Three elements are equally important in achieving audio and video fidelity: (1) proper component selection; (2) proper system design, engineering and installation; and, (3) proper calibration. Calibration ensures that you're getting the best possible performance from the components you purchased.
To analogize, watching a movie or listening to music on an uncalibrated system is not unlike listening to a 33 rpm record at 45 rpm. In the case of the record, faster does not mean better - it means inaccuracy and distortion of the original performance. Similarly, a brighter picture doesn't mean a better picture - it only means that the picture is inaccurate.
So, what does calibration achieve and why is it so critical?
Calibration achieves three important goals:
1. Corrects inaccurate factory settings. Many manufacturers intentionally set controls for their devices at levels that they know will result in less-than-ideal performance. For example, many display devices leave the factory with brightness and contrast levels set excessively high, which makes the set appear to perform "better" when viewed in a line-up of sets on a bright retail showroom floor. In your home, however, excessive brightness and contrast result in viewer's fatigue and eye strain. Calibrating to reference levels will eliminate the fatigue and eye strain, resulting in more realistic color reproduction and extending the life of your display.
2. Accounts for component variables. High-quality audio/video components include controls that allow them to be adjusted to work properly with a variety of components in a variety of environments. For example, in a DVD video signal chain, the DVD player, video processor and display may each have contrast control settings. Calibrating such a system involves setting the contrast controls on each of these components so that the final picture you see is what the director, cinematographer and studio engineers worked hard to achieve. Another example we've all experienced is the digital photo. Unless your monitor has been calibrated to match your printer, chances are the colors on your prints look much different than they do on your monitor. Calibrating the monitor and the printer to a common reference ensures that your colors are accurate and consistent.
3. Accounts for environmental variables. Both audio and video systems are defined to include all components in the signal chain involved in the reproduction of the audio or video source, including the room. Manufacturers cannot possibly account for the variety of environments in which their products will be used - there are too many variables affecting performance, from room size and dimensions, to construction materials, and listening and viewing distances. Calibration optimizes the performance of your system for your particular room.
Directors and cinematographers agonize over the visual images in their movies. Studio engineers work hard to ensure that the color balance of the film is maintained when transferring the film to DVD. All of these professionals edit their work on monitors calibrated to reference white levels for accuracy and consistency. Calibrating your display to the same reference levels ensures that you're seeing the film as it was intended to be seen.
Studies have shown that the most important elements in the perception of image quality, listed in order of importance, are:
The limitations of the display selected sets the range of potential performance. Calibration sets levels within the display's performance range for the three most important aspects of picture quality and ensures that the proper resolution is set for each video source.
Audio calibration ensures that all channels are at equal volume at the main listening positions, minimizes or eliminates boomy bass, enhances dialog clarity and provides a smooth frequency response.