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Northwest Tour 2002

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Here is the summary of my recent northwest tour occurring in Mid August 2002. This one would get hectic at times as well as down right peaceful. I had to move some of the people around at the last minute as Joel Silver from the ISF asked if I could help out at the ISF Vancouver Seminar at the same time as my tour.

Monday Evening –

The first destination on the trip was Spokane, WA. The client had a Toshiba 42H81 unit and he had some problems with a previous same set, but Toshiba came through for him. The calibration itself was extremely straight forward as Toshiba sets usually are. What kept the process interesting was the puppy dog that the clients had. Similar to some form of terrier like that found in the Lady and the Tramp cartoon. The little male dog was fairly hyperactive and would seem to nudge up against me whenever I kneeled in front of the set. Was he excited? Harmless? I mentioned that something was not right here since it felt distinctly like the little dog was trying to "hump" me. Once I said that … the fun and games stopped … as the client thought that I may have a point. They took the dog away.

Tuesday Morning –

Still in the Spokane area, but this time to a small community called Liberty Lake. The location of my first disaster on the tour so it was good to get it over with fast. The TV was a Toshiba 56H80 set from a couple years ago married with a Pioneer Progressive scan unit. The calibration was actually very straight forward, but during a post calibration session to point out some DVD player faults, the TV decided at that moment to have its red convergence board die on us. A major let down to be sure especially considering that the work was done, but the client's set was broken. Could not do much except be the good guy and let the entire calibration go. I informed the client to get it repaired and then I would come back to re-tweak it the next time I came through. In a morbid sense, it is actually desirable to have the set go on us at that time rather than the next day or a few days later. This makes sure that one is at least present to explain what happened versus having the unknowing client point fingers.

Tuesday Evening –

Leaving Spokane following the disappointment with the Toshiba set, the next destination was Bend, Oregon of all places. Far away and some seven hours later, I arrived in the outskirts of Bend. There is nothing like driving in hot summer weather in very desert like conditions. The road off the main highway to Bend was simply a two lane road that seemed to go on forever and forever lasted just a little longer when I found myself behind four semi-trailers moving along. At some point, one is thankful for the power in their new car, all 240 HP of power and I could blow by the trucks in a brief instant. Now gassing up at a service station just outside of Bend led to some surprises. Little Oregon surprises as I would later find out. I get out of the vehicle and proceed to open the gas tank when all of a sudden, a service station attendant jumps in my way and says that he must do this. Here I am thinking that this is a self-serve station until the person tells me that none exist in Oregon. How odd … A mini-service station. They pump and take your money.

The client's home was a countryside acreage and at times, I thought I was definitely in the wrong place. A drive up one residential road left me face to face with a llama … yeah right. Wrong turn. Wandering over to the other side of the roadway, I found the home. A Mitsubishi 55" from Model year 2000 … an 05 series unit. Another straight forward calibration, but unfortunately, the set had some pretty severe raster ringing on both the left and the right sides of the image. Still, the resulting image was better than the TV had ever been before.

I was given the choice for sleeping over night. I had the choice of the couch or the motor home. Being the curious sort, I said let's look at the motor home. Well, it was one of those that one sees on the highways a lot. The one that is bigger than a Greyhound. Holy moly, was this vehicle large. A veritable motel on wheels. An interesting evening indeed. By morning, I did a quick touch up on the colour decoder for the HD section and then I was off again.

Wednesday Morning –

The set this morning would be the Toshiba 42H81 unit located south of Bend on a steep hill side. I drove around that area for a bit thinking that I was lost, but then saw that all the streets in this community had Canadian City names like Calgary and Edmonton and Victoria … The names may sound familiar, but this was not Canada. I finally found the home though. Home to the body building UPS man. There was a definite Hawaiian motif in the home and one or two of the images that he had hanging were pleasing to the eye and then more so when one noticed that the girl was topless …

I expressed my indignation to the client.  =)

Wednesday Evening –

Next up was Portland. I got out of Bend at about noon time to early afternoon and headed west toward Salem. The road was well forested, but still a two lane road with many curves. The road just went on and on and here I am wondering again why I just cannot go a bit faster … but it still went on and on. When I finally got to Portland after about two hours of that, I needed a rest. Stopped off at a local Sub store and promptly watched a recent vintage Nissan Sentra catch on fire in front of the store …

Finally pulling into Portland at the dinner hour, the client had a 38" RCA 16:9 tube set with the DTV built in the TV. It took a while to figure out how to enter the service menu of this unit, but when we finally got in there, the grayscale calibration went very smoothly. So well in fact that the HD section needed no further grayscale touch up. Good Deal for the client. We then opened up the back of the TV to disconnect the SVM coil. I've always liked these RCA units, but could never be too sure about there long term viability.

So I was off again to the next client's home. This one was a Toshiba TW56X81 unit from 1999/2000 and it was a pick up on a Client that Gregg Loewen was not able to see earlier on in the year. Some interesting notes though … as the set had actually been grayscale calibrated about a year earlier by a local ISF person. Taking some readings, the set's grayscale behaved on par with something that had been previously worked on. A year later, I did not expect the reading to still be at D6500 K, and I wasn't surprised when they weren't. Down at about 5800K … but not a slight against the previous ISF person. This is typical TV drift and aging at work.

It is known that a RPTV's overall brightness will drop off by 50% over the first year of its life. After which, it tends to maintain that 50% level through most of its remaining life until close to death. What I saw here with the TV brightness was exactly that. Images were about half as bright as they should have been so the touch up service readjusted the light output levels again.

The visit was really strange because the client had to leave at about 2 AM for his job and I needed to leave at 4 AM for Vancouver BC to make the ISF seminar. So here I am after calibration laying on a sofa bed half conscious to have the client thanking me and then rushing off to work. By 4 AM … I sneak out of the house and head north. North in time to meet Seattle AM peak hour traffic. Ghastly … and I needed more sleep. Another one hour stop at a rest stop did me good. I then proceeded to my friend's place in Bellevue to unload a lot of my equipment and cargo.

Thursday Morning –

I arrive in Vancouver by late morning in time to check into the motel before I headed downtown to help set up the seminar. By the time I get there at about 2 PM, Joel Silver and Kevin Miller and company had pretty much set up most of the room. Richard Stokes from A&B Sound, the local ISF coordinator, brought in a number of direct view tube sets for setting up at the various work stations. A Hitachi Canada product trainer and a representative from Sencore were also in attendance. Kevin was having problems with the Runco crt projector as the remote control had decided to stop working at this time. They did eventually get that fixed up, but the power losses during the seminar did not help the cause any. Too much equipment in one room ended up overloading the circuit breaker in the room.

As I entered the darkened room, Joel silver came over to say hello and he brought me over to Kevin Miller. This was the first time that Kevin and I had met although we knew of each other from many different sources. It was also Joel's wish that Kevin and I settle whatever differences we had between the two of us before the Seminar was done. Well, let's just say that Kevin and I made up and we are on good terms again. The rest of the seminar went well with the two of us exchanging cute little remarks about the real world application of some of the things Joel spoke about.

Friday –

The seminar begins with a class of people from the northwest vicinity including many Canadian locales as expected and many Pacific northwest American cities as well. There was one person there who had just attended the seminar some three weeks previous in Salt Lake City, but was here again because he could not answer all the questions on the ISF seminar examination from the previous time. Other participants included a couple of people from Austria.

It's not as easy to get through the seminar and receive your certificate as it used to be. Things appear to have been tightened up considerably. The questions are not exactly easy and most would be hard pressed to get them all right. If you are not the least TV savvy, it isn't as easy as you think.

I'm sitting in the back of the room manning the station with a low end Toshiba 27" tube set. I was using my Progressive Labs VA-1 colour analyzer for this seminar. Most of the other stations had the Sencore equipment and the Philips Analyzer. For a brief moment, the Sencore representative was unsure of whether or not I should be permitted to use the VA-1 device possibly because it is in direct competition with their product.

This was one of the smaller Toshiba sets where the standard service menu access codes did not work. There was not "menu" button on the front of the TV. I recalled the information from an E-mail that John at NBT Electronics had sent me long ago about how to enter the set. Why I would remember such things is beyond me. But with a few trials, I was into the service menu in about 15 minutes.

Saturday –

Day two of the seminar and I was starting to come down with a nasty sore throat. The beginning of a nasty 10 days of sickness. Joel Silver's voice was rapidly disappearing on this second day as well no matter how well he tried to mask it with the water he was drinking. You could hear that the voice was struggling. I'm glad that he made it through though. Informative as ever and the seminars are more technically entrenched than before.

