If you don’t’ have a blue filter, and don’t want to go to the trouble of getting one, my advice is simple. There is one thing you’ll see in every feature film (or video) that you can use to adjust color properly—flesh tones. If you need a reference, look at the person next to you. As you watch movies, adjust COLOR until the flesh tones look right. TINT is harder, but often can be left at the default position without deleterious effect. The movies I use most often to dial in flesh tones are the opening sequences of the first two Austin Powers movies and Shakespeare in Love. In these films, the characters’ complexions are fairly pale, with just a hint of rosiness in their cheeks. Make their skin tones look that way, and your color won’t be far off.
The last page in the THX Optimizer VIDEO TESTS menu I’ll direct you to is called MONITOR PERFORMANCE. While some color touch-up information is provided, the key aspect of this pattern is the ability it gives you to use the frequency- burst area (look for the big white arrows) to adjust the sharpness of your display. Another misunderstood (and often overused) adjustment, the SHARPNESS control on your display cannot magically increase real resolution in the signal to make the image sharper. Think of the sharpness pattern more like an equalizer—it boosts certain parts of the frequency spectrum of the signal to emphasize (or over-emphasize) them. SHARPNESS is typically a coarse adjustment that bumps up what is essentially the upper midrange of the signal, which can make the image appear sharper and more detailed, but often at the expense of adding unwanted artifacts.
The frequency-burst section consists of a long row of vertically aligned black and white bars. Look at the far right area of the burst where the lines are smaller and more closely spaced. As you run the SHARPNESS control up, you’ll see this area of the pattern soften and blur (see illustration). At this point, you’ve actually “sharpened” the picture so much that fine details are being obscured, softening the image! I know that’s not quite intuitive, but as you perform this test you’ll see this effect even more clearly than it appears in our illustration. Back the SHARPNESS control down just to the point at which the fine lines in the right section are sharply defined again, and SHARPNESS should be set correctly.
I’ve corroborated this pattern with program material, and I like using it to set the SHARPNESS control. In addition to the softening and blurring of the image that comes with setting SHARPNESS too high, you will also see hardened, artificially sharp or edgy images in movies. Often, whitish halos can appear on edges as well. DVDs are often over-enhanced with artificial sharpness of their own, so any additional grunge added by the display via the SHARPNESS control detracts from a natural-looking image. Previous “sharpness” patterns used black vertical and horizontal lines, with some diagonals. The trick used to be to watch the black lines and run SHARPNESS up until white-edge halos become apparent around the black lines. This method is still effective, but the THX pattern seems to correspond closely with what you see in program material.
The other patterns in the Optimizer menu are selfexplanatory and allow you to make sure your TV and DVD player are operating at the proper aspect ratio. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the people who read this magazine know to set their DVD player’s aspect ratio to match the shape of their TV. However, if you’ve got a doubt, keep going. The Optimizer also features a test clip from the film.
Within the THX Optimizer VIDEO TESTS menu of The Incredibles is another selection called ADVANCED. The single pattern here was co-developed by Pixar and THX, according to the latter’s Web site, and includes a multipurpose pattern that allows an alternate method of adjusting white and black levels as well as gamma curve. The procedure is documented clearly at THX.com. Aside from the fact that many displays don’t offer any adjustment of gamma, I personally think if you’re ready for a greater level of sophistication in display calibration you’re ready for a copy of Avia or Digital Video Essentials, or perhaps even ready to call in an Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) technician.
Once these adjustments are made to your set, it should come as close to optimal performance as it can get without an ISF tech taking it further. You can be confident at this point that any serious deviations you see are in the program material, not the display. You should also be amazed how much depth and dimension you’re seeing with the best program material now that you’ve got the proper foundation of deep blacks, that whites are crisp and bright but aren’t blowing out any detail, and that sharpness has been tamed so that all the detail you’re seeing is pure and natural, not etched and over-enhanced. However, I want to conclude with one piece of practical advice. Every time I perform these adjustments—even after I calibrate a display with a color analyzer—I double-check my results and touch them up as necessary with movies on DVD that I’m familiar with. This is a must for me, and I suggest you do the same. If you don’t like the image you see, season it to your taste. Don’t live with a picture you don’t like because someone else decided that’s how it should look. Your set won’t be quite as useful as an evaluation tool if you deviate too far from the “right” settings, but I think most people stay within reason when adjusting to taste.