Super Bowl season is one of the busiest times of the year for TV sales—football fans want to watch the big game on a new big-screen television. But as most AVS Forum members know, those new TVs don't come out of the box looking their best. Ideally, they should be fully calibrated by a professional, but barring that, users should take a few minutes to adjust the basic picture controls, which can dramatically improve the picture quality.
In its ongoing effort to optimize the audio and video experience, THX today has released its first mobile app to help users tweak their TV for better performance. Called THX tune-up, the interactive app turns an iOS device (iPad 2, 3, 4, Mini; iPhone 4, 4S, 5; iPod Touch gen 4 or later) into a test-pattern generator with easy-to-follow spoken and written instructions on how to adjust your TV's aspect ratio, brightness, contrast, color, and tint controls. It also lets you verify that your speakers are connected to the correct amp outputs and are in the same phase.
To use THX tune-up, you need an Apple or Lightning Digital AV adaptor and HDMI cable to connect the iDevice to your AV receiver or, if your AVR doesn't have HDMI, directly to your TV. Alternatively, you can connect via Apple TV, though that reduces the resolution of the 1080p images to 720p on the second-generation Apple TV (the third-gen version supports 1080p). Also, going through an Apple TV limits the audio to 2.0; the only way to hear 5.1 audio is via HDMI.
The app is divided into four sections: Home, Equipment, Adjustments, and Extras. You start by entering the specific equipment you have—TV, AVR, number of speakers, etc. (The app can address up to 5.1 systems, not 7.1 due to limitations of iDevice software and hardware.) This allows the app to display graphics that pertain to your particular system.
Next, you adjust your TV's basic picture controls. Each of the controls addressed by the app—aspect ratio, brightness, contrast, color, and tint—is adjusted by looking at a test pattern on the TV screen followed by a photo that lets you check the effect of your tweak on a real-world image. (Sharpness is not yet included; I hope it is in a future version.) Each step of the way, you are guided by spoken or written instructions, which you can disable if you prefer.
The test patterns and photos are derived from the THX Optimizer program found on most THX-certified DVDs and some Blu-rays as well as the THX Calibration disc that is not generally available to end users. Unfortunately, iDevices cannot reproduce the entire range of brightness from 0 to 255; they are limited to the range from 16 to 235. So THX had to do some clever editing to make sure the brightness and contrast patterns produced reasonable results.
Because THX tune-up is a downloaded app, it can't come with a blue filter like physical setup discs, so THX developed a very clever workaround. The app applies a red filter to the iDevice's camera, which you point at the color and tint pattern as you adjust the corresponding control while looking at the iDevice's screen. Why red and not blue? According to THX, it's a particular shade of red that makes it easier to see the effect of changes on the iDevice screen.
Once the TV's basic picture controls are set, it's time to make sure the speakers are connected to the correct amp outputs with the sound of a "moo can" toy emanating from each speaker in turn. Then, pink noise is played in adjacent pairs of speakers to make sure they are connected with the same positive/negative polarity.
The Extras section of the app includes the famous THX "Deep Note" sound in 5.1, a selection of THX trailers, a function that converts the iDevice into a "moo can" (just turn it over like the classic toy), and a feature called Ask Tex (the THX mascot), which provides a way for users to submit questions to THX about their home theater equipment and setup process.
As I mentioned earlier, the THX tune-up app is available only for iOS devices; an Android version is planned for release in the spring. To help Super Bowl fans see the best picture for the big game, from now through Monday, Feb. 4, the app is available to download from the Apple app store for free anywhere in the world; after that, it will cost $1.99 in select countries, including the US and many Western nations.
Of course, the THX tune-up app does not provide full calibration capabilities—it's only meant to get your TV in the ballpark of optimum performance. But that's bound to be a far sight better than simply taking it out of the box and watching the game without touching the controls. I'm eager to try it out for myself, and I look forward to hearing what you think about it.