Saturday Evening –

Now being thoroughly sick, I headed back to Seattle to continue the tour. I got to the client's home at 9:30 PM and proceeded to work on a first generation Toshiba 65" HD RPTV. He had the local people from a local HT store work on the set the year previous. My task was to update that work as well as implement any additional tweaks to the set that were not originally done. Once more, it was obvious that the image had done its traditional drift over the year especially with no further routine maintenance. Fortunate that the client left me alone and I could finish up most of the calibration in about 2.5 hours, leaving the HD section for the next day. Of course the cold just proceeded to get worse as the week progressed.

Sunday Afternoon –

I was actually scheduled to meet up with a client in the morning, but I realized that his home was not on any recent map and he had not yet provided me with his phone number. So the calibration was scrubbed and I got some much needed rest. I went back to the Saturday evening client in the afternoon to finish up his Toshiba and then I went up stairs to work on his 57" Sony 16:9 unit. An interesting home though as all the sets were secondary sets. The primary set was a JVC projector which unfortunately could not be calibrated.

Monday Morning –

A couple of Pioneer Elites this day where I encounter once again the HD grid alignment problem with the sets. To properly center the HD image, the HD grid has to be significantly off in apparent alignment. This leads to no end of headaches especially for long term maintenance of the TV. I talked to the client about the typical headaches that more than one calibrator has had with Pioneers and their apparent unstable grayscale tracking after calibration. Grayscale is done by the book and the TV image looks great, but on a few too many, the TV experiences some major colour shift the same day or within a day or so. People find their pristine images now too blue for instance. This explains why many calibrators are apprehensive when it comes to Pioneers. Will this be the next set to experience this problem? To be fair though, this problem does not happen a lot in the grand scheme of things, but once in 10 units seems like a lot. This is much more than the 2 of 200 Toshiba units that simply had convergence board failure moments after the completion of a calibration. Here is the danger though since we have no control over this happening. Odds are, it will not happen to your set, but when it does, it is extremely distressing.

Here was an example of the HD signal generator providing a result that was not really usable with actual HD material. I was telling the client about the dubious merits of getting the HD portion of the TV calibrated. While some things would be standardized, in the end, I was still setting up the TV to a test pattern box and not real broadcast HD material. There was the distinct possibility that the end result would not be compatible with any of the local source material. But we forged ahead anyhow and the end result was … a complaint that the HD image was too dark.

Monday Evening –

I went to the second client's home and got some wires crossed as they thought I was coming in the morning, although I had informed them that it had to be the afternoon. It almost didn't happen, but the client was able to stay at home and let me do my thing. We also determined that their 48" Sony RPTV up the stairs was thoroughly broken after a child had slammed into the side while playing rough with other friends. The convergence was totally gone as a result.

This client had a funny gray cat that simply liked to be near people. Odd for a cat. There I am in front of the TV working away and the cat slowly settles down right behind me. Enough to feel him clawing at my socks.

I did some minor centering of the HD image here, but I avoided the problem issue from earlier in the day. I did not look to correct overscan in the set. It was much easier as a result.

I'm full tilt into my cold by this time. Coughing up a store of fluids … so it was not as much fun at all. In a way, it was better to be sick since the clients pretty much gave you more space to work. As a result, the work could be finished much sooner than usual. With the final test of DVD images, I notice something odd. A Blue tinge where there should not have been. Something was up and of course the meter confirmed it. That unstable grayscale issue again. This time I caught it before I left. Fortunately, in my experience, I know that it only happens once … and not time and again.

Tuesday Morning –

I'm over at a client's home that is a second floor condo unit about 1900 s.f. Very roomy at that size all on one floor. The set is a older model Sony XBR 4:3 HD RPTV. The first that did 16:9 mode. The cold is not helping out, but I remind myself to drink plenty of fluids. The set actually calibrates well and rather linear grayscale for an RPTV. I was just glad it was not one of those HS10 units where one had to take the entire TV apart just to get at the protective screen.

