Get the whole picture with video calibration
As custom integrators hunt for new ways to make money in this increasingly-commoditised world, services such as video calibration come to the fore. Paul Skelton reports on a solution that requires very little effort on the behalf of installers but that could lead to happy clients and additional cashflow.
How often have you purchased a new TV because it looked amazing in the store, but upon getting it home the picture was rubbish? Similarly, how often have you installed a brand new projector, switched it on and thought ‘meh’?
Typically, out of the box a display’s contrast and brightness levels will be pumped up to the max. This may look great in a retail environment where they are competing for attention but when you get home, you’re left with an image that is far from natural.
So what’s the solution?
Video calibration is not a new concept. In fact, its theoretical history can be traced right back to Isaac Newton. Practically speaking, the art of calibrating video displays (at least as far as consumer electronics is concerned) is around 20 years old in its current form.
Leading the charge for calibration is the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), which was established by industry icons Joel Silver and Joe Kane. Founded in 1994, the group often runs certification training events around the globe with the aim of promoting image optimisation and industry best practice.
Mick Peaker has been an ISF-certified video calibrator for the better part of a decade, having worked with and later acquiring AVICAL Australia from Aaron Rigg in 2014.
Mick says that despite end users not being aware of calibration, it really is something that they expect from AV technicians.
“Even though a lot of end users don’t know what calibration is, it’s actually exactly what they want – i.e. the best possible picture from their investment,” he says.
“A $15,000 or $20,000 projector and $1,500 Blu-ray player are great, but equipment is only one aspect of the equation. The other part of the equation is calibration.
“Video calibration is simply the process by which we bring a display – whether it’s a TV or projector – in line with the universal standard, which is currently Rec.709 for Blu-ray and Rec.2020 for high dynamic range (HDR) and Ultra HD displays.
“These are the same standards that are used by film directors and colourists when they are choosing the colours and detail for their content. A lot of time, effort and money go into getting these details right and it’s very easy for these nuances to be lost when a display is not set correctly.
“In short, calibration is designed to allow your clients to watch movies that more closely represent what the film’s director intended.”
Mick and other calibrators around the world achieve image optimisation through the use of tools such as the industry-leading software CalMAN from SpectraCal, a digital test pattern generator and a colorimeter, which is an instrument designed to measure the different attributes of colour such as luminance, hue and saturation.
The software controls the digital test pattern generator, which sends various test patterns to the display. The colorimeter takes a reading of what is being represented on screen and feeds that information back to the program as a graphical representation of how the red, green and blue pixels are relating to each other.
Then, using the available controls calibrators will manipulate the display, as much as possible to match the standards set out for colour, black level, white-point, gamma, etc.
“Regardless of the cost of the display, if you don’t calibrate then the end user isn’t getting what they paid for,” Mick says.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a $4,000 projector or a $24,000 projector, out of the box it is not going to be right for any number of reasons.
“Think of cars coming off the production line. Even if they’re all from the same factory and are the same make and model, they are all different in some way. With displays, just because the components are all the same it doesn’t mean they all work identically.
“Further, the environment of the installation needs to be considered. Ambient light, the projection surface, the colour of the walls… all of these have an effect on the image and can’t be accounted for in the factory.”
Of course, selling something that your client doesn’t understand is indeed a difficult task. For that reason, Mick suggests not trying to up-sell it as an added extra, or after the install is done, but rather to include it as a part of the overall process.
“With the feedback I’ve received from the integrators and installers that have been successful with incorporating calibration into their business model, the most efficient approach seems to be simply including it as standard procedure,” he says.
“Often, when trying to sell calibration to an end user they will be suspicious about it. They’ve never heard of it so they are wary. So by including it as standard, the integrator saves valuable time by taking the hard work out of ‘selling’ calibration and the customer actually gets what they want.
Mick says it’s also worth keeping in mind that every calibration means more margin for little more than a phone call; not just for projectors, but even with TVs where there is not much margin to begin with.
It doesn’t even matter what State you work in. AVICAL works around the nation.
“Not everybody has the resources or time to invest in undertaking the ISF certification course, so using a calibrator means they can still offer their clients the best results without additional cost to themselves.”
Further, by using an ISF-certified calibrator you will be getting a wealth of experience, specialist tools and understanding of each manufacturer’s quirks.
“When I first started, I found that it was challenging and time consuming just getting familiar with the different features and behaviours of each brand of TV and projector,” he says.
“Barco projectors behave in a different way to Sony; similarly, an LG TV will act differently to a Samsung.
“Even though they all have brightness and contrast controls, and controls for white-point and colour management, they all have their own little quirks in how they operate. In the early days I made a lot of mistakes and I messed up a few displays in the process.
“The first calibration I did for a client, even after the completing my training, took about seven hours and even then I needed to go back to fix it.
“The process of calibration may sound very simple and straightforward but there is actually a lot to consider. It’s not just about aligning dots on a chart. There is science behind it as well as the art it’s there to represent.”
And now, as HDR and UHD displays begin to permeate the market, integrators will be called on to build solutions that give their clients the best bang for their buck.
Surely a few hundred dollars is small potatoes when talking about a system that is potentially worth thousands to your business?