Don’t do this when you are tired or pissed off because it can get you even more tired and pissed off (and I’m speaking from experience). Considering you are not tired nor pissed off let’s get cracking!
Select the Mode
If your plasma TV allows you to switch between different modes, you should do this first. Common picture mode settings are Normal/Standard, Movie, Film, Theater, Cinema, Sports, Pro, Professional, Pure, Dynamic and Vivid. You should avoid Sports and Dynamic and especially Vivid which will wear up your plasma TV screen faster and are highly probable to offer very incorrect and unnatural image reproduction. In worst case choose Normal/standard. If you have Movie, Film, Theater, Cinema, Pro, Professional or Pure choose one of those. Try each of them and see how the picture looks using different signals (SD TV channel, HD TV channel, DVD, HD DVD or Blue Ray). Depending on that and what you intend to watch on a regular basis choose a picture mode from the recommended ones.
Disable Image “Enhancements”
Many modern plasma TVs have settings that are supposed to enhance the image. Such enhancements have names like Autocolor, Color Correction, Autocontrast, Noise Reduction, Edge Enhancement, Detail Enhancement, Flesh Tone, Black Level, etc. Unfortunately, if you have a good video source, usually they do more bad than good. Do try each of them the same way as you did with the “mode” setting and see how they affect the picture. You might notice that on certain types of content they have a positive influence – for example in the case of standard definition TV channels (SDTV), noise reduction and edge enhancement might look better. Even if for some type of content they seem to do good, turn off all of them for the time you calibrate your plasma TV. You can later use them if you find them to improve the picture quality – and this may be the case with lower quality content as standard definition programs.
Set Color Temperature
Color temperature setting changes the look of the entire palette of colors. It is important you set this right before adjusting the following settings. The ideal color temperature is 6,500 degrees Kelvin (K). Changing this setting to Warm, Normal or Low preset (whichever you have) should result in a closer match with the ideal temperature. Again, play with all the setting available just so you see how they look. Do this with all settings from now so you see the differences.
This is also called “black level” and it makes the image brighter or darker. Setting the brightness too low will result in loosing details in the dark areas of the picture (e.g. shadows, night scenes, etc.). Setting it too high will make the light areas and even the whole picture become washed out. You want to set this in such way that you get a good amount of detail from dark areas without making the picture washed out.
Insert a DVD with a movie that has scenes with dark areas (you will probably want to pause where such a scene is) and set Brightness to maximum. Start decreasing the brightness gradually until you see the details in the dark area disappearing. Leave the setting at the minimum value where you get full detail in the dark areas.
If your plasma TV doesn’t have very good black levels you might prefer trading detail in the dark areas for deeper darks. See what looks better for you, after all the calibration process should make YOU happy.
If you bought a calibration DVD, this step will be more easy and accurate. I will explain this in the appropriate section of this guide.
The contrast setting is also called “white level” or “picture level” and has to do with the amount of detail you see. Again use a DVD with a movie that has black and white (or very close to that) areas side by side. The border between the black and white areas should be very sharp as opposed to a smeared/blurry one. Go to a scene where you have a lot of white with impurities on it like a white shirt where you can see the fabric texture or a large area covered with snow where you see cracks in the snow or light shadows. The key is to have the contrast as high as you can while still seeing those cracks in the snow or the shirt texture. It should not become completely white; you should distinguish well the slight differences in color of the snow cracks and shadows.
As in the case of brightness, the contrast setting is best adjusted using a calibration DVD.
It is also called saturation and it controls how intense the colors are. A saturation of 0% (zero) means the picture appears black and white. A too high setting will make the colors look unrealistic. A too low setting will make the picture loose its impact making it look washed.
This is a somewhat tricky setting because when you use it to make certain color tones look well it can make other tones look not that great. For example if you calibrate it correctly for skin tone you might end up with a setting value that makes the overall picture a bit unsaturated. If you make the picture look vivid, you might end up with skin that looks too redish like it would have sunburn.
Use a DVD with a movie as usual, find a scene where you have a close-up on somebody’s face, ideally having other objects of various colors in the picture and adjust the saturation until that person’s skin looks natural but without making the other objects and colors look too faded and without life.
Note that saturation can affect the three base colors (red, green and blue) differently. For example red might be too red while green or blue are more washed out. It is usually the case with red to be too saturated because it is enhanced by the plasma TV’s processing system.
You can play with it to see how it affects the image but it should be left at 50%. If you are using a calibration DVD you have chances of using this correctly, otherwise you will just mess things up.
If you have a sharpness setting you should leave it turned off when you watch high quality content as HD DVD, Blue Ray or regular DVDs and high definition TV programs. Applying the sharpness filter on a high quality image will make it look unnatural. When you watch standard definition programs or low quality content from other sources you can try it because it will probably enhance them a bit. Remember that a plasma TV, as well as any HDTV for that matter, is great at watching high definition content but for SD content it will probably enhance the flaws in the picture. The expression garbage in, garbage out comes in mind.
Again it is a good idea to turn this off. This is somewhat a variation of the sharpness filter because it does the same thing (makes the image look sharper) but it’s supposed to be smart enough to sharpen (enhance) just the edges of the objects in the picture. It is also called VSM or SVM (Scan-Velocity Modulation).