Home Theater Set-up DVD and Blu-ray Calibration Disc Reviews
Not all Audio Video Calibration Discs
are created equal...
Any set-up DVD or calibration Blu-ray disc can help you get a lot more out of your system in terms of overall performance without calling a professional; this applies irrespective of your level of expertise. Yet not all calibrations discs are equal. Choosing the right set-up disc for your needs is therefore essential to avoid frustration later on. The issue is... Which one to choose?
Help is here! We are presenting a series of short home theater set-up DVD and Blu-ray disc reviews covering the most important calibration discs presently available on the market. Complementing this review article, you will also find additional detailed reviews covering a number of important setup DVDs and calibration tools.
Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark calibration disc (Blu-ray Edition)
Rated as one of the best calibration discs, this Blu-ray edition is filled with flaw-less video calibration patterns and test material to help home theater enthusiast evaluate displays and disc players, and adjust their home theater systems to get the best possible picture.
For more details, please refer to this review here.
While it is possible to adjust the TV picture just by looking at it without any special tools and still get a relatively good picture, yet a much better option is to use a calibration Blu-ray disc or a set-up DVD.
Some may argue that some of the latest HDTVs come with built-in advanced calibration wizards; LG, Philips and Samsung all have some form of calibration software built into their HDTVs. Yet nothing replaces a good home theater set-up DVD.
Set-up DVDs are relatively inexpensive considering the potential they have to help you optimize your system.
Every home theater owner should have one on hand, from beginner to the expert; you will always find one for your skill level.
But... there still remains which set-up DVD or Blu-ray disc to choose. While any set-up disc can help you optimize the basic system settings, not all discs do so in the same manner. Some are more technically demanding and are most suitable for intermediate to advance users, while others take a more fun non-technical approach without loading the user with unnecessary technical jargon. Going for the right home theater set-up DVD or calibration Blu-ray disc is thus important as it can help make life a bit easier.
Without doubt, among the most popular calibration Blu-ray discs presently available, the two most popular home theater set-up DVD discs are Spears & Munsil High-Definition Benchmark and Disney Wow - World of Wonder Blu-ray disc. However, equally interesting is Digital Video Essentials HD Basic by Joe Kane Productions.
Of the three, the most recent is the one by Disney, yet all have their good points and shortcomings, and all three can serve a good purpose in the home theater. One difference though between then is that they seem to target users with different skill levels.
We discuss each of these home theater set-up Blu-ray discs to help you discover where each of these set-up discs fits best.
The Spears and Munsil Blu-ray calibration disc for TV reviews was originally released in 2009.
Skill Level: Advanced Intermediate to Expert
Selling Price: $25
This calibration Blu-ray disc is intended mainly for the user with at least an intermediate skill level. It is definitely not for beginners even though it includes useful online information with each test pattern showing correct and incorrect examples to give the user an idea of what to look for.
Yet the presence of some advanced test patterns makes it difficult for beginners to use and interpret.
Equally important, the accompanying booklet is mainly intended to serve as an introduction to the use of the disc itself. It does not explain the use of each and every test pattern even though the Spears and Munsil website includes a number of useful articles that explain most of the important tests.
The disc menu makes it relatively very easy to navigate through the various test patterns included on the disc. As with most calibration Blu-ray discs, it starts with a 3-minute high definition footage which you would surely be referring to it again and again as you calibrate your HDTV display. The quality of the video patterns is simply flawless. You can either select the desired test pattern or start from the first and proceed accordingly; each pattern is accompanied by onscreen help in the form of inserts and a help page.
The Chroma Alignment Test Pattern
The disc comes with an extensive array of test patterns - including a number of advanced test patterns. Some of the patterns are there to help you adjust the picture for best performance while others are designed to help you evaluate the capabilities of your HDTV. A blue color filter is also included to help you adjust the color and tint of your TV screen.
This is a video calibration disc only in that unlike most other home theater set-up DVDs, it does not contain any audio test tones.
This is our only complaint about the Spears and Munsil Blu-ray disc. The only audio it contains is some demo material that can be played in a choice of Dolby TrueHD 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, or PCM 5.1 lossless options. Admittedly, the presence of these three formats on the same disc is rather unique and gives rise to the opportunity of confirming that the three sound exactly the same!
The bottom line: As stated earlier on, this is mainly designed for more advanced users who have a fair amount of knowledge on the subject; it also lacks audio test tones necessary for the setting up of your home theater sound.
