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Free HDTV Calibration Procedure

by Walter Waes August 16, 2016
Free HDTV Calibration Procedure

Free HDTV Calibration Procedure

Modern TV-sets are capable of displaying near perfect images. High-Resolution digital TV-reception and modern display technology allow this amazing technology into your home like never before. Unfortunately, in many homes, the factory settings of the TV leave much to be desired! The TV may have been purchased cash-and-carry in order to make the cheapest possible deal. Or, it was delivered to the home, but the installer had neither the time nor knowledge to adjust and optimize the device to the home environment.

You would expect that a new TV is preprogrammed to give the best results. Nothing could be further from the truth. The factory settings (aka. Torch Mode) are not conducive to the home environment as they are usually made to please the eye when seen in the brightly light store. The difference in a home environment is huge. In this article,we show you how to calibrate your display at no cost, be it a TV or a computer monitor, through visual settings only. It’s simple and straightforward! Just follow the steps as suggested.

Check out our very basic YouTube Instructional Video on how to Calibrate an HDTV Display using the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray.

Basic HDTV Calibration YouTube Video

There are professional installers that make TV and PC-monitor adjustments at high cost because:
    (1) It's time-consuming to fully calibrate a TV.
    (2) they use an expensive spectrophotometer/colorimeter that helps them adjust the colors exactly.

calibration 1.png        calibration2.jpg

A perfect situation would be to have an Intel Computer stick or a mini PC connected to your TV in order to display the test images. If you have a Smart-TV, you can go directly to the websites suggested in this article in order to display the proposed pictures. Because there are so many links to various other sites in this article, embed the URL into text links for most of them so you know where it is you're navigating to. This is the easiest way since there is no need to download or to copy the images. You can also buy calibration discs, like Spears and Munsil HD Benchmark or Disney WOW. These are great resources, but this article is focusing on free, web-based options.

If the TV cannot go directly to the image websites, the first requirement is to have enough PC-knowledge to find these or other useful test images online and download them in *.jpg or *.png format and put them on a flashdrive. These can then be read by most modern TV’s or, in the worst case with the lack of a USB input, the images can be put on a DVD and then viewed using a DVD player.

Before adjusting your screen, it's important to have realistic viewing conditions. Avoid as many environmental disturbances as possible. It is a good idea to have two adjustments saved in your TV or monitor, one for night (low light) and one for day (high light) conditions.  You can save and usually even label these as custom presets so you don't forget what they are for.

[Step 1] Brightness, Contrast and Tint settings

The first settings to adjust are the brightness and contrast. The best way to do this is with a particular black and white image only. These are the most important calibrations. The colors are set afterward and it will be much easier to do when the saturation and contrast are already set.

If you can go online with your TV (Smart TV) or monitor, click on the following image, or go to: PhotoFriday

brighness and contrast.png

The instructions on how to do the adjustments can conveniently be read on the image itself. Easy.

At the top of the image, you see a scale from black to white with 25 shades marked from A to Z. Here you have to work with brightness and contrast until you see them all just right. In addition, the two spheres and the upright bars show the extreme ends of the gray-scales further apart. The two spheres have three circles; you should barely be able to recognize ABC and XYZ. The same applies to the upright A and B / Z and Y.

Again, you need to adjust the brightness and the contrast of your monitor until tones that are lighter than full black are clearly distinguishable and tones immediately darker than very white are distinguishable from full white.

Alternatively, you watch this Youtube Video and use the B/W-image, but adjust Brightness and Contrast the way we explained it here.

In case you prefer to use the Youtube videos to do the calibrations, it is a good idea to stream them from your smartphone to your TV using a Chromecast- stick. In doing so, you do not copy from your smartphone, but the Chromecast takes it directly from your network! It's a first generation video.

calibration3.png       calibration4.png    calibration5.png

[Step 1.1]  

The first adjustment to correct is Contrast. You adjust it until you see the white (highlights) the best you can, until you can still see the three XYZ at near max. level. Check the three lightest tones only = 0, 8, 16.

[Step 1.2]

The next calibration setting is Brightness.  Although we adjust contrast first, the brightness is without any doubt the most important adjustment. Look at the black level (shadows) and move the cursor until you distinguish the ABC levels – or in the video the 236, 245 and 255 levels.

With brightness set correctly, you go back to contrast and check this again because there is interaction between the two. Switch between brightness and contrast until you see ABC, XYZ or alternatively 0, 8, 16 and 236, 245 and 255 just about right.


Using the TV-menu, be sure to set the color(s) to 0.

If you want to save other B/W-images and put them on a flashdrive using your PC, you can also find convenient images to download here.

Scroll through the images and save the ones you want. At the very least, the black level and white saturation pictures should be used. These images are in *.png format, which most TV’s can display. If you find appropriate test images that are not in *.jpg or *.png format, convert them using any basic photo editor, like Paint.

calibration7.png      calibration8.png

Now you can move the color slider from its 0 position to ±50 (in case it goes from 0 to 100), the tint should be about in the middle and the backlight should be set to a bit more than the middle setting.

