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With the tour over, Michael reflects on the excursion:
much like a certain tour of Europe done by a certain German
Leader from 1938 to 1944. I know, that is not funny. Just a thought from a T-shirt that I
There were a total of 25 locations over a period of 16 days including 27 calibrations.
In this mix was one FPTV, 3 DVs and 23 RPTVs. The model types included four
Sonys, four Pioneers, one Philips, one Mitsubishi, and 17 Toshiba sets.
Total mileage logged over the 16 days was more than 2,400 miles. I got a chance to see
many places where I have never been before as well as just a few locations that I wished
never were. As in I dont ever care to go back there in a similar capacity. But in
the end, it was fun and my anxiety about certain areas on the tour turned out to be
Its the people that I meet that make these tours the most interesting. Add to
that, I love to play with other peoples stuff. Everything this year has been
building up to this trip. In a way, I compared it to my own little Apollo Moon program as
each successive tour was used to test out certain things that I would need to know for
this tour. Much like how Apollo 7 led to Apollo 8 and then Apollo 9 and then
"One Small Step For Man
I started this year off by embarking on my first ever calibration tour to Toronto in
January. This first tour tested out my stamina for these things as well as how well
staying over at strange peoples homes would work. Would I be able to sleep at all in
a strange bed every night? I left all the navigation to the clients as they ferried me
from location to location. I wasnt ready to drive in a strange land just yet.
By the second trip in March, I was off to the New England States for a quick weekend
hop and it allowed me to test out a few more aspects of the touring ways. It was actually
my second visit to this part of the country and it also prepared me for what was to come
in May. I would come back this way. This tour was chauffeured and hosted by Gregg Loewen
of the Home Theater Forum. It was the first time I got to use the Accupel HD signal
generator and my laptop computer (for navigation). I still curse the fact that the battery
time on these computers just isnt very long. Not even in dog years. So the Streets
and Trips program was useful in finding the various people on the tour.
In April, the tour ramped up to my Pacific Northwest tour of
Seattle/Portland/Vancouver. This one was 11 days and 14 sets and this time I would do all
the driving myself and I would navigate alone. I had been to Seattle many times previously
and I lived in Vancouver for a number of years as well so I was familiar with the lay of
the land. The laptop navigation proved itself to be fairly reliable at getting me close
the each client. The navigation and driving was fine, but I was driving in my own care,
one that I knew very well.
So the challenge that started on May 5 and lasted to May 20 was to put me in a strange
area of the country, a strange car (crappy Neon, I swear I hate those cars), and
navigating in a much larger area than ever before. Ive had bits and pieces of this
on all the previous trips. This one put it all together and then some. We are a go for
And either by sheer coincidence or through divine intervention or Errols hard
work (This one), everything turned out just fine. The scary parts of the trip (entering NY
and braving the traffic) turned out to be not so scary after all. I was able to get in and
out on the right days and at the best times of day.
So let the tour begin. On day one, I flew into Washington National Airport and promptly
drove to Errols home. I have never met or spoken with Errol prior to this so it was
a pleasant surprise to see him coming to the door to greet me. A short trip to the local
Home Depot later in the evening to pick up my check list of tools and the tour was
officially rolling. Errol had his set calibrated first on the evening of my arrival. A
nagging point, to get to Errols home, one had to exit off the main beltway ring road
onto a toll road
where a $0.50 was charged. Then the first exit not 1000 feet away
was taken to get off the toll road. (Compliments to those who knew exactly where to place
their toll booths.) One was actually on the road for less time than it took to pay the
A couple of last minute additions and substitutions as the original person had to bow
out and two others slipped in. In Dale City, VA, I worked on a Toshiba 40H80 unit for a
client. Pretty straight forward except that this person had his home theater set up in a
bedroom that probably was not much more than 12"x 10." I was amazed at how he
could squeeze this set up into such a small room. His bed took up half the real estate. It
was cramped quarters to be sure, but the set was completed without incident. Leaving the
home, I was off to Arlington, VA for my second stop. A Toshiba CN36X81. But first a stop
for lunch at the local Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken. It was here where I encountered
my first memorable incident, although it was probably an American tragedy more than
anything. I place my order and my change amounted to $0.73. Simple enough. At least until
I reached into my pocket and pulled out two pennies to give to the kid manning the till.
