What Is ISF Calibration?
Imaging Science Foundation Calibration Explained
There are countless thousands of households in this country that own a high-end TV. These beautiful combinations of art, design, and cutting edge technology are often some of our most prized possessions.
People love to splash out on a new TV, it’s often the centre of the family home. They take it home from the store (or more commonly in 2017 order it online), unpack it, put it on the stand, turn it on, and start watching.
Most people mistakenly believe that at this point the entire set up of their new (and probably expensive) TV is complete. From then on they are viewing their favourite shows in what they believe to be the best quality the TV has to offer.
The display settings on the vast majority of the UK’s TV’s often go totally unnoticed and untouched (which is a horrible waste of potential beauty). The manufacturers put the settings on these TV’s for a reason, and that reason is calibration.
Today we are going to be talking about what ISF calibration is, why you need it, and how the process works.
Let’s get started.
What Is Calibration and Why Do You Need It?
Have you ever walked around a TV section in a department store that has the same show playing on all the display models? Have you ever noticed that all of the images look slightly different on different TV’s?
Some are darker than others, others have a much higher contrast, and some look washed out. In a perfect world, all of these TV displays would look very similar. There would obviously be some deviation due to the quality difference between products, but the difference should be much smaller than it often is. This difference is due to calibration.
The director that is producing these shows has put countless hours into ensuring each and every frame looks exactly as it should. There is a “correct” calibration for a TV (which is as close to the intended broadcast image as possible). The process of calibration is adjusting the settings on a TV to achieve the “correct” image.
Calibration is a delicate thing, it is not a “one size fits all approach”. The main determining factor that determines how a TV needs to be calibrated is the lighting of its environment.
TV manufacturers know that people will often look for a new TV in department stores before making a purchase. The lighting conditions in these stores are very different to what you have in your home. They are often highly illuminated by bright white halogen strip lamps located directly overhead. The place that picture quality matters most to manufacturers is when on display in the store because that is where you will make your decision to purchase.
As such, TV’s are often calibrated to look their best in this unnatural environment. And needless to say, this means the TV will not be properly calibrated for the environment of your home.
Calibration is the process that adjusts the settings on your TV away from the halogen lights of the store and tailors the display to the ambient conditions in your home. It brings out detail, makes images clearer, and allows you to watch shows as the director intended.
What Does the Calibration Process Look Like?
At the risk of stating the obvious, calibration is a procedure that is performed in the location that the TV is going to be watched in. You will book an appointment and the calibrator will come out to your home at a convenient time. The process we outline below can take anywhere between a few hours and a whole day depending on how far out of line your TV currently is.
The process starts by the calibrator taking a reading of your current TV to see how it is currently performing. This is done with a whole range of fancy gadgets, but the main tool your calibrator will be using is a spectrophotometer. They will then use various techniques attempt to match the blacks, the whites, and the three RGB colours to their “correct” broadcast settings.
For many professional calibrators this would be the entirety of the job, and to be honest, this is more than enough to get vastly improved picture quality. However, ISF calibration goes a few steps further, which enables additional significant improvements.
ISF calibrators take the specific lighting and layout conditions of the room into account. The calibrator will take light meter readings, assess the layout of the room, and optimise the calibration for specific viewing locations in addition to the other steps we mentioned above.
What Is the ISF?
The Image Science Foundation (ISF) is an organisation that has dedicated itself to helping consumers and professionals to get the best images possible from their AV equipment. They have been around for over 2 decades now (since 1994) and are arguably the world's leading image quality experts.
The ISF’s work can be separated into two different areas (which are inextricably linked to one another). One side works with manufacturers, and the other side works with calibrators.
The ISF works with most of the big name brands you see on the shelves of your local electronics store to help provide the tools needed for professional calibration. They provide information and advice to the manufacturers on best practices for the 1001 settings you see in your TV’s display menu.
This goes hand in hand with the second side of the ISF’s work, which (as you might have guessed) is training calibrators. Their training courses are intensive and detailed. Their close work directly with the manufacturers allows them to teach highly accurate information to their trainees. This combination of experience and inside knowledge arguably produces some of the best professional calibrators in the world.
Once a calibrator has passed the ISF’s stringent tests and is fully qualified, they are entitled to call themselves an official ISF calibrator and can provide “ISF calibration services”.
So there you have it, a quick introduction into the world of ISF calibration and the Image Science Foundation. At around £250 - £300 for a calibration it’s not a cheap investment, but the results often speak for themselves.
If you have already spent over £1000 on a TV or a projector, why not consider investing a little more to ensure you are enjoying it in its full glory with a professional ISF calibration?