Check if the grayscale is neutral without any color shift. If it is not neutral gray, you move the tint cursor until it is.

Note: It may sound strange, but as mentioned above, setting the B/W images correctly is the most important adjustment for your TV or monitor colors.

[Step 2] The color settings

Note: With the contrast and brightness set correctly, we can  now go to color and tint.

For a PC monitor, Windows includes its own simple color calibration tool. Go to Settings > Monitor > Advanced monitor settings > Calibrate monitor colors > Next.

Follow the Wizard instructions. Most monitors have their own calibration settings. In this case, follow the instructions in the monitor’s manual. You can use the images and/or the Youtube videos suggested in this document.

If your operating system or monitor doesn't have a built-in calibration program, look at the photo slideshow here.

Set the slideshow to Slow by clicking ”slow” at the bottom-right of the page. If you want to calibrate the color on your television using still-pictures on a USB-stick, save the images on your computer first and transfer them to your flashdrive. 


This is the slideshow with all the images as thumbnails shown at the bottom.


This is image 3/15.  Perfect for skin tones.

For best results, work with color and tint. Also, move the backlight up and down until it is well adjusted for your room viewing conditions:

1. Backlight (If you are lucky enough to have an OLED-TV, there is no backlight);
2. Contrast (should be OK with the first "Photo Friday" B/W-image!);
3. Brightness (should be OK with the same B/W-image!);
4. Color intensity;
5. Tint G ← → R (balance between green and red).


If you do not want to be bothered with downloading the photos, at least use this Youtube video for color, besides the one used above for B/W:

calibration12.png     calibration13.png     calibration 14.png

There are options to adjust the sharpness as well, unfortunately these adjustments tend to create a contour-line around edges. Just be careful to not turn up sharpness too high.

If you want to understand a bit more about colors, this is a helpful website.

Some interesting Youtube videos on the subject:

These videos are interesting, but the procedures are somewhat different than what is explained in this document, which gives you great results at 0 cost.

All about THX


Know how... 47: Calibrating Your TV

CNET how To - Calibrate your TV by eye

Simple TV Calibration (LED LCD)

TV Calibration by Geek Squad

Helpful, but not necessary: 

  • Blu-Ray DVD: DVD essentials at Amazon for $ 20.
  • THX tune up app for iOs (mobile). A program for iOs devices.
  • Windows Media Center on Windows 7 (not on 10) has its own calibration tool.
  • Note: Using glasses with blue filters for certain THX-calibrations, you see in some videos, is doable, but the characteristics of the filter must correspond with Kodak Wratten #47. This is not the case in a pair that cost only a few dollars.

There you have it.  Let us know how this procedure worked out on your HDTV and/or if you have other tips you'd like to share in our related forum thread below.

Confused about what AV Gear to buy or how to set it up? Join our Exclusive Audioholics E-Book Membership Program!


Recent Forum Posts:

DigitalD posts on August 13, 2018 13:15
Hello, does anyone know what to do or how to use the free “Sony” Easter egg calibration tests? Spider-Man Homecoming has different tests on its Blu-Ray and it’s 4K Blu-ray via HDR10. Type 7669 on the movie main menu and a bunch of tests pop up. Does anyone know what to do here?
Dra'vek posts on July 09, 2017 19:04
I used the Spears & Munsil HD Benchmark 2nd Edition disc to calibrate my Sony KDL46EX500 television. Although I calibrated it correctly, as far as I can tell, the picture now looks muted/dull regardless of the room lighting conditions. Does anyone have any suggestions? The colors all look right. Again, just duller. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!
WaWa posts on August 24, 2016 05:23
Of course there are several ways to do a good calibration of the TV-image and there are as many preferences. The main message in the described procedure here is to do a very good setup of a black and white image first and only after this adjusting the color.

The pictures proposed are widely used to calibrate monitors and printers. They are the first choice in the graphic arts and are used to calibrate printing presses as well. They are free to use and easy to find via the links in the article.

We hope that many people reading this article will use it and enjoy a perfect image together with good sound as it is easy and cost nothing.
mr sarnoff posts on August 20, 2016 17:33
BoredSysAdmin, post: 1149867, member: 28046
Much easier way to get similar results:
Step 1) Open TV setup menu
Step 2) Find and set “Cinema” picture mode (unfortunately - not all TVs will have it, but likely most will)
Step 3) You're all done. Get a cold beverage and enjoy

p.s: Looks like someone (@Cliff_is) is missing a donkey -

All that depends on the TV but some of them are at least nearly accurate to D65 white and bt709 like that …..OTOH all that may not look so hot on the usual color stripped CATV/SAT DBS HDTV either ?
mr sarnoff posts on August 20, 2016 16:59
Very good article

I used the (free) AVS HD709 calibration and sharpness and over scan patterns direct from a USB HDD into my 2015 4K Sony XBR HDR TV and Samsung 64f8500 Plasma to make basic calibration /visual adjustments without a colorimeter with good results but a lot of that always depends on the TV ofc.
the 90% color patterns are decent for all that IMO but basic instructions are there too.

