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ISF Calibration - What is It and is It Necessary?

written by: Debasis Das•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 2/23/2010

These days whenever the topic of HDTVs comes up, so does the question of ISF calibration. But is it necessary to have this ISF calibration done? What exactly is it anyway? How does ISF calibration help in getting the best out of my HDTV?

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    So we’ve all been hearing a lot about the calibration of HDTVs recently, and specifically about ISF calibration. There was a time, not so long ago, when you bought your old CRT TV set and brought it home. That's all there was to it! In some cases, repairs or adjustments were required such as if your TV was too close to a very strong magnet, say a huge speaker. You would see strange colors and that needed "degaussing". But mostly this was more the exception than the rule. These days it seems like buying a TV set, which looks great in the store, is only the start of a whole lot of follow ups that are necessary. You have to worry about where to place the television, preferably not opposite a window, and then adjust the settings so that you get the best possible picture! Some of this can be done by just looking at the picture or using some off-the-shelf software solutions. if you asked your dealer however, he/she will insist that the ISF calibration is the way to go. This can get a little confusing at times.

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    ISF Calibration – What is it?

    The ISF in the ISF calibration stands for Imaging Science Foundation. The story goes that its founder Joel Silver had bought a new HDTV but was not satisfied with the picture. He consulted a number of technicians, and though they all made their own adjustments and improvements, the picture never actually satisfied Joel. So he decided to take matters into his own hands and after some study discovered that there are actually standards that are used in industry and by studios to determine picture quality. The standards applying to color performance and grey-levels/intensity were important. He deduced that calibrating your HDTV to these standards should fix the problem. He founded the ISF to come up with a standard calibration method that could be used, and started handing out certifications for the process of calibrating a set. Someone who has this certification and the right equipment is qualified to perform an ISF calibration.

    We should note that simply calibrating to those standards will not solve the problem because there are a number of variables that can affect the picture quality still. To begin with there are ambient (light) conditions. Thus, in most cases, you will need a different setting for day and night. Similarly, the calibration for each external device like DVD player, game console, HD-DVR, set-top box, etc. can be different. During the calibration phase, the ISF certified technician goes through each of these variables to try and set up the best quality picture for each possibility. This means a different setting for each such situation. In cases where the HDTV has a few limited settings, the technician needs to make a compromise and decide on settings that will work well for most of the situations.

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    Is ISF Calibration Necessary?

    This is a question that really depends on you as a user/viewer and varies on a case to case basis. Are you happy with the picture that you get? Do you notice much variation in picture quality from day to night or when switching from one device to another? Are you planning a move?

    Obviously, the perceived quality of an image can vary from person to person. Some people don’t expect a theatre-quality picture from a TV and so are satisfied with a decent quality picture. Some viewers may have pretty similar light conditions when watching the TV at any time (for example, keeping blinds down/curtains drawn during the daytime). Others may feel that since so much of an investment has been made, it is only fair that we get a good quality picture. Similarly, the additional investment of an ISF calibration (about $300 typically) may seem small to some and worth getting the improvement. But this needs to be balanced against whether or not the picture was bad to begin with. A calibration may not result in a remarkable improvement of an already good picture. My recommendation is to sit back and observe the picture quality for a few days and then if you feel unsatisfied call the experts in.