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Toronto 2001 (Tour 1)

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A Calibration Tour … By The Numbers

I thought I would get a lot of this on paper before it was lost forever. My calibration tour to Toronto certainly made me more appreciative of just how vast the southern Ontario area really was. It looked so much smaller on the map. But suffice it to say, this area is big and don’t I know it now.

The tour lasted nine days and encompassed ten clients and ultimately some 14 TV sets. I went from Toronto to Etobicoke to Kitchener to Burlington to St. Catherines to Peterborough back to Toronto. I’m just glad that I was not in the driver’s seat this time as those duties fell upon the various clients to ferry me between locations. A great big slice of life … the ability to peer into all these different homes and for a brief instance, see how they live.

The sets on the docket for this tour included:

  • Toshiba 65H80
  • Toshiba TW56X81
  • Toshiba 50HX70
  • Toshiba TW65X81
  • Toshiba TW40X81
  • Pioneer Elite Pro-510 (2)
  • Pioneer Elite Pro-610
  • Panasonic 56" HD RPTV
  • Panasonic 36" Gaoo (2)
  • Proscan PS32800HR
  • Sony KP-53HS10
  • RCA F326325 32"

An incident that occurred early on in the tour made for some funny moments later in the tour. It was eye opening enough that I had to bring up this detail with all that followed on the tour so that there would be no misunderstandings or unrealistic expectations before I started. This incident was the typical result of the post-calibration blues. When I calibrate the TV based on the DVD signal, there is a high probability that the other lower quality signals may actually end up looking worse. When you calibrate the set to draw out the finer detail embedded in the DVD, this also results in drawing out the worst of cable and satellite sources. The flaws take center stage.

So what I was facing was a compliment that the DVD’s looked great, but general disappointment that the other sources were not similarly affected. I had to drill this into the heads of the remaining participants so that they clearly understood that the other signal sources may suffer and that I could not make bad signals better, nor would I even care about that. Satellite/cable is tolerable at best and I had about enough of hearing that the colours looked wrong on this or that particular channel. Too freaking bad. Generally, this point was made clear and I was given the go ahead to proceed with the work on the various sets.

I will breakdown the trip in the order of the TV’s that I worked on.

Day One – Toshiba 65H80 –

Generally the first time I got to work on this new model. I have worked on the 56H80 and the 40H80 units previously so no surprises. Everything proceeded according to plan and the calibration took about six hours as expected. Nothing unexpected and I streamlined the process of taking the protective screen off and reversing the stack. I will need an electric screw driver next time. I also employed a technique to reduce the sag in the screen when the screen is put back together. It’s all in the way to do it. With the unit done, I spend the rest of the evening streamlining the a/v hook up used by the client to help them get the most of their set up. Obvious weak points were corrected such as dropping the RF output of the cable box in favour of the S-video of the box. While cable/digital cable still sucks in general, at least there are still some things we can do to make the best out of a bad situation.

Day Two – Toshiba TW56X81 –

First off the bat, a surprise. The client seems more focused on getting geometry right than just the other services that I offer. Clearly from my own costing sheet, I don’t charge for geometry because I don’t really offer that service and for good reason. If I did include the geometry component, you could be sure that my costs would increase significantly. It’s time consuming and tedious. We worked on the TV’s Full mode and while this was completed, it ultimately would be a battle won, but a war lost. With the geometry completed, we proceeded to the regular calibration schedule and had the grayscale dialed in quick enough. (Later on in the week, I would find out that the grayscale was actually set up based on the wrong mode in the SD-6200 DVD player. The goal was to use the 480P mode, but somehow the 480I mode was used instead. Not a big deal to go one way or the other, but going the other way was to yield some very different results.) So the 480 section of the set was done and then I proceeded to take a look at the 1080I section.

It was in this mode where we found out that the HD service convergence grid was effectively dead. There was no grid to be seen, only the coordinates of the grid were visible. This was a major downer for myself, but even more so for the client since this was his TV and it meant that all the hard work on the geometry done earlier was ultimately for naught. His convergence board was defective. I finished up the late afternoon by setting up his HD grayscale.

Day Two – Toshiba 50HX70 –

Things proceed in a straight forward fashion until it comes time to reverse the stack on the protective screen. To my horror and surprise, Toshiba changed the screw design for the screen. Instead of a Philips screw driver type, they now went with Hex bolts. I did not bring the right tool for this, but fortunately the client had the proper hex screw set and we were able to proceed. A note on cleaning the mirror, the more one tried with Windex and the paper towel, the more residue seemed to be left on the mirror. It looked like the paper towels were the main offenders.

