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What Is Home Theater Calibration?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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Home theater calibration is a technique used to ensure that all pieces of a home theater system — usually speakers, television, and media players — are working together in an optimal way. Calibration generally improves sound and picture quality and helps a system achieve its full potential. Home theater specialists are usually tasked with performing initial home theater calibration during set-up, but it is frequently performed by individual owners as well as a part of routine system maintenance.

Proper home theater calibration is an important part of most home theater design. Even the best laid out system will not deliver true surround sound if its speakers are not tracking with each other, and the improved video quality imparted by most systems will not be realized when a screen's color contrasts are not in sync. Most professional home theater installation includes both sound and picture calibration as a part of the set-up service, but owners can do the work themselves with a bit of research and basic tutorial work. Do-it-yourself calibration usually requires some special tools, but is often more cost-effective than hiring a professional.

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The most common type of home theater calibration involves making sure that all speakers are operating at the same volume and frequency levels. The presence of multiple speakers is one of the hallmarks of home theater design. Most of the time, these speakers are placed at various heights and angles around a home media room to create a surround-sound effect. The effect is weakened when the speakers have not been programmed to harmonize with each other.

Home cinema systems can usually be set up with some success directly out the box, and will typically work with little intervention. Even the most expensive systems do not always come pre-calibrated, however. Speakers of different sizes often have different natural settings, and a lot depends on media room design, as well. How speakers are placed and set up often affects their sound quality. Savvy owners calibrate speakers as soon as they are set up, then on a regular, often annual basis thereafter to ensure maximum sound quality.

Speaker calibration is typically accomplished with a sound level meter. This is either a stand-alone device or a digital program, often delivered on compact disc. Owners must test the tone of each speaker and adjust the levels so that each speaker plays sound at the same volume and frequency.

Picture calibration is slightly different. This sort of home theater calibration focuses on balancing the picture quality output on a home movie screen, television, or computer monitor. Owners typically perform this sort of calibration by opening the on-screen controls panel, then adjusting the picture features to optimize visual output.

Color tests, brightness spectra, and contrast palates are the tools typically needed in this endeavor. The end result is a picture that is crisp and clear. High definition systems benefit the most from proper calibration, but the users of most any system will notice a difference if calibration is done properly.

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