But if you are just buying a home theater set-up DVD and know how to make use of video test patterns to setup your HDTV, then the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray disc is probably the best calibration Blu-ray disc you can buy; it definitely is for the expert user.
The Disney WOW home theater set-up DVD is one of the latest Blu-ray calibration discs released for the home theater; it was released in November 2010.
Skill Level: Beginner to advanced intermediate user
Selling Price: $26
This is probably the easiest to use Blu-ray calibration disc presently available for first-timers. Disney is rather new to the TV calibration market, yet with Disney WOW, it managed to come up with a rather unique setup disc characterized by well-made and easy-to-use tutorials, and even extensive tests patterns.
Unlike the Spears and Munsil disc, the WOW Blu-ray disc includes both audio test tones and video test patterns. However, it does not cover the same vast array of set-up patterns found on other calibration discs even though the patterns available on the Disney disc are well designed; however, you still get all the most important calibration patterns.
The Disney WOW package comes as a two-disc pack, with one disc containing the tests and the other includes a high-definition footage called 'Inspired by Nature'. It also includes an extensive 53-page booklet with full explanations of all the test patterns found on the disc.
The calibration disc is divided into three main sections, Discover, Optimize, and Experience.
Discover is basically an informative tutorial that gives you an overview of home theater basics and high definition TV.
Optimize contains the calibration part of the disc and lets the user select one of three skill levels - Beginner -Advanced - Expert. The 'Beginner' just covers the basic display calibration and some very basic audio settings.
Video clip from the Disney WOW Blu-ray disc.
Courtesy: Disney DVD
The 'Advanced' includes most of the calibration and display evaluation tools on the disc; all test patterns and test tones come with accompanying help explanations. The 'Expert' level basically brings you all the calibration and evaluation tools present under the 'Advanced' section but without the accompanying help information.
Included under the 'Optimize' section is an HD Shootout which compares DVD and BD for both audio and video.
The Experience section is nothing more than Disney promo in that it is a collection of short 1-2 minute high definition video clips from recent Disney movies supposedly designed to help you show off the results of your TV calibration!
The bottom line: This is one of the finest home theater set-up DVDs especially for the user with practically no TV calibration experience, delivering excellent tutorials about both basic concepts and more advanced subjects, and very good test patterns. It does not contain the same extensive array of test patterns as found on other discs but it contains more than enough to carry both basic and advanced system calibration.
Disney WOW: World of Wonder is definitely the ideal high definition calibration disc for the beginner but not only, delivering clear explanations of both HDTV concepts and also of the audio test signals and the video test patterns found on this Blu-ray set-up disc. It is the ideal disc to go for if you want to learn about your HDTV and how to set it up.
DVE HD Basics can be considered to be the Blu-ray version of the popular Digital Video Essentials home theater set-up DVD originally released in 2003 by Joe Kane Productions. It was released in 2008. A year before, Joe Kane released a high definition version of its popular home theater set-up DVD in the now defunct HD-DVD format called DVE HD; it was a combo DVD/HD-DVD disc with the high definition side containing the DVE HD and the standard definition side containing the original DVE DVD.
Skill Level: Advanced beginner/intermediate to advanced user
Selling Price: $25
DVE HD Basics is not exactly a Blu-ray disc version of the popular DVE HD (even though it is very close both in content and in nature); the original DVE HD did come with a somewhat more extensive array of test patterns; possibly this is the reason for the 'basics' label on this Blu-ray set-up disc.
However, DVE HD Basics calibration disc still includes a most compressive array of audio test tones and video test patters with respect to other home theater set-up DVDs and Blu-ray discs within its class. And like its predecessors within the Digital Video Essentials series, it includes extensive instructions on how to use them; this makes this calibration disc suitable not only for advanced to intermediate users but also for most beginners as well.
However, unlike DVE DVD and DVE HD, DVE HD Basics comes with a much improved menu system typical of BD movies, with much easier and straightforward navigation.
As with most home theater set-up DVDs, this DVE Blu-ray disc opens with an interesting HD footage. All test patterns come in both 1080p/24 and 720p/24 version; these are divided into two categories, basic and advanced. Advanced patterns are important for those who want to go beyond basic display calibration. The only few deficiencies we see for advanced calibration users is the absence of primary and secondary color windows, useful for the settings of color management controls, and full-screen black, color and white patterns mainly suitable for display evaluation rather than calibration.
System Evaluation Patterns include among others, a set of SMPTE charts to test the display resolution as well as additional patterns for luminance and chroma analysis.
As indicated earlier on, this set-up disc comes with an audio calibration menu; one important feature here is that all audio test signals are encoded in true high definition audio. However, like the DVE home theater set-up DVD, the audio test tones on offer on DVE HD Basics are somewhat lacking with respect to a set-up DVD like AVIA II. In this respect, both Disney WOW and DVE HD Basics fall within the same category; AVIA II remains the No. 1 home theater set-up DVD ever produced that delivers the most extensive line of audio test tones for system calibration.
The bottom line: While no set-up disc can ever replace a full ISF calibration, yet a calibration disc like DVE HD Basics will do a lot towards helping you improve the quality of your TV picture and home theater sound. Above all, it falls within that category of home theater set-up DVDs and calibration Blu-ray discs that can be used by anyone interested in making their home entertainment experience better.
It is not exactly for beginners in that it is not as easy to understand and navigate as Disney WOW, but it has got just about everything the majority of users will ever need.
Skill Level: Beginner to advanced beginner
Selling Price: Free
This probably represents the least known way to HDTV calibration, yet it is also the least expensive - in reality it is free - and the simplest way to achieve a better picture on your display.
The THX Optimizer has been found on THX-certified DVD titles since 2000; during these last few years, it has also found its place on THX-certified Blu-ray discs.
THX Optimizer is an easy-to-use on-screen application to calibrate home theater systems. All you have to do is to look for the THX logo on the spine of the DVD or Blu-ray case; if it is there, just pop that disc into your player and select the Optimizer.
THX Optimizer helps you fine-tune the audio and video settings through a series of test signals. These tests allow you to match the reference levels used during the DVD mastering process, giving you the exact sound and picture presentation that the filmmaker wanted you to experience.
This free calibration tool offers a quick and easy solution to set color, tint, contrast and sharpness, as well as check speaker assignments, phase and crossovers on your surround sound system. The whole calibration process is presented in simple layman instructions, and once completed, the user can be confident that any apparent anomalies are integral to the movie and not an artifact of the A/V system.
The Bottom line: THX Optimizer is a free alternative to the more comprehensive $25 home theater set-up DVDs and calibration Blu-ray discs. Surely, dedicated calibration discs carry a significant advantage over the THX Optimizer even when it comes to the basic set-up, but...
If you want a simple straightforward A/V calibration tool, it is there readily available on all THX-certified DVD/Blu-ray titles for free!
More information on the THX Optimizer is available at the THX website.
Prior to the Blu-ray era, many home theater set-up DVDs were released all with the aim of helping you make the most of your picture and sound. DVDs like AVIA II (NTSC version), Ultimate DVD - Home Theater Fine Tuning Made Simple, Sound & Vision Home Theater Tune-Up, and Digital Video Essentials (NTSC) DVD all represent fine examples of calibration DVDs.
Yet it is AVIA II and DVE DVD that in our opinion remain the No.1 home theater set-up DVDs ever released; detailed reviews are available on our site for both discs here: AVIA Guide and Digital Video Essentials DVD.
Both discs are suitable for use by beginners and advances users alike, yet only users with intermediate to advanced skills will be able to make the most out of these set-up DVDs. In this respect, Ultimate DVD represents a better option for beginners.
One thing worth taking note when working with home theater set-up DVDs and calibration Blu-ray discs is that most of today's HDTVs come with memorized picture settings per input. This means you have to ensure that the settings you apply to your TV during calibration, apply to the other inputs as well. Once you do this, then you may proceed with fine tuning of the respective picture and sound adjustments for each of the other inputs separately.
A Final Word
Don't expect to load one of these home theater set-up DVDs or calibration Blu-ray discs and tune your system in less than 30 minutes. Rest assured however that your persistence will be rewarded with dramatically improved home theater video and sound.
Irrespective of whether it is a basic or a high-end home theater system, a home theater set-up DVD or Blu-ray disc can lead to significant improvements in overall system performance. Set-up discs are relatively inexpensive toys that have the power to transform your entertainment system; they are well worth the small investment and your time.
We strongly recommend keeping one in hand. Which set-up DVD is not important in that as expressed in this article, all home theater set-up DVDs are capable of doing their job. What is important is to choose the home theater set-up DVD or Blu-ray disc that is most suitable for your needs.
Note: For a list of detailed reviews appearing on our site for both archived and current home theater set-up DVDs and calibration gear, please click here.
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