How To Optimize: Displays In Three Steps

To help, Digital Connect spoke with Joel Silver, co-founder and president of the Imaging Science Foundation, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based training and consulting organization. The ISF has trained more than 3,000 installers in best practices for working with displays and related products. The organization also advises vendors on how to improve their products and conducts research into performance optimization.

Here are Silver's most important tips and recommendations from ISF's training courses on how to select, install and calibrate displays and projectors for the home.

When selecting a new display, integrators should remember that the newest is almost always the best. Newer displays are usually brighter and have better black levels than older models. Newer displays also use Xenon, making them more burn-resistant than older models. In addition, newer LCDs have better off-access so their images are sharp and accurate from most viewing angles, compared with older LCDs, whose images suffer when viewed from off-center.

How to find the newest displays? First, visit each vendors' product Web site or press release site to find the most recent model numbers, but look elsewhere to purchase the unit. Vendors' sales Web sites and retail stores often stock only older models. Instead, look to specialty distributors such as Avad and Electrograph. Such distributors almost always carry newer models and are usually up to date on upcoming products.

Sponsored post

Always remember to carefully analyze where the display will be placed and what activities it will be used for. For end users looking for durability and sheer light output, LCDs are the best choice. For the widest viewing angles, color fidelity and sharp black levels, plasmas are the way to go. And for the most realistic film representation and the sharpest black levels, there's no better choice than a CRT.

For long-term planning, integrators should consider LED displays, which are expected to become available in the United States over the next few years. They are designed to offer sharp images and colors, and to conserve energy. Another new product to consider is LED-backlit monitors, in which LEDs flash behind an LCD screen to produce higher image detail and sharper colors. LED-backlit monitors are slated to be available by the end of 2005.

Another important note is to only select devices that are designed for home use. Many displays and projectors are designed for the presentation market, or for use in commercial settings or conference rooms. The white-black levels, color fidelity and saturation, brightness, image sizes and overall quality required in such business settings are different than those needed in the home. When selecting projectors, also look for devices designed for the home, not those designed for dual use at work and home. The types of images, color fidelity, image speed and other factors are different when a projector plays a DVD than when it shows a PowerPoint presentation.

Another important factor to consider is the number of adjustment buttons. You need a minimum of six buttons to adjust for the correct RGB color balance throughout the image. The best displays have nine adjustments, while many computer displays have only three or a slide that adjusts all the colors at once. Integrators should look for displays with several different modes. Displays also should include day and night modes that adjust the brightness, sharpness and colors of the image for optimal viewing.

When installing a new display, steps should be taken to optimize the room for ideal viewing conditions. First, place the display in the room and keep it turned off. Make sure there are no external light sources reflecting off the screen. Light from windows, lamps and other sources cause eye strain, lighten graphics and wash out the display's image over time.

Next, make sure that lamps direct light toward the floor instead of scattering it throughout the room. Though scatter lights are more cost-effective, they are harder on the eyes. Also make sure the display is clean, as eyes must work harder to disregard any dirt or dust on the screen.

Now it's time to concentrate on calibration. First, integrators need to reset several display settings adjusted in the factory and calibrate them for the particular attributes of the room. Many displays are sold from showroom floors, where lighting is vastly different than that of living rooms. Therefore, when most displays leave the factory they are calibrated to be extra bright with black levels set too high. These settings need to be corrected when the display is brought home.

Next, the display must be calibrated for the particular room. For the highest-quality installations, integrators can invest in a high-end professional analyzing device, which costs between $3,000 and $5,000. However, for the average installation, a basic calibration tool is sufficient, and several choices are available on DVD. If the display is connected to a PC running Windows XP Media Center Edition, it can be adjusted for sharp performance via the step-by-step display calibration wizard included in the Media Center interface.

If the display does not include them, integrators should create two separate calibrations, one for daytime and one for nighttime. The modes should be set up at the display's inputs to make sure that the images being played are optimized for the time of day, regardless of whether they come from a DVD player, cable or other source. Ideally, the modes should be automated so the display will switch between daytime and nighttime use based on the clock, with a manual override setting. The two modes should be easily accessible from the remote control. The ISF created the ISF Certified Calibration Control program, which encourages display vendors to include presets for day and night modes and other settings in their displays. Several vendors include the settings in some displays, including NEC Display Solutions, Optoma, Epson and Vidikron.

Properly calibrating the display not only produces a better image, but also increases the life span of the display. With pixel devices such as LCDs and DLPs, improper setup can destroy images produced over the long term. In plasma displays, poor setup can increase the burn-in rate.