The Big Picture

This isn’t strictly an “Audio” entry. In fact it’s more of a “Video” entry, but I since those two things are often tied together I thought I would include it here as opposed to “Musings” or “Star Trek” or something.

I spent several hours last night and most of this morning helping my friend set up a new home theater in his house. It is awesome. He bought a 50″ Sony LCD Projection TV and a new Denon Receiver and they’re both fantastic pieces of equipment.

The Denon Receiver is so new that many stores don’t carry it yet. It’s 120W per channel. Something around 3 audio inputs and 5 video inputs. It has 3 component video inputs which is perfect for a situation with a DVD player, an HD decoder, and an Xbox or other game system. Plus is has video conversion so you can still attach composite or S-Video signals to the receiver and it’ll convert them up to component and send that signal to your TV. It does a ton of other great things. I suggest you stop by your local home theater store and check one out.

When we were looking at all the different gear options for his home, we looked a various speakers too. Eventually he decided not to get anything just yet. He’s just relying on a pair of full size speakers that he’s used on his previous stereo for many years. They sound nice and there’s no rush. You might think it strange that a couple of guys who do sound for a living didn’t immediately buy speakers but there are so many factors to consider. He and I can both easily listen to many different speakers and find a nice sounding set, but now that the largest surround setup supports 8 speakers (7.1), you can easily triple the cost of a home theater system by buying those speakers at the same time. Plus my friend is in this new house. He’s very concerned about getting the exact right set of speakers. Size and color are a big consideration in this. Anyway, the point is, he was very happy to get a huge TV and an amazing receiver and spend a little more time researching the speaker situation.

The TV is phenomenal too. That 50″ screen is enormous. Prior to this my friend was watching TV on a 27″ set. I measured the picture on his new TV. Even when the image is set to Normal 4:3 mode, it’s still 41″. And then of course when you’re looking at a DVD in 16:9 it’s just so big.

The key to a great looking TV though (and I can’t stress this enough) is properly calibrating the TV. I am completely serious. I know that not everyone can afford to go plop down three grand on a new widescreen television. But even with a modest one you might have in your home right now, you can make it look pretty great. You need to have a DVD player attached to the TV set. And you need to buy a copy of the Avia Guide to Home Theater on DVD. This is the critical part. I’ve been calibrating monitors for several years now using this DVD. It’s fantastic. Normally I keep it at work to make sure our video monitors are up to spec, (and remember I work on Hollywood movies for a living) but I went and got it to set up my friend’s new TV.

There’s a whole presentation on the DVD where a couple of dorky guys talk you through every single nuance of a home theater. Skip it. Unless you’re interested. Maybe you don’t know anything about a home theater and want to create one. Then it’s worthwhile. But if you’re looking to calibrate your TV, just hit the “Menu” button on you DVD remote. Selected the Advanced menu, and from there go to basic video calibration. They will talk you through all the steps necessary to get good looking pictures on your television. It’s really easy and it only takes about 10 minutes the first time you do it.

Once you’ve calibrated the video input that your DVD player is attached to on your TV, you’ll need to figure out what’s going on with the other inputs. Some older TVs only have one setup. You configure the Picture, Brightness, Color, Tint and Sharpness settings once and they hold for every single input (RF antenna or cable, Video 1, Video 2, etc.) You can check this by hitting the “Input” or “TV/Video” button on your remote to change to another input. Now go back into your TV setup menu and see if the new settings you made for the DVD still hold. If they don’t (and this will probably be the case on most new TVs) you’ll have to calibrate the video for every single input that you use on the TV. If you have multiple video inputs, you can hook the DVD player up to each one in turn and rerun the calibration DVD. You won’t be able to do this for the antenna or cable input. Your best bet is to make a note of the settings from the original DVD calibration and use the same settings for the cable. It’ll be pretty darn close to what it needs to be.

So there you go. Enjoy your “new” television.