For a brief moment which may have seemed like an eternity, the kid (likely 16 yrs old)
took the two pennies and started to look around and panicking. He was obviously looking
around for some help
something was wrong.
I then interjected to try to help out. The kid could not add 73+2 together. I had to
tell him that he should give me $0.75 in change. Definitely uncomfortable
was such a person doing behind a cash register if they could not add? And what are the
schools putting out?
So I finished my late lunch and I was off to Arlington. The tube set was cool and it
was a nice clean set up. The three colour temps were set up for B&W material, DVD and
HD. We also played around with the vertical height of the TV to see what the 16:9 squeeze
mode would look like on the set. We settled on an interesting compromise that gave the
viewer the extra resolution and yet minimized the geometry trade off that usually needed
to occur. Great conversation and then it was back to Errols home for the evening.
Day Three Monday
It was an early start and I chose to head to Bath, PA via the back way instead of
tackling rush hour DC traffic head on. Laptop in the passenger seat
and the road awaited. This was a day of tragedy and relief given the sets I
encountered. The first up was a Pioneer SD 532-HD unit and an accident occurred. Like the
Elites, the front frame covering the lenticular screen et al was held on by three clips.
This has always been by main concern when it came to Pioneers. The plastic frame is always
hard to remove
without fear of breaking it. This one especially so. I was about to
give up on this part since the frame just did not want to budge. The owner stepped in and
put just a bit more pressure on trying to lift the frame out of the clips. He managed to
get the left side out
but when it came to the right side
much pressure and he snapped his frame and ripped the right clip right out of the TV
screws and brackets and all. Ugly sight.
The second person that I would calibrate for also showed up in the afternoon to observe
the session. When the owner left to get Krazy glue at the store, we looked at each other
with a huge sigh of relief
glad I didnt do that. When all was
said and done, the glue was able to put the frame back in order and everything was
reattached to the TV. You could not see the damage.
There were two big dogs at this home and despite the owners assurances that the
dogs (150+ lbs) only wanted to have fun
I was less certain. One of the dogs was so
friendly that he kept trying to put my hand into his mouth
(over reaction you say?)
Well he was also trying to close his mouth on the same hand. Its all in good fun
until his teeth break the surface of my skin and I start gushing blood and I get need
The second site was in Nazareth, PA and the client was nice enough to prepare a
wonderful spaghetti dinner. The set was a Toshiba 40" 16:9 unit. Nothing unusual to
report. The calibration was straight forward. I finished up around midnight and drove off
to a local Hotel to spend the evening. A late check in, but the next day would take me
into the heart of North American civilization. I am now experiencing difficulties in
judging travel time distances. I get to every place much sooner than I thought and end up
calling the owners to announce my arrival when I am actually parked in front of their
Day Four Tuesday
Two Toshiba sets this day. A 40" in Piscataway, NJ and a 55" in Kinnelon, NJ.
The 40" was straight forward as it amounted to a damage control effort for a tweaker
who had tried to implement the Herman-TLV maneuver and eyeball his grayscale back to
order. Too much light in the room when I arrive in the morning so we ended up moving the
TV to another part of the home and I used a bed sheet to hide under to take readings.
Sorry, no looking. It was like a blast from the past. I got out of there in the early
afternoon and headed to the next location. Countryside of NJ. From up here, all you could
see was greenery of the vegetation
no other homes. In the distance
the twin towers loom. Like pyramids. Quite the site and quite odd too. This
second job was also a repair job to help the set recover from a tweakers handiwork.
I got there a little too early though as the wife was still in the process of cleaning the
home. Understandable when I tend to arrive unannounced. A chance to catch a few more
zzzs in the car.
More blanket work this time and I end up going through to 12:30 AM before I was done.
