Frequently Asked Questions

What is ISF/Imaging Science Foundation?

An organization formed in 1994 to promulgate professional video standards into consumer video equipment and installations.

The organization conducts calibration training seminars for video equipment dealers, manufacturers and the trade press, supports a network of specialized video calibrationists, holds industry seminars explaining standards and benefits and consults with leading equipment manufacturers on the design elements required to comply with professional video standards.

ISF technicians have calibrated thousands of TVs across the nation to rave reviews.

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What is video calibration (or, why should I care)?
Television is an encode/decode system and like other systems of that type, proper alignment of various settings is critical to proper performance and viewer enjoyment. To put it in audio terms, the LP record can only be played back correctly at 33 1/3 rpm! Any other playback speed is simply wrong, rather than an expression of preference. ISF calibration (as the process is known) is the correct alignment of certain variables in the playback device (the TV, video processor/projector or monitor) to match those same characteristics in the encode device (the NTSC or ATSC encoder and monitor at the source). And a typical home theater adds additional variables of sources, cables, switchers and environment to the mix of things to account for, what is now, a system alignment. The variables we look at are: White level, black level, saturation, hue, edge enhancement, color temperature, grayscale tracking and color decoder output levels. Other parameters that effect picture quality are: Focus, geometry and convergence issues, are not, strictly speaking, calibration. All types of video technologies can benefit from proper calibration for best picture quality and enjoyment.
What does a calibrationist do?
A calibrationist uses a series of test patterns and special instruments (color analyzers in conjunction with optical comparators) to set the above mentioned variables on a TV, monitor or projection system for maximum fidelity within the environmental and chassis constraints. SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers) specifications are the basis for determining the optimum settings. Adjustments are made to both the external (user) controls and the internal (factory/service) controls. Some sets are opened to access the factory controls, others have coded remote access to these controls. Calibrating in the professional world is relatively simple as the equipment generally performs to SMPTE specifications. (A good reason that HD production monitors cost $1000/inch!) In the consumer world, a good calibration is part science and part art due to various limitations in the set. The best calibrators understand a set's particular limitations and practice the 'art of the possible'. How do you know if you're hiring one of the best calibrators instead of one that has been through class and can "do it"? Since many are trained and few prove to be artists, you need to ask questions and investigate their background. Look for experience, credentials and industry referrals.
I just spent thousands on a TV why do I have to spend more to get it right?
Be glad you spent enough for a Television that can be well calibrated rather than the cheap units that are, typically, severely limited in adjustments and performance capabilties.
What difference will a calibration make?
A set that is calibrated is "tweaked" or "tuned up" so that it performs more like a professional broadcast monitor to deliver "High Fidelity Video". Since most people have never seen a TV operate the way it is supposed to, the improvement in image fidelity and resolution is obvious. With a good set, HD or DVD source material and a good environment, the difference is nothing less than dramatic. When people see the results, we often hear something like "Wow, I had no idea it could look that good". (And if you think calibrated NTSC looks good, then calibrated ATSC (HighDef) will really get your attention!) Consumer televisions are set for the harshest retail lighting conditions a manufacturer can imagine, not a good home viewing environment and your system. These settings result in noisy, distorted, harsh and unreal color pictures that are so common, most people think that's the way TV is supposed to look. (It is not supposed to look like that! In the production world it NEVER looks like that.) Production video has more in common with film than it does typical consumer video. Properly displayed video has nuance and detail, with natural looking shadows, colors and skin tones. (Remember, optimum video performance (from most technologies) is obtained in low/no ambient light conditions. After all, the movies happen in the dark! If you have a "dual use" viewing environment, we will provide settings for high and low ambient light environments.)
What is included in a calibration?
High quality pictures are the result of quality displays and sources properly calibrated in good viewing environments. Any type of TV or monitor will look it's best and last longer with ISF calibration. Basic ISF calibration includes the precise, correct setting of: Black level (set for the source, device and viewing environment) White level (set for the source, device and viewing environment) Color level Hue/tint Edge enhancement Colorimetry (color temperature and grey scale to D65 (or about 6500 Kelvin) as per NTSC broadcast standard) A report of these results plus before and after convergence, overscan and post-calibration light outputs tests is included. System connections, hook-ups and viewing environment enhancements can be reviewed. (Factory level convergence and geometry corrections are additional, as required.)
How much does it cost?
