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TECH Q AND A: Would you recommend a 'one-time calibration' for plasma TV?

Q. I just bought a 42-inch Panasonic Viera plasma HDTV that I use with a digital antenna. The store was fairly adamant about me getting a "one-time calibration" for the sale price of $199 (regularly $299). I have not heard of anyone doing this. W...

Q. I just bought a 42-inch Panasonic Viera plasma HDTV that I use with a digital antenna. The store was fairly adamant about me getting a "one-time calibration" for the sale price of $199 (regularly $299). I have not heard of anyone doing this. Would you recommend it or is it a scam?

--J.S.

A. Professional television calibration goes into special hidden menus in the TV and adjusts the picture to be as close to as theoretically accurate as possible. The resulting picture can look a bit dim when it is "accurate" and many people prefer the TV without it.

Most people who have calibration done are enthusiasts with systems worth many thousands of dollars. It is not a scam (if the store is doing a proper calibration with the hidden menus and special measuring equipment, the price is fair) but I do not think it is worth it for an ordinary consumer watching regular broadcast TV. You can get excellent results by adjusting the picture settings yourself. The most important steps are to change the "Vivid" picture mode to "Standard" or "Movie" then turn the color temperature setting to warm. Fine tune the brightness and contrast to your tastes and room lighting and you will be greeted with a fine picture.

There are people in the TV retail business who agree with me. I spoke with Lafe Decker, proprietor of Triangle Audio and Video in Pittburgh, and asked his opinion after your question came in. Lafe has over 50 years of experience selling TVs and he agreed, perhaps feeling even more strongly about the subject. He said, "to say that a brand new TV selling for hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, now needs several hundred dollars worth of picture adjustments before you can watch it, is a bit much ... especially since the resulting picture is kind of dim and a lot of people won't like it as much as the regular settings."

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By the way, Lafe does have calbration services available for those who insist on it. Like me, he just doesn't see the value of a several-hundred-dollar calibration on a relatively inexpensive TV. Most of the people who insist on calibration are enthusiasts with expensive systems, want the most accurate picture possible, and are willing to control room light so the picture looks perfect and not too dim. If you are a home theater or serious TV buff, consider calibration. If not, try adjusting the picture yourself and save your money.

You should always be skeptical of in-store displays showing dramatic differences for cables, speakers, calibration services, etc. as the party doing the demonstrating can rig the results. For example, years ago I saw a store display with two identical standard-definition TVs playing the same DVD. One said "with component video connections" and the other said "with S-Video connections" the goal being to sell an expensive set of component cables. Component did look noticeably better, when the difference should have marginal at best. I looked at the picture settings and the component-connected TV was set to warm color tempererature, the S-Video TV to cool color temperature. I set the S-Video TV to warm so both TVs were set the same and the pictures were indistinguishable. The demonstration was rigged.

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