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Chapter 4. Playing with Hardware > Tune Your TV for Console Video

Hack 42. Tune Your TV for Console Video

Calibrate your video display device to see more of the game.

Today's games have resolution and details that will tax your display to its limit. A properly adjusted sharpness setting will reward you by showing off the spectacular details in Halo, and a correctly set black level will allow you to see Sam Fisher lurking in the shadows of Splinter Cell. Hooking up your console with the best connection possible ( [Hack #41] ) is only half the battle. You must calibrate the monitor settings: the brightness (black level), contrast, sharpness, and color balance controls.

4.9.1. Setting Up Your Television the Right Way

There are many misconceptions about what looks good. Default television settings that make them stand out from one another on the showroom floor are disastrously horrible (and potentially damaging) if you keep these settings once the set is in your home. The best and most efficient way to tune your TV yourself is with a testing-and-calibration DVD such as Digital Video Essentials or Avia Guide to Home Theater. These test discs will guide you through all the adjustments necessary in order to calibrate your display for its highest possible performance. They cover a wide gamut of settings, including audio setup help. Although they're expensive, they are a great investment. Currently, outfits such as Netflix.com don't offer these discs for rental, but a local video shop might have them available.

You might already have a calibration disc at home without even knowing it! Many THX-certified DVDs (http://www.thx.com/), including Star Wars Episode I and Episode II, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo, include the THX Optimizer calibration program. Dedicated calibration discs include a blue plastic lens to help you fine-tune your color and tint. You can order this lens from THX online.

To give you a great example of what tweaking your video settings can do to improve your television's picture right now, go into your TV's menu settings and turn the sharpness control all the way off. Setting the sharpness control at a high level turns on an artificial edge-enhancement that produces ringing or noise around objects in your picture. This added noise actually obscures the picture and makes small details impossible to see.

On some televisions, turning the sharpness all the way off also deactivates Scan Velocity Modulation, a dubious enhancement. Be aware, however, that some televisions actually induce an artificial blur at a low sharpness setting that can obscure the picture as much as a noise-inducing high setting can. This is where a test disc comes in handy to guide you to the optimal setting.

4.9.2. ISF Calibration

Another approach is to contact the nearest Imaging Science Foundation (http://www.imagingscience.com/) technician to calibrate your monitor. This servicing will take your display to the next level. The technician will set the grayscale, calibrate the brightness, and dial in the convergence to a degree that you or I probably can't. He will enter the television's service menu to set some very high-level adjustments. Almost all monitors will benefit from this level of calibration.

I'm sure that you can dig around the Net and find the service menu codes yourself, but this is one hack that I don't recommend. You can really, really screw up your set by doing the wrong thing in there. Leave that stuff to the professional hackers—the ISF guys.

4.9.3. Make Your Monitor Remember

Many monitors today have the ability to set up different modes, meaning that you can calibrate and save different settings underneath, say, theater and normal modes. If you have direct sunlight on your monitor during part of the day, consider separate settings for day and night. You might even consider rearranging your setup to minimize ambient light hitting the screen.

A good way to make a day/night mode work for you is to go through your settings in the evening with a calibration DVD and set your monitor "by the book" for optimal lighting conditions. Then, save these settings to the movie or theater mode that almost every modern TV has. After you've set everything up according to Hoyle, feel free to experiment with boosting the contrast and brightness to overcome daytime lighting conditions. For the daytime settings, use the normal or game modes. You might use your calibration disc again, or simply set it up for what looks best to you with your favorite game. Now you have two different modes optimized for daytime and evening lighting conditions.

Be aware that extremely high amounts of contrast (sadly, often the factory setting) will allow your monitor to bloom or overdrive the white signals on your set. This kind of overvoltage will overpower other colors on the screen and distort the geometry of the picture. Worse still, a high contrast setting will shorten the life of the picture tube, especially on rear-projection and plasma displays, increasing the likelihood of burn-in.

Try to find the setting that allows you to see the greatest degree of difference between black and white, without blooming on the monitor or washing out the blacks. Even the best-performing monitors are no match for direct sunlight. Consider spending $100 on quality blinds or a weekend to rearranging your living room; you could coax another year or two of useful life from your television.

You can also sometimes save a mode to a certain input or turn off unused inputs, depending on the TV. I'm as big of a Han Solo as everyone else, but this is where reading the manual comes in handy.

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