Originally Posted by DarkMagic
Hi all. In another life, I was a commercial special effects director in NYC. My specialty demanded I acquire a very keen eye for color, contrast, and most especially, the difference between "hyped" looking video, and video that had that "ahhh" film look like we're used to in theaters (assuming a calibrated projector/screen of course).
After reading a lot of these calibration settings and after exploring my 46"XBR3 for a week now, I thought I could add some random thoughts (in no particular order) that I hope will add to the discussion of what is the best calibration. I'll post my reflections first, then I'll relate my conclusions and advice for best setup. I'll split this post up when I have to.
1) Most obvious. Contrast is a very subjective attribute. Our eyes really cannot perceive all levels of brightness, therefore our brains make assumptions based on surrounding light levels. So the proper settings for basic brightness and contrast are very dependent on how bright your viewing room is. The bad news is, unless our viewing rooms are a) In the cellar or b) In a room that we can darken to the same low brightness level anytime we want day or night, our perceptions of black levels and extreme white levels are going to change throughout the day.
I believe this explains the large difference in posted settings for contrast, brightness, black corrector, gamma, advanced C.E. and DRC.
In my case, my set is in a room that is quite bright in daytime, but also has dark walls which enhance night viewing. The Sony is quite capable of handling both extremes, but there's no one setting that will get you both. Even calibrating two settings creates a twilight viewing condition that is in between too bright and too dark. This may or may not be a necessary evil as we'll see.
2) Color Saturation: Film has a very natural smooth quality about it (it is not edgy and it is not razor sharp all the time. As a film director I often filled rooms with fake smoke just to soften and diffuse the look. Trying to work past this intentional diffusion is counter to the intent of the director), but getting the XBR to look like film (whatever is showing) is a great goal to achieve. Part of this has to do with color saturation. Video, unlike film, can achieve a completely unnatural level of color intensity. Obviously nobody seriously considers vivid as a mode that expresses natural colors, but even with custom settings, color can be like candy, you want that sugar high, but it's kind of empty calories.
Light skin color is actually very pale and unsaturated in reality. Make-up helps that a bit, but it's important to separate what is make-up color and what looks real life. Darker skin color can also suffer from too much saturation in the lower gray scale (and too much of what I call crushed blacks that hide detail in the same way). That's two different adjustments that are called for. Both are equally important to preserve.
Finally, colors should not glow whatsoever. This has been and still is the most overblown color on any TV set. Look at any bright color on a glossy photograph in the same room as your Sony. If the TV's color seems brighter or more vibrant than that photograph, you've got too much color cranked in. Unless, of course, you like that sort of non-reality. But I don't think that's why you'd be reading these forums.
3) Sharpness vs. Viewing Distance: Simply put, the closer to the set you are going to sit, the less enhancement (like DRC, sharpness, detail enhancement and edge enhancer) is needed. Not only is HD already inherently sharp, and this set is after all, capable of full 1080 resolution, the people who created the films and TV shows are already adding sharpness to their pictures. Trying to compensate for transmission loss of detail is very tricky. It's like adding sharpness to digital photos. A little is effective. Too much does not bring you back what was lost. That is unrecoverable (and the range of quality of HD broadcasts is still appalling).
Now, compensating for viewing distance is another matter. Chances are, when someone is using DRC with some Reality and Clarity pumped in, they are more than likely sitting on a couch with the Sony over the fireplace or on a stand or wall across a living room or great room. Which is fine, it's great to have. But remember, when you're sitting up close with your Sony, just because you got it, it doesn't mean you have to use gobs of sharpening.
4) Cloud effect: After studying the XBR3, I can say that I do buy into some of what Sony is saying about the cloud effect. The fact is, this set's backlight is extremely bright out of the box, as in, I've rarely sat in front of any HDTV (including my DLP rear projector) that made my eyes hurt when displaying whites in the picture like this set can, especially in a darkened room (daylight is a different story). My point is, without rehashing the cloud thread, this set is capable of incredibly bright contrast, way beyond what is comfortable on a typical movie theater screen, and that same capability is part of what (IMHO) creates the dual problems of any imperfections in the LCD screen being all the more visible, and the feeling that you want to put a lid on the brightness at times even when using already low settings of contrast and backlight. If you find yourself squinting at the light fixture in a shot of Law and Order, your white levels are too high.
5) Black enhancement: This set has more ways to adjust it's grayscale and black levels and amount of detail in the blacks than I've ever seen. But relative to my prior point above, it's obvious to me that a lot of these Black Corrector's and Advanced C.E. and Gamma are all designed to fix or compensate for a too high level of backlight. I'm sure you've seen what happens using the default backlight levels when you turn off all these black level adjustments you get pure gray mush. The LCD's are only capable of X number of steps of gray. Crank up the backlight, and you have to compensate somehow.
My point is, if you keep the backlight level low, you will find you can easily leave most of the black level options off. Before you dismiss a low backlight setting as too dark, first get rid of all the black level processing.
6) Power Settings: In my opinion, these settings are like using a meat cleaver when a paring knife is what is called for. Increasing the power saving settings does such a smackdown on the backlight that it's very difficult to get any snap back into the picture. The gamma also gets all screwy. So I don't recommend the Power Settings.
HOWEVER, here's my little bit of heresy: I actually like the Light Sensor on (see Settings Menu). In fact, this is the best implementation of this option I've seen in any set I've owned. It actually tracks very well from daylight to night. The secret is to set it up at night, and let it track upward in the daylight. You're going to have to turn off all kinds of black enhancements once this is on (including gamma), but I was able to get an extremely pleasing picture with uncrushed blacks using this option.
So what does this all mean? This Sony is a wonderful set. It has enough adjustments to make anyone happy in my opinion. However, this is also it's Achilles heel. So is the extreme amount of white level it can pump out. So if we were to attack the adjustment of this set with all this in mind, here's what I would recommend:
1) Lower the backlight level before you lower contrast (contrast is actually a misnomer, what you are actually adjusting is how bright the white levels are relative to the blacks. In high quality sets, as you change contrast, black levels should change very little or not at all. only the whites should change.). When you think about it, lowering contrast instead of backlight merely changes the most transparent settings of the LCD pixels, therefore you are actually reducing the dynamic range of the picture by not allowing the pixels to open up 100%. Get that backlight level down first, then see if you can boost contrast to compensate. Or try the heretical idea of turning on the Light Sensor first.
2) Once you've got the backlight level down, start turning off all the black level processors. You'll be surprised how well the image responds.
3) Try some of the settings listed already in this thread. Try avoiding DRC unless you're sitting a good distance away from the set.
4) Remember that one person's White Balance (Gray Scale) is just a starting point. In the end, get a color that makes you go ahhhh most of the time, but pick your sources carefully. With this level of HDTV, you can and will see flesh tones change from shot to shot, let alone from program to program. Go for a happy medium overall. Also remember that your cable/sat box may not be pumping out perfect color. Heck, your content provider may be mucking up the color as well. You may have to compensate away from so-called calibrated settings to maximize your experience.