & Munsil 2nd Edition is worthwhile investment. With it , the user picture controls can be set properly to optimize the picture under your particular viewing conditions. The details are after the break.
HDTVs picture quality out of the box varies greatly from one make and model to another, however they are never at the optimal setting. This is due in part to all viewing environments have different levels of ambient lighting. Because of this and production variations of each HDTV, one can’t just copy the settings from someone else and not have the best image possible.
Beginners and Experts alike will want to start with the disc’s first section: Video Calibration. This section handles setting the basic controls on your display or Blu-ray player, and makes sure the user controls are correctly set while explaining why they are important. The S&M disc aids in setting the following controls:
- Brightness and Contrast- These control the black and white levels of your display proper adjustment affects your TV’s contrast ratio. Proper adjustment makes the biggest impact in viewing, which is why we focus so much on black and white levels with displays., Getting these correct is incredibly important.
- Color and Tint- These controls are artifacts from analog color TVs, but on many displays they still need to be adjusted, as the default might be incorrect.
- Sharpness- Too low and you lose detail, too high and you’ll get artifacts instead of with more detail.
- Color Temperature- Typically you can only set this correctly with a specialized meter; the pattern on Spears & Munsil is designed to help you eyeball the closest to optimum choice.
- Colorspace- The colorspace defines how image information is stored and communicated between devices. The HDTV standard allows for different types of colorspaces, but some devices handle them differently. Set in your Blu-ray player, Spears & Munsil contains the only authoritative patterns I know of to set this correctly, and demonstrate clearly what your player or display might be doing wrong.
- Gamma- Gamma is how quickly a display moves from the darkest blacks to the whitest whites. If it is too high or too low, your image is either too dark, or too washed out. You can only optimally adjust gamma correctly with proper test equipment, but patterns on Spears & Munsil help you choose the correct value (typically 2.4) for your mid-tones. It isn’t perfect, but it is much better than randomly guessing.
Each pattern also has on-screen help, and there are extensive notes and instructions available online at the Spears & Munsil website.
With the exception of Color Space, most setup and test discs (Disney WOW, Digital Video Essentials) already have test patterns, so what sets Spears & Munsil apart? First, the patterns are all designed by Spears and Munsil. Instead of simply reusing the standard Color Bars test pattern, they have designed new Color and Tint patterns that are much easier to get to right setting. Second, many of the test patterns are also available in 3D, an advancement for a consumer calibration disc. As 3D glasses totally change all of these settings, you will need to create separate 2D and 3D settings.
Spears & Munsil goes far beyond just these basic video settings. Want to know are the correct settings for television’s deinterlacer? There is a whole section of video processing tests to make sure the correct setting is used. Trying to verify the correct screen aspect ratio that doesn’t crop pixels or introduce distortion? Patterns for those are available as well. Interested in testing motion resolution? S&M is the first consumer calibration disc to provide this test pattern. Also included are advanced test patterns for users with specialized test gear. For anything you want to test or evaluate on a display or a Blu-ray player you will find the patterns on Spears & Munsil Blu-ray disc. Many reviewers, including myself, have been using the first edition disc for years to push the limits of testing; the new edition’s test patterns continue to raise the bar.
Beyond video, there are sections of audio tests with tones to make sure that speakers are wired in phase, and to set the levels correct with a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) Meter. Most receivers now include a microphone and an automated setup routine, but those microphones are often inaccurate compared to a $30 Radio Shack SPL Meter or a $0.99 iOS or Android app. S&M also includes audio signals for setting speaker distances, however this can also be done with a tape measure.
A friend using an automated setup routine discovered that it set his left speaker was over 10 decibels louder than the right one, which means the left channel was more than twice as loud! Even if you utilize the automated setup and room calibration, it is worth the 10 minutes to verify the settings.
For every display, Blu-ray player, or other device that comes into my house, I use a copy of Spears & Munsil to help evaluate their performance. For $30, this disc it will help you get your setup as optimized as possible without purchasing expensive test equipment and is the next best thing to a full professional ISF calibration. We high recommended the Spears and Munsil 2nd Edition for anyone that wants greatly improve the image on their HDTV.
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