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How to set up a flat-screen TV: Start with the manual

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Following our hugely popular series on How to Buy a Flat Screen TV, readers have clamoured for a follow-up on setting up the TV. Our audio-visual expert, JOEL KOPPING, guides you through the process of calibrating a new TV.

The first thing you need to do once you’ve unpacked your new flat screen TV and connected it to your DVD player, DSTV and antennae, is to go back to the box, and find the manual.

Now sit down and read through it. Yes, it’s a pain. Yes, you’ve been told real gadget lovers don’t read the manual. But it won’t take you long and, from personal experience, I can assure you that this simple act will save you time and frustration further down the line. If nothing else, you will at least know where all the TV’s control buttons are, and this is useful when you lose the remote or the batteries run flat.

You’re now ready to turn on your new pride and joy for the first time, and start setting it up.

The chances are that, when you turned on the TV, it started to search for TV stations. If you have a TV aerial connected, let it complete this scan before interrupting. As soon as the scan for stations is complete, you can rearrange the stations and put TV1 in slot 1 and TV2 in slot 2, and so on.

Since you’ve read the manual, this task should be easy. If you didn’t read the manual, enjoy that age-old gadget game of trial and error.

Some TVs, first time round, may even tell you that they are in Shop Mode and may ask if this should change to Home mode. Allow this now, unless you like your TV to be much too bright, have colours that are over-saturated, and you enjoy the feeling of your eyes wanting to jump out of your head as the retinas are burned with super bright TV images after only a few minutes.

My next recommended step would be to enter the TV menu and make a few small changes.

I suggest moving the TV mode from any Vivid or Bright mode, to one labelled something like Standard or Normal mode. If the TV has a colour temperature setting, move this from one of the cold modes ‚ everything on screen looks a little bright and blue ‚ to a standard or warm mode.

The next step is … do nothing for a few days.

This is because, like most electronic equipment, your new TV will have to run in, or rather settle in a little before it reaches optimum performance.

Okay, so your TV has now been running for a few days, Now it’s time to set it up properly.

The first aspect of TV performance you have to look at is your room.

How bright or dark is your room?

Do you usually watch TV with the room bright or dark?

This is important because, if you set up your TV in a dark room and then watch it in a bright room, it will display poor contrast and look washed out. On the other hand, Darren, if you set your TV up in a bright room and then watch in a dark room, it will look too bright and vivid.

One recommendation is to use two separate settings on a TV, one for day viewing and one for night-time viewing. I usually try to set TVs at a compromise between the two extremes.

My point here is that your room and its lighting and even changing from old incandescent light bulbs to energy saving ones will affect what you see on screen.

With room lighting set, you can now move on to setting up your TV. But to do this properly, you will need either professional calibration equipment and calibrator (the best but most expensive option), a specialised set-up DVD, or test patterns that you’ve downloaded from the Internet. You can find some nice patterns and information on how to use them at http://www.xyhd.tv/slates/ . Download and burn it to a DVD or copy it to a memory stick. Another option is to look through you DVD collection and find a title that has a THX set-up section. You may have to look at the extras for this, but I’ve found it on both Cars and The Incredibles.

Alternatively, something that also works really well is simply to take some photos of your family, load these on to a USB memory stick or burn them to a CD. All you then do is get little Arthur or Sean to stand next to the TV while you view their picture on screen. All you the need to do is make adjustments until the on-screen little one looks similar to the real one.

Another recommendation is that you turn off all of the fancy processing on the TV when you start setting your TV up. This is because I’ve found that it’s difficult to set, for example, brightness, when the TV’s built-in sensor is telling its video processor to turn brightness up while I’m trying to turn it down.

With all processing off, your test DVD loaded into a player, the little one Velcroed to the wall next to your TV, and the TV allowed to warm up for a half hour or so, you can now start to set it up.

As most calibration software works in a similar manner, I’ll only briefly go into how the THX Optimiser works.

Here the first thing you will do is set contrast. Contrast is used to set your TV’s white level, and here you will want to see all the boxes on screen. If you don’t see all of them, turn contrast down until you see them. If contrast is too high, you will lose detail in bright areas.

Next you will set brightness and, once again, you will want to see as many bars as possible.

In a strange TV anomaly, brightness is not used to set how bright the TV is. It is in fact used to set a TV’s black level, and if this setting is too high, you will lose detail in dark areas and your TV won’t be able to show deep black levels.

As brightness and contrast interact with each other, you may have to go backward and forward a few times to find the best balance between these two settings.

Section three is usually called Colour and Tint and, to use these test patterns properly, you need a blue filter. Don’t worry if you don’t have one: we’ll work around it. If you do have a filter or can get one, all you need to do is adjust Colour and Tint until the grey bars ‚ as seen through the filter ‚ all blend into each other.

Next up is Sharpness although it doesn’t actually add sharpness to images at all. It does draw a white line around images. This makes them seem brighter and they tend to pop out of the screen a little. It looks impressive but it is artificial. By turning sharpness down, you may think that your on-screen images aren’t as sharp, but they will look more natural.

Now you can set Aspect Ratio and the test patterns here will help ensure that round objects are round and that people don’t appear tall and thin or short and fat.

Finally, were moving back to colour. If you don’t have the filter mentioned, I would recommend that you watch a movie with real people in it. Look at their skin tones and adjust colour until they look natural. Not pale and not too red and splotchy. This is really where little Sean or Arthur stuck next to the TV and his on-screen picture comes in handy.

Basic calibration is now over and you should be able to watch TV for longer, see more information on screen and generally have a more pleasurable viewing experience.

You won’t have set Gamma or White Balance. For these you need a colorimeter and someone who knows how to use it ‚ but your TV should perform a whole lot better than it did before.

Before patting yourself on the back, I have one more suggestion.

Grab a piece of paper, write down your settings and file this somewhere safe. This makes it far easier to dial in your saved settings after the TV decides to return to factory settings by itself ‚ ‚No, dad, I didn’t touch the TV, I swear‚ – or to copy them from one TV input to another.

Now sit back and enjoy.

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