This was an interesting one because the client was heavily into photography and colour
matching and thought he had a good eye for eyeballing the grayscale. Just another example
of how adaptive our eyes get to relative colours making it hard if not impossible to
eyeball the grayscale especially if you havent seen what a proper grayscale is
supposed to look like. This is actually a paraphrase taken from the Video Essentials DVD.
Day Five Wednesday
Im getting a better understanding of how big and small New Jersey actually is.
The laptop continues to serve me well, but I come upon the realization that my diet is
suffering. I need fiber
so it is an early morning stop at a grocery to pick up
travel supplies including a large sack of oranges. Oranges
must get my vitamins.
The first stop was in Haskell, NJ in the morning for work on another Toshiba 40" set.
The neighbourhood had me worried for a moment because it appeared to be rather run down,
until the development came into view. Beautiful condo complex.
Well, because of lighting concerns, I was once more under the sheets calibrating away.
Unfortunately, this made it impossible for the clients to actually watch the grayscale
calibration process. I do make it a point to show my clients exactly how the
instrumentation works when I do their grayscale. De-mystify the whole process. I am still
using my trusty Philips colour analyzer, but on this trip, I also have my Progressive Labs
CA-1 laptop based analyzer too. I took the pre-calibration readings with the CA-1 and
finalized what I did with the Philips. I also had some time to experiment with optimizing
the grayscale curve. Was there a way to flatten the curve
so that we could reduce
the humps and dips that were so common with many calibrations. I has tried the often
talked about blue defocusing method just to see how it would work. I never really liked
the resulting image and I couldnt flatten the curve as much.
Well, taking a theory that I had, I applied it to this Toshiba and effectively redid
the grayscale some five times to test the theory. Each time, I was able to flatten the
curve a bit
then some more
then some more
eureka!! A break through
at least for me. No more of this 100-20 / 100-30 / 90-30 / 80-30 / 80-40 ire
compromises. Tuck that away in the back of my mind.
The set was a 40X81 and I discovered some nagging design menu issues with this set.
Typically, the medium colour temp can be reassigned to be anything you want without
affecting the base grayscale. I discovered the hard way that my attempt to set up an
offset grayscale in the medium colour temp for (HDTV material) was also changing the base
grayscale. This should not normally happen. Grrrrr.
The next destination for this day was Ridgewood, NJ and an appointment with a Sony
53XBR300. A change of pace. Pretty straight forward calibration. But attempts to
demonstrate the chroma bug on the Harmon Kardon Progressive Scan DVD unit found no trace
of the bug. Cool. Im dragging around a case of test material on DVD to highlight
various aspects of the TV system and the DVD players. I was using the Kirsten Dunst film
"Bring It On" with all the heavy red uniforms to point out the bug. A most
pleasing transfer and the cheerleaders prancing around in the opening sequence was fun to
look at too. If the uniforms were not glowing, then we knew that the colour saturation
level was adequate.
I learn that kids are great at wasting perfectly good food. Sure the grilled chicken
was well done, but inedible? Not at all. I like it that way.
Day Six Thursday
Today would be an anxious day as I had to make my first ever foray into the big apple.
The stuff of legend
tales of the unexpected. But first off, a stop in Teaneck, NJ
to work on a Toshiba 56H80. Straight forward and good light control here. But I forgot my
little crt lens cleaning cloth when I left for NY. It served me well in the short time I
had it. The Toshiba grayscale calibrations continue to get better and better and I am dumb
founded at the relative ease it was to get it there. Its like Dr. McCoy and the
teacher device. This was clearly childs play. Im sorry that this inspiration
did not hit me earlier on in the tour. The other Toshiba sets would have most certainly
benefitted and I would not have had to make some of the minor compromises.
I had joked with some of the clients on the tour that this was not like a Madonna Blond
Ambition Tour. The performances in Tokyo were clearly more fresh and energetic than those
in Paris right at the end of the tour. My calibrations would not get worse and worse as
the tour dragged on.
So I was off to Woodbury, NY by early afternoon. "You are now entering NYC."
I got to the George Washington Bridge and started to change lanes to get to those cash
lanes. Not too obvious for the first time visitors, but I managed to worm my car over to
where it was supposed to be. Tolls
$6 US to cross the lousy bridge?!! Oh well
and then another $3.75 to get into Long Island! Someone described Long Island
traffic as being like the burbs
only intensified. I think they were right. Every so
often I reveal my western roots when I make a faux pas and ask for "pop" at the
various restaurants or homes. People look at me so strangely. You say "soda," I
Another 56X81 here and the calibration is straight forward again. The new grayscale
methodology seems to be yielding surprisingly consistent results time and again. This
particular set up already had the protective screen removed, but it was now replaced with
an external piece of plexiglass in a fascinating design. The plexiglass found its way onto
the front of the TV because the client came home one day to find his children in the
process of attaching a dart board (albeit bean bag) to the front of the lenticular screen.
I also have to compliment the man on his excellent cheese omelet that he fried up for
me in the morning.
Day Seven Friday
Two to three sets on this day. The first was in Oceanside, NY where a 56H80 awaited. A
straight forward calibration again with very decent daytime light control. Another shot
for my digital camera. It was my big toy for this trip. A way to log my trip and remember
the various set ups. I have to apologize at this time to the client because it was I that
plugged your toilet on that morning. Im sorry.
The tour really gets into the anxiety phase by this time. My next destination was
in the heart of Queens. Let me say for the record that every
preconception of how the traffic and parking is like in this area is
much for parking 15 feet back from a Stop sign. Eeek.! I drive around for only a short
while looking for a parking spot and I luck out to find one across the street from a
police station. I was warned by those in the know that once I found a parking spot
never let it go. So here I am
heart of Queens (figuratively speaking
no way to know if it really is the heart). I am still in awe as to how my client managed
to get that 61" Toshiba set up the 3 flights of narrow stairs to his apartment. And
he had an Electrohome FPTV too.
This is where I make the mistake of saying that my clients girlfriend has a cool
NY accent. Bad choice of words
I quickly took that back and soundly admitted that
in this city, it was I who had the accent. The Customer had just had some major repair
work done to his Toshiba set so it was completely useless trying to take precalibration
readings. Suffice it to say that the image was blue!!! Joel Silver mentioned a story once
upon a time at the ISF seminars about people asking the creators of the Philips Analyzer
about why their instrument would not give readings of colour temp higher than 16500K. The
because anything higher than 16500K was BLUE!!!!! The settings were out
to lunch, but everything was brought under control by evening. Next up was working on the
grayscale for the FPTV. And this is where I was glad I was up at the screen taking the
readings and directing the session to the client. He had the honor of adjusting the
drivers and cuts. And every so often, I would hear a yell from him as he received a jolt
of high voltage. The power was arcing
not fun. Surprised he did not kill himself
and I was glad to be standing where I was. Far from the FPTV unit.
The weather was not being kind this day as it was 88F and humid for May. The AC unit in
the apartment was not operating at peak efficiency so it was literally the most restless
night on the tour. By 4:30 AM, I had awakened and said
"yup, Ive had
enough sleep on this evening." I scanned the net the remainder of the morning.
Day Eight Saturday
With the restless night behind me, on this day, it was off to Manhattan and then north
to Connecticut. Taking the early morning walk to my parked car showed me something I had
never even imagined before. At 7:30 AM, the police had turned the streets adjacent to
their precinct into the most disorderly parking lot I have ever seen. The entire
intersection was parked with police cruisers
right in the middle of the
intersection. And in all this, they left a small narrow travel corridor for only one car
to squeeze through. Eye opening and jaw dropping. I was happy and relieved to drive out of
there. Making my way downtown to an apartment complex on the banks of the Hudson River
only three blocks from the World Trade Center was the next goal. Luckily the client from
the previous day road shotgun for me and got me close. I found some underground secure
parking next to the apartment and promptly paid $24 for three hours of parking. Ouch.
Well, it was valet service though.
Just a 36" Sony XBR400 here and a 32" Sony XBR100. Both relatively quick. And
what a view from the persons home. At $3500 a month
guess he has
a right to own a lizard too. The information about just what is all airbrushed out in
those Victoria Secrets catalogues was positively fascinating. Much more than just birth
marks. It would seem that everything and anything is fair game from cellulite to body fat
you name it
and to think that the young women of this world aspire to look
like these people who dont even exist in real life.
My bonus was after this session because the client was kind enough to take me to the
roof to view the sites. From there, I could literally see everything I wanted to see in
the big apple. The Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, World
my digital camera was happy. The client was even kind
enough to point out the road I should take to get out of Manhattan. And so I was off
and out of the City. A huge sigh of relief came across my face. I was
so relieved that I kept driving north and completely missed my turn off to North Haven CT.
I actually overshot the turn off by 40 miles as it turned out. But I was happy as the most
anxious period of the trip was over and the delay was just a very minor setback. It gave
me time to have lunch and I got to see more of the country side.
Next up was a Pioneer Pro 610. Straight forward again, but the tweaking trip I learned
on the Toshiba units did not work on the Pioneer to my disappointment. This was an
interesting evening because the client had a couple more of his friends over to watch the
calibration and talk film and cool stuff. An audience is always nice to have. And it is
good to know that when renovating the home, that the Home Theater has priority above all
else. By morning as I was packing up to depart, I spent some time writing up crib notes to
walk the client through the service convergence mode of the Pioneer and then we walked
through the process together so I knew he could do it.
Day Nine Sunday
Off to Bolton, CT this day and then to Holyoke, MA. Two Toshiba sets on the docket.
Arriving in Bolton, it was strangely refreshing to see a home theater in such disarray. It
was wired for audiophile sound as the speakers were well out in front of the TV. And as
the client mentioned, his two children were allowed to watch TV, but they were not
permitted to cross the plane of the speakers to touch the TV. I was still on my early
morning orange diet, but the one in hand was bad
Luckily the client was kind enough
to offer me a new orange. Great conversation as everything was whipped into shape and my
thanks again for the wonder spaghetti lunch that was served. I did learn that the client
actually went to College with Mr. Cheezmo from the web. And four year old girls should not
look smaller and more frail than their two year old siblings.
I got to Holyoke, MA by late afternoon and found out that the client had moved into his
own apartment now. I have not been to the Springfield, MA area since 1998 when I
interviewed and accepted a job in this area with the City of West Springfield. Of course,
within a day of my acceptance, I had to send a letter of apology as I then turned down the
position. I went to Calgary instead. Nothing unusual with this calibration of a 40X81
unit. The only thing that had me worried a bit was that the clients girl friend was
sick with some kind of flu bug and I did not want to catch anything. So I kept my distance
from the two of them.
Day Ten Monday
Off to South Deerfield, MA and Stoughton, MA on this day. The 40X81 was in Deerfield
and a 55HX70 was in the Boston burb. Deerfield was interesting because the home was
how shall I put it kindly
a mess. The client was in the process of mixing the
belongings from two homes into one. And in a far off bedroom, one could hear the barking
of a very large animal.
The drive to Stoughton was uneventful since I pretty much avoided rush hour traffic. I
just wasnt quite prepared for the vehicles racing along the shoulders on the various
expressways. The HX70 took a bit longer to calibrate because of the strange design choices
in the Toshiba service menu for this series of units. Why their 16:9 units remained
logically set out was a mystery to me.
