Calibrating an HDTV can seem daunting. You need special discs, special instructions, and sometimes a weird blue filter. My guide to calibrating an HDTV works well enough, and there are several devices that walk you through the calibration process, but THX has blown them all out of the water with THX tune-up. This $1.99 iOS app walks you through both HDTV and speaker calibration through your iPad. It requires an Apple AV Adapter to connect your iPad to your home theater through HDMI or an Apple TV to connect over AirPlay, and it doesn’t go into the deepest and most complicated calibration settings to get the most precise color, but it lets any layperson tune up his or her HDTV and speaker system quickly and easily.
The app works by sending test patterns and signals to your HDTV or speakers through HDMI, and to do that you need the $50 Apple AV Adapter for your iPad. I tested the app on a third-generation iPad and a 30-pin Apple AV Adapter (and an Apple TV), but there’s no reason a fourth-generation iPad and a Lightning Apple AV Adapter will have any difficulties.
When you open the app, you’ll be greeted by the THX logo and a “Get Started” button that will play an introduction video. That’s the Home screen, and from it you can access three more main screens through a button bar on the bottom. There’s an Equipment screen, an Adjustments screen, and an Extras screen. You’ll spend most of your time in the Adjustments screen, and the others aren’t particularly useful (but the Extras screen is fun).
The Equipment screen lets the app figure out how to set up speaker tests, and sends THX equipment information for future app tweaks. It’s not particularly sinister, but if you’d prefer THX didn’t know what home theater components you’re using, you can still do HDTV calibration without it. The Extras screen lets you watch THX-certified trailers and short films, make your speakers “moo” like they do in the speaker tests, and send questions to THX through a form. It also lets you play the THX Deep Note through your speakers to test them or impress your friends. You’ve heard the Deep Note before; it’s that “wommmmmmbrrrrrrrreeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEE” tone that plays over the THX logo before some movies in some theaters. The Deep Note is what THX officially calls it.
Adjustments are split into six picture adjustments and two sound adjustments, each in their own sub-menu. The picture adjustments are most useful to the casual viewer, because they walk you through HDTV calibration. The sound adjustments just let you test speaker placement by sending a tone (or a moo) through each satellite, and check whether your speakers are in or out of phase; you won’t do much audiophile tweaking with the app, and the picture adjustments are where the value lies.
The six picture adjustments are, in order, Aspect Ratio, Brightness, Contrast, Color, Tint, and Review. Aspect Ratio shows a geometric pattern on the screen and lets you make sure you’re seeing enough and in the correct proportion. Brightness and Contrast show black-and-white test patterns that let you make sure the Brightness and Contrast (sometimes called Picture) settings are accurate. Color and Tint display black and white patterns with red and yellow rectangles on the screen. These adjustments are unique, because they use the iPad’s camera to display the screen with a red filter. This filter lets you make sure colors aren’t oversaturated or tinted too far in either direction without having to use a physical filter or estimating it. Finally, Review lets you check your settings by bringing together the test patterns on one screen. Each screen has helpful voice and text instructions that walk you through making the adjustments necessary even if you don’t know how to calibrate an HDTV, and a test photo along with the test pattern so you can check your adjustments using an actual picture instead of a series of shaded boxes.
I used the THX tune-up app to calibrate a Samsung HDTV in the PCMag Labs, and it took mae about five minutes. The instructions were easy to follow and the test patterns and photos let me confirm I was making the right adjustments as I made them. Without a surround system the sound adjustments had little value, but I can see them as helpful if you want to make sure everything’s hooked up correctly.
THX tune-up can’t replace a professional cailbrator, but it’s an inexpensive and easy way to calibrate your HDTV to standards the majority of viewers will be happy with. You won’t change individual color channel settings, but you’ll bring out the best shadow and highlight detail and make sure your colors aren’t too skewed with this $2 app, earning it an Editors’ Choice. Just make sure you have either an Apple TV or an Apple AV Adapter before you download it, or it won’t be useful for anything other than making moo sounds and playing the Deep Note.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc