THX Video Calibration

Not so long ago, professional video calibration was reserved for the dedicated home theater palaces of the rich, famous and video obsessed. Then the HDTV revolution hit, and retailers such as Best Buy and others joined the ranks of CE professionals offering calibration services to the main stream TV buyer.

Today, black levels, grey scales and color gamuts are tweaked by THX, ISF and the Geek Squad in apartments, dorm rooms and any other place you can hang a flat panel.

A recent study by THX reveals an additional benefit to video calibration—energy savings. Beyond fine tuning picture quality for watching movies and sports programs, professional calibration improves an HDTV’s energy efficiency by up to 50 percent.

Research Testing Procedures

As part of its research, THX engineers evaluated more than 15 plasma and LCDs from a variety of brands and model years, comparing each display’s Vivid or Dynamic Modes versus professionally calibrated settings. Vivid and Dynamic modes are often the default settings out-of-the-box for consumers and are designed specifically for retail presentation.

Vivid and Dynamic modes typically feature boosted light output and more saturated colors to compensate for the overpowering florescent lighting in the retail environment. If left turned on, these settings will boost a TV’s energy consumption, not to mention, be incredibly bright in the average residential viewing environment.

Every THX test sample was measured in identical conditions using displays at least 36” in size. For video source material, THX chose a Blu-ray Disc provided by International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The IEC clip is a ten minute series of pictures and video along with a 1 kHz tone. Volume controls were turned all the way down to ensure video performance was uniquely measured. Each sample was measured in kilo-watt hours (kWH) with a 30-minute loop. Samples were warmed up for at least 30 minutes in order to stabilize power consumption prior to testing.

THX engineers calibrated all test samples to the Society of Motion Picture Television Engineers (SMPTE) standards for peak white output, the same set-up used when mastering movies for Blu-ray Disc release. These calibration values are optimal for viewing movies in darkened home theater environments.

Research Results

The THX research demonstrates that a calibrated viewing mode consumes less energy than Vivid and Dynamic modes—in all cases. Approximate savings for consumers ranges from 15 – 50 percent, depending on the display’s model year and technology format (Plasma, LCD, LED).

A properly calibrated display, in some cases, will save users between $40-50 per year, equivalent to one month’s basic cable bill or two movies on Blu-ray disc. For those who have more than one display in their homes, the savings can double or even triple.

Professional Calibration Returns Significant Annual Power Savings

THX based its annual consumption and cost calculations on four hours of use per day and $0.1136 per kilowatt hours (kWH), which is the average residential rate as defined by the United States Energy Information Administration.

Plasma HDTVs manufactured prior to 2008 achieved the highest levels of energy savings after professional calibration, followed by LCDs. Displays featuring LED-backlighting technology experienced less-savings than traditional LCD and plasma technology. The research also confirmed that larger screens consume more power than smaller ones.

ENERGY STAR + Plus Calibration

An additional force in the battle to reduce on-mode energy consumption is U.S. Department of Energy’s ENERGY STAR standard. The multi-tier ENERGY STAR program is designed to dramatically decrease on-mode power consumption over the next four years. In an interview with TWICE, iSuppli’s Randy Lawson noted that the latest ENERGY STAR guidelines aim to reduce display power consumption up to two-thirds on some models by 2013.

Even with the new ENERGY STAR guidelines, the THX study demonstrates that the majority of new and older displays will experience energy savings as a result of professional video calibration. Test samples from 2009 display model years, which include ENERGY STAR 3.0 and LED-backlighting, experienced improved energy consumption after professional calibration. The potential savings ranged from 10 – 48 percent.

The Impact for CE Professionals

Given the current economic climate, many consumers who might shy away from calibration services may be quite attracted by an incentive of energy savings. With millions of flat panels sold to date and forecasts for 2010 on track to break records, an environmentally-friendly marketing message may help professional calibrators see green.