Day Eleven Tuesday
Two units today and both in the Boston area. The first one was at Natick and it was a
65" Toshiba. The second one was a 55" Mitsubishi up in Amesbury, MA. I must say
that it was a riot hanging out with these two guys all day. And why one of them is
completely obsessed with Paul Carletons hair
but that is another long and
funny story. I wish I could relate some of the stories that were thrown about, but I
cant. Suffice if to say that I brought up this Star Trek TNG point about the things
we do in life. The goal is no longer for personal monetary gain, but to advance the cause
of humanity and the human condition. And what was he doing hoarding various DVD titles in
anticipation of making a profit. When we were done in Natick, our convoy of three vehicles
headed up to Amesbury. The sight of that black Mustang racing past us at 100 mph was just
The Mits was the second unit on the day and while it calibrated well, it produced an
image that just bothered me to no end. The TV was doing some sort of image processing that
created some false edges to many things on screen. For a while, I was thinking SVM, but
the needle pulse pattern indicated nothing. The best I can describe it is that it is
similar to the Panasonic RPTVs. I had mentioned to JS once upon a time as to why
Panasonic HD units exhibited this "essentially" crappy image. He was way ahead
of me on this one. Some kind of unwanted image enhancement.
Day Twelve Wednesday
This was supposed to be a travel day when I would drive from Boston all the way back to
DC. I managed to squeeze in one person in Burlington, MA who had a 64" Philips HD
set. Im glad the guy had access to the service menus and Im also glad we could
share some quality time underneath the blanket by the TV. (Kidding) Too much daylight in
this room even though the day was cloudy and overcast. I was finally on my way back to DC
by 1:00 PM
A mere couple of days later, the clients set decided to die on him.
A genuine bummer.
I had decided to re-chart my course from Boston back to Washington, DC away from the
main interstates that would take me back to New York and then through Philadelphia. I
expected to be tired so thepath of least resistance was preferred. I literally back traced
a path through Pennsylvania and came in to the west of DC. An 8.5 hour drive and I was
back DC. (Herndon). Checking in, I began work on yet another 40" Toshiba set and
finished all the physical calibration items by 12:30 AM at which point my mind was going
and I had to hit the sack.
Day Thirteen Thursday
I finished up the Toshiba in the morning and was off to Bristow, VA for an afternoon
session with a Pioneer Elite 610. I got to the home and then promptly waited for the next
four hours before giving up. A quick call to Errol to indicate that the session appeared
to be a bust and it was back to Errols place to unwind a bit. Figuring that I could
rest now, a call from the client came in the early evening apologizing for the delay. Real
life responsibilities so rudely interrupted our need for a hobby. Another trip back to the
clients home and it turns into a late night session. Finished up by 1:30 AM.
Day Fourteen Friday
The stretch run
Vienna, VA. The last person on the tour. A last minute addition.
A Pioneer Pro 710 unit. I roll in at noon time and within a half hour, the client returns
home. This was he second set and he actually had Louis Carliner work on that unit (Pro700)
years back. Not too much to say on the calibration of the Pioneers. After the accident in
Bath, PA with that Pioneer TV frame, you could imagine me being extra sensitive to the
clips holding the frame onto the TV.
A nice evening courtesy of the client. He had invited the family and myself out to the
Country Club for dinner. My first experience at such a place and the first place where one
could stand up and leave after dinner without worrying about the bill. But since they know
who you are, you cannot get away with not paying. We end the evening watching Rules of
Engagement which looked and sounded great. I also understood why they kept these blankets
on racks next to the home theater area.
My testing of the HDTV input signal was yet another reminder that I never really had to
do any major tweaking to set up any one particular persons HDTV section. While I did
it for a few people on the trip, the truth of the matter was that it didnt matter
overall. After the main body of the set had been set up for DVD, the leap to HDTV did not
yield radically different colour temperature readings from the 480P section. Confirmation
that in most cases, setting up two separate grayscales was not really necessary.
Day Fifteen Saturday
My tour was over. This was a fun day for me to go shopping and store browsing. I was
also Motel hunting and I almost ended up staying in the wrong part of town. Fortunately,
that place was fully booked so I had to go elsewhere. Of course it was only when I drove
out of that area when I realized where I had inadvertently ended up.
Day Sixteen Sunday
The flight home. I made it
Thanks to everyone of the participants on the tour. It was great meeting all of you and
thank you for having me. The digital photos that I took of you will not be posted anywhere
as I promised. I just dont know how to do that.