A calibration starts at about the same price as a good set of cables. ISF established base rates starting at a few hundred dollars, depending on the equipment and what needs to be done. We recommend budgeting direct view CRTs/Plasmas/LCD at $325-400, rear screen CRTs and single chip DLP projectors at $400-700 and two-piece CRT/3-chip DLP/LCoS/D-ILA/LCD projectors at $450 +. (Cost differences are based on additional time and/or instrumentation required. Pricing does not include travel charges.) (Complete Rate card) Allow 1-1/2 to 4 hours for a complete ISF calibration, depending on the device and sources. Complete setups of high-performance CRT or fixed pixel projection systems are available. Contact us for an estimate. This is among the least expensive system upgrades available and it's worth every penny when you want it done right and by one of the most experienced calibrationists in the country.
Will it last forever?
No, but then what does? Studio monitors are calibrated daily or weekly when used in critical viewing situations where consistency is paramount. Most consumer televisions will drift from correct settings over time and will typically "hold their own" for 12-24 months. The variables are the specific chassis, amount of use and number of on/off cycles. ISF recommends annual calibration for optimum performance, life span (the unit's) and viewing pleasure (yours). A power outage will not erase calibration settings. Though on some chassis you will need to re-enter the final consumer settings from your calibration report. Minor movement of the set will not affect your calibration. If the set is moved significantly in the earth's magnetic fields, some consumer convergence and geometry may be needed.
How did our TV get this way?
(A brief history of how our TVs got the way they are and what you can do about it!) In the beginning there was Black & White TV and it was good... Then color was added to Black & White and it was different... on every channel! As we begin the last years of the NTSC (National Television Standards Committee) television system's life span, it is useful to know how we can maximize it's value, performance and our viewing pleasure during the transition to ATSC (Advanced Television Standards Committee). (FYI, Digital TV uses an expanded version of the color standards discussed here.) A well made black and white TV of the fifties could do a reasonable job of looking like B&W film. Lower resolution and smaller certainly, but able to show a decent grey scale when compared to B&W film. Color was an “addition” to the original system so that the millions of existing B&W TVs would still work. The NTSC system is an ingenious mathematical formula that contains the original high resolution B&W picture (shades of grey) and a low resolution color overlay and makes both pictures from Red, Green & Blue light. The key to a good color picture is to make a good black & white picture from red, green & blue! This proved difficult for broadcasters to do. Calibrating production monitors and cameras with the technology of the day was tedious and frequently needed. (Tubes drift with time & use.) Many monitors were set “by eye” to save time. Many eyes. The resulting channel to channel variations made for Never Twice the Same Color complaints about NTSC. Thus, after years of B&W TV that looked like B&W film, the new color TVs did not mimic color film very well.
Let the TV fix it!
The computing phrase "garbage in, garbage out" was not in general use then but it is good shorthand for what happened. Abandoning the early practice of teaching consumers what the TV controls were and how to use them properly, TV manufacturers developed preset control circuits in an attempt to make all channels look the same, eliminate teaching consumers about using the controls and to provide marketing differences. Some of the offending circuits that remain with us to this day are: Flesh Tone Auto Color Auto Tint Preset Sharpness and Scan Velocity Modulation (which is a more recent assault on accuracy) These circuits robbed fidelity to pay consistency. They stole fidelity and picture quality by "dumbing down" the best signals so they looked more like the worst ones. That obscured the real problem -- nonstandard input signals.
Standards Are Good
In the seventies, SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers) set new implementation standards for the NTSC specifications. Much better instruments for calibrating studio monitors came into common use. Studio monitors could be calibrated frequently and accurately! With these and other production improvements, broadcast and recorded television source signals have never been better or more consistent than they are today. (DVD has only improved the situation.) Meanwhile consumer televisions have grown larger, brighter and less accurate.
The Color of White
The NTSC (and ATSC) rules set the "color of white" (hence, grey) at D65 (or about 6500 Kelvin) - or slightly bluer than daylight film. Over time, TV manufacturers found that they sold a couple more sets if one was perceived as "brighter" than another. The ensuing "brightness wars" have brought us much bluer whites (50% to 400% above correct is common), contrast levels set to "torch mode" and either compressed blacks or no blacks at all. TVs like this are hard to live with in a decent home viewing environment. They glare, fatigue, show unnatural colors, compromise resolution, look two dimensional, add noise and burn themselves up at a rapid rate.
What to do?
Simple. Get your system calibrated and apply the same standards used in making video pictures to the reproduction of those pictures with genuine ISF calibration. And share the artists vision. Got HD or DVD? Get ISF! HD and DVD video look much better on a calibrated display. Getting the picture? No. Then get ISF calibrated and "Get the Whole Picture".
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