As was mentioned in the aricle .You can buy a Calibration DVD or BD You can also download the (free) AVS HD709 mp4 ,DVD or BD files at AVS forums and use a USB stick or PC also .

Disney Wow is more consumer oriented and well liked and Spears & Munsil is more technical and highly regarded .

I used some AVS HD709 calibration patterns and images to set 4:2:0 video levels and .016 ref.black levels and color saturation so it wont clip colors and detail within the 4:2:0 range for TV and media and 4:4:4 /RGB full on PC input .

FWIW the best result on my Sony XBR is 49-50 on both Sharpness and Black level like any recent Sony HDR set and Sharpness gets soft below 48- 49 and shows edge enhancement at ~ 53 -54 it's virtually impossible to do correctly without a good test pattern.

This Sony XBR panels dynamic range can take a max back-light setting without washing out the colors ,graying the blacks or clipping also YMMV .

I used the same images on my legendary Samsung 1080p 64f8500 Plasma out front and I have day /nite and more vivid than strictly accurate bt709 calibrations stored in both sets also.

I have my 4K HDR Sony XBR with a Triluminous wide color gamut panel remapping the 8 bit 4:2:0 color convincingly to a wider nearly P3 DCI 10 bit color gamut outside of the 2 Cinema modes in bt 2020 color space mode with the caveat to keep the color saturation in the 40's most of the time ?

All that makes color stripped SAT/CABLE TV look remarkably better as it does with a 5 star blue ray .

TV's like regular SDR 8 bit panel LED TV's make lousy primary and 8 bit color gradations with color banding because of the LED light spectrum for one example example on the 10 bit WCG panels Fire Engine Red ,Navy Blue and Coke a Cola Red and other colors are clearly more realistic like a Plasma without clipping detail at day or nite by remapping the color up to a plausible 10 bits in the Sony or a decent Samsung ……..anything else brand wise and it's caveat emptor and may look terrible over saturated or solarized like all that but keep on mind we an see 14 bit color so one can imagine 8 bit color is way off by billions of colors and even without color re mapping these WCG HDR sets may have have substantially better color than an SDR LCD set anyway and I have enough plausibly decent TV's here for a decent frame of reference like all that .

Color wise without clipping detail the only thing that comes decently close to the new WCG HDR Sonys and Samsung's outside of LG OLED is the the legendary Samsung 64f8500 Plasma here and legendary VT/VZ Panasonic Plasma's and ofc. the legendary Pioneer Kuro's I've seen .

If you have one of these above you are missing out although some of the down market Plasma's are certainly very good in thier own.

I had a PN 51f 5300 Samsung plasma just before the PN 64f8500 Sammy Plasma and that thing still ain't no joke all day ?

I recommend an inexpensive HDTV LED adhesive back-light strip or up light for any TV at night it lessens eye strain and enhances already very good contrast on a decent VA LCD panel or poor contrast on an IPS LCD panel and it doesent hurt a decent Plasma either .

One or two of these 65D white Antec Bias Lighting for HDTV kits will do, one strip is for a 51-55 even 60 -65 easy even though it say 51“ ” they have them $17.49 cheap at Amazon or maybe something at one of the sponsors here for any number of more sophisticated ambient back lights and maybe even some D65 genuinely calibrated back lights also .

I'm not a fan of colored TV panel ambient back lights ofc. YMMV .

Of course I'm not saying a competently used enthusiasts colorimeter and software and or a professional calibrator wont give better results but it looks pretty darn good here on the 2015 4K HDR Sony and Samsung 1080p 64f8500 Plasma above and another 2013 1080P 40“Sony an2013 1080p 42”LG LED here anyway .

I don't feel I need to have my TV ‘s professionally calibrated because the Sony XBR 4K HDR and Samsung 64f8500 can make your jaw drop just like they are and the Somy cinema home and cinema pro modes are known to be nearly dead accurate and I didn’t change anything in those modes other than maxing the back light but I more often use my own more vivid custom /standard mode calibrations anyway ?

At the very least a casual visual calibration with test patterns will give you a starting point and or some knowledge for minor preference tweaks without clipping details and shadow details and overs saturated colors like in store torch modes and some factory pre sets .

Note: with production and environmental lighting tolerances being what they are copying settings off the web is not usually a good thing .same for some factory presets although the movie /cinema /theater pre set modes tend to be more accurate for approximate film content calibration and bt709 standards .

Check out the Video below and see what proper basic test patterns look like .

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