Tuesday Afternoon –

It's a home for an X-Box tester from the giant MS corporation. The set was a 42H81 Toshiba unit. Interesting talk and a walk down memory lane for all these older brands of Video Game systems. We ended up talking about Mattel's Intellivision game system from circa 1981-83 when games really had to save space. Pushing him about the Atari VCS system was going a bit too far in time though. He had played the Mattel system well after it was already dead as a commercial product.

Wednesday Morning –

I have to wake up early and head to Vancouver and the stretch run of the tour. Still coughing up a storm, but the blood stopped coming up. The client was a musician and he lived in an open flat really. The set was an older 40H80 Toshiba from a few years ago. It was enlightening to discuss the music scene in the city and where one had to go to get a career like that. The calibration almost did not happen as I was there early on, but the client's apartment buzzer was not working. I phoned and left a message and went to the local internet café to relax a bit and catch up on the mail. Of course, no sooner did I put down $6 for an hour of net use, but the phone goes off and there he was.

Wednesday Evening –

Luckily for me, the second calibration was in the evening and so I could park the car and get some much needed shut eye for two to three hours. By 6 PM, the client was home and I could walk over to his apartment. This was another Toshiba 42H81 and we spent the evening talking about relationships and women. Of course, the longer we spoke, the darker the room got which was great from a calibration perspective.

Thursday Morning –

A busy driving day with one client about 160 miles away. Time enough to get to my friend's home and rest for a few hours before heading to the client's home. I got there early by an hour or so and he was already home. The set was a 57HX81 Toshiba where the protective screen had to stay on. A smoker. Somewhere along the way during the calibration, the client's cat wandered into the room. She was like 20 years old suffering from various ailments. I mentioned that the cat seemed like it was losing weight fast and the client agreed. A mere shell of her younger existence. The cat was also deaf … as loud claps by the client went unheeded. Finish up early and then it is time to drive back to the motel. More sleep required.

Friday Morning -

Downtown Vancouver on the 19th story of an apartment building. There was so much ambient light in the room that I had to hold my hand to my eyes to block out the background light from the sun. Luckily the client had a handy blanket that shielded everything and the calibration could proceed. I suffer from vertigo so looking down was not the most comfortable thing to do. Actually ended up passing out a business card for my day job as well.

This particular set was the Toshiba 50H81 unit and the store actually took the protective screen off first. I did suspect that the store also did a mechanical focus on the unit while they were at it since the TV had the best pre-calibration focus that I had ever encountered.

Friday Evening -

Off to Surrey in the evening and someplace actually close to where my motel was. A 61" Hitachi 16:9 unit. I think finding the person's home turned out to be somewhat more difficult than the set itself. A nice looking unit and the service menu was very friendly as one expects from Hitachi these days. The strange thing was that the TV's horizontal size and vertical size controls were actually pots on a circuit board behind the front cover. This Hitachi replaced a problematic Toshiba 57" that the client had previously. In some ways, I kind of understand why the controls were on the pots. Don't mess with them much is the warning.

The OOTB overscan was in the order of 6%, but with the pots, I reduced it to 3%, but here is where the difficulty occurred. When you correct for overscan to try to maximize the available image size … you invariably compromise geometry so you spend the next 30 to 60 minutes fixing that. Well, on this Hitachi, the more you tried to fix the geometry, the more the convergence grid worked against you. Before I knew it, certain sections of the screen grid were literal waves … unacceptable … this TV was not going to accept the ambitious 3% overscan.

Not having saved any of the changes, I used the emergency exit and restored the original convergence pattern. I backed off overscan to 5% and everything fell into place. The Hitachi service menu is nice in that is has full control over the TV's colour decoder, but I found out that the so called cool grayscale offset did not work as an offset at all. I set the TV to the main cuts and drivers and then played with the cool offset. Only to discover that it affected everything including warm and the medium modes as well. So much for an offset.

Saturday Morning –

Final client with a current year Toshiba 34" 16:9 tube set. Not much to say about a tube set except that doing the set up was easy. It was done more so that the client would know for sure where his set was versus after. The precalibration readings found the set around 7200K and the post were hugging the D6500K line.

I am more resolved next time to introduce a new way to record the pre calibration and post calibration readings. I spent a lot of time on the tour giving people numbers, but then explaining them in a way that made their ultimate usefulness rather questionable.

Sunday Morning –

I drove home. Definitely still coughing and not a week I would wish on anyone.