Home Theater Calibration Discs:AVIA, Digital Video Essentials, and Sound & Vision

Bill Livolsi, August 24, 2005

Those who have read our reviews in the past will notice that every review mentions calibration, in one form or another. Calibration is, quite simply, changing the settings on your audio or video equipment in order to maximize the quality of that device's output. The change in quality can be very slight, or very large, to the point where it seems you're using a whole different system. Calibration cannot be done without a little help which can come either in the form of a professional technician, or a do-it-yourself calibration disc.

Three popular calibration discs are available today: the AVIA Guide to Home Theater, Digital Video Essentials, and the Sound & Vision Home Theater Tune-Up. Each disc is divided into two major sections. Section One is a general how-to guide, useful when wiring your home theater components together and placing your speakers in their soon-to-be permanent positions. Section Two is a collection of test patterns, for both audio and video, useful for calibrating your system. Each disc has distinct strengths, and buying the correct disc could make your life much easier.

AVIA Guide to Home Theater

The AVIA Guide is the oldest of the DVD test discs, released in 1999 (which is coincidentally the year that Projector Central was founded). Of course, home theater components have changed greatly since 1999. The AVIA Guide is geared mostly towards cathode ray tube direct-view sets (the television that has been sitting in your living room for years). However, most of the tutorial section's advice still holds up, especially the sections on proper set up of a dedicated home theater room; topics like ambient light management, speaker placement, and general acoustic advice have not varied much with advancements in technology.

The sections on preferred cable connections do not include DVI or HDMI because in 1999, there were no consumer-level electronics featuring these connectors. Furthermore, in the section discussing video technology, AVIA talks about CRT projectors as well as LCD projectors; but not DLP, due to their relative scarcity in 1999, but this in no way reduces AVIA's usefulness when calibrating DLP devices.

The AVIA Guide devotes as much time to speaker placement and calibration as it does to video calibration. There are sections on room acoustics and speaker placement for each set of speakers, as well as how to connect your speakers for the best possible sound quality.

The AVIA Guide features a wide variety of test tones. In addition to the standard level adjustment tones for main and surround speakers, there are also several different test tones solely for subwoofer adjustment, to aid you in getting as flat a response as possible from your subwoofer. There is a separate section for tones used to verify that your speakers are now set up correctly. For more advanced users, there is a "reference tones" section specifically for use with advanced equipment like a spectrum analyzer. The audio section of the AVIA Guide can help you make simple calibrations as well as more in-depth adjustments; how much fine-tuning you do is completely up to you.

The AVIA disc has a huge selection of video test patterns, covering many different aspects of home theater calibration; some of these are relatively simple, and some are not. Patterns for the "big five" video adjustments (brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, sharpness) have audio and video descriptions to go with them. While the narrators refer more to CRT displays than digital projectors, the patterns themselves are useful for both, as they provide consistent source material. Other more advanced patterns can reveal the accuracy of your projector's color decoder, or - with the help of some more advanced instrumentation such as a light meter or colorimeter - help you to adjust color temperature or grayscale tracking.

Navigation on the AVIA disc is simple and intuitive. Similar test patterns are grouped in sub-menus, which are clearly labeled. Each and every pattern has a paragraph or two of text that describes what the pattern is used for and how it is used.

The AVIA disc is a great choice for anyone who has never set up a home theater before, but would like to learn and eventually perform more in-depth calibrations without hiring a technician. And while the narrators focus on CRT displays more than digital projectors, this just means that the AVIA Guide can be used on every video display in your home.

Review Contents: AVIA Guide Digital Video Essentials HT Tune Up