I am closing in on a new set (56H80,65H80,MM52,MM61) but I wanted to know how often these rear projectors need to be calibrated. Is it just once after they settle or once every year? Are they just unwatchable without the service?
They aren't unwatchable, but it makes little sense to spend that much and not have it correctly calibrated. If the person is knowledgable and has the right equipment, the difference will be significant (the exact amount depends on how bad yours is when it arrives, but usually they are pretty bad.)
Once the big work is done, you can do the little periodic maintenance work yourself. You'll mainly just do a little work to keep the convergence good. You can do this ever two or three months if you aren't obsessive about it, or more often if you are. That's usually the only thing that will require periodic tweaking. Perhaps after a couple years you can always get someone to take another whack at it. But, if you follow these forums and do a bit of study, in a couple of years you'll know how to do it yourself if you want to.
in my opinion, the most important (and typically non-owner do-able) adjustment is to the grey scale. It requires a colorimeter and access to the secret service codes. Look at a black and white image to see if you have varying, discernable color in areas of different light intensity. The adjustment consists of setting the color output to a pure white (no green, blue or red tint, measured with the colorimeter reading the screen, for all levels of light intensity.
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