So as the calibration session continued into the late evening, I noted that when the grayscale was properly set up according to the instruments, the end result looked wrong when we were watching moving material. As a result, I redid the grayscale to double check the work. Again, the images looked wrong. As a hunch, I took the set out of service mode and started taking my readings in the user Warm mode and there was the culprit. The patterns that I saw on screen in the service menu were different than in the real world. (As it would turn out, Louis Carliner would note that the images presented in the service mode were in the cool mode and not the warm mode.) So to get the warm mode set up properly, it was necessary to determine the colour temperature offset and account for that when I was in the service mode. I would now be shooting for 8800K or so and that would make the warm mode much closer to D6500K. It took a few minutes to figure this out, but once done, we were rolling. I don’t know why Toshiba decided to change this in only their 4:3 sets and not the 16:9 units in the current year.

Day Three – RCA 32" Direct View Tube set –

This one was easy and took about one hour since I had to chart out the 15 service menu parameters to figure out what each item did. The set ended up tracking very linearly just shy of 6500K.

Day Three – Pioneer Elite 510 –

The owner had accidentally touched the screen trimpots previously so he had messed up his grayscale royally and he knew it too. Calibration on this unit was fairly straight forward with no huge surprises until we realized that the Pioneer DV-37 progressive scan unit was outputting a very different looking 480P signal than compared to the 480I section. The 480P signal from the DVD player was considerably darker than the 480I signal from the same unit. What this meant was that calibrating the TV to 480P resulted in an image that was too dark when used for viewing cable and satellite. As if someone had brought down the brightness to 25% from the optimal 50% range. To compensate for this difference, it became necessary to reassign the Movie mode in the TV to optimal 480I settings. The 480P was set up based on the STD mode to simplify operations for the client. The string focus method cannot be used for the Pioneer sets.

Day Three – Sony KP-53HS10 –

I just did the basic grayscale set up for the set and a service level convergence. It was my way of showing my appreciation for the client’s hospitality. Nothing notable about this calibration as it takes about one hour.

Day Four – Panasonic 16:9 56" RPTV – PT-56WXF95A –

I did the full work out on this set and discovered many things about the unit in terms of its flexibility or lack there of at times. This is the first time I had worked on this particular model so aside from the manual, it was virgin territory. Once into the service menu, it became obvious that setting the RGB cuts and drivers was not possible with a 480I component signal from the DVD player. To do the 480I section, only an S-video signal or less would allow access to the CRT parameters. Panasonic glues the focus block knobs in place. But it was an easy task to peel the glue away. Turns out the green electronic focus was well off the mark so there was one major improvement already. Taking the front screen off to work on the mechanical focus, I determined that the string focus method could not be applied to this unit. There is actually a lens hood assembly on top of the unit CRT’s already. The wingnuts on the CRTs are pointed to the back of the set so mechanical focus had to be done with the rear panel off. Simple enough. We ended up doing a grayscale for all modes in the TV including 480I, 480P, 720P, and 1080I. Once the menu was figured out, the process was rather straight forward. The effect of SVM was not visible on the needle pulse pattern so I did not look further for a parameter that might disable it.

It turned out that the Panasonic RPTV was already suffering from a case of CRT burn in after a mere eight months. For watching 4:3 material, the set was used in the POP mode with the three other channels strobing down the right side of the screen. This was seen as an alternative to the 4:3 mode with black/gray bars on the sides. But when I put up the 75% gray field, you could make out distinct channel numbers from the POP windows where they had burned into the CRT’s. Here was 36, there was 27 … the owner was not too pleased and generally bummed by this observation. Bottom line … stay away from the POP modes in the TV’s.

Day Five – Pioneer Elite 610 –

Straight forward calibration by the numbers. I set up the main viewing mode for 480P and created a second mode for regular satellite viewing. Nothing out of the ordinary except for the observation that lens striping is less necessary on Pioneer sets as compared to other sets on the market.

Day Five – Panasonic Gaoo 36" Direct View –

A set of service menu parameters was faxed in from Leo Vildosola in Montreal so a hearty thanks to him. It enhanced the service menu information that I already had. An easy set to calibrate and the ability to reduce the SVM to nothing was a major benefit.

Day Five – Proscan PS32800HR 32" Direct View HD capable set –

I mapped out the service menu on this set over Christmas because I also own the same unit. Out of curiosity, I transplanted my post calibration numbers to this TV to see how close it could get this one to D6500K. Not even close. Numbers simply are not very transferable. Aside from the grayscale, I also showed the client how to make a 16:9 mode for his HDTV programming, but in the end, he chose to crop his HD material to 4:3 instead of seeing the whole image at the proper aspect ratio. He didn’t like black bars.

Day Six – Pioneer Elite 510 –

Another straight forward calibration with the exception that the movie mode was now set up for daytime viewing as compared to the STD mode which was for optimal conditions.

Day Six – Toshiba TW40X81 -

Never over estimate the power of a good old $12 cable. While working on this set coupled with a Pioneer DV-05 DVD player, I noted that the dark end of the images showed far too much interference/video noise. Something was amiss. I replaced the $280 set of component video cables with this generic $12 cable that Sony gives away to Wega owners and the signal cleared up. This certainly irritated the client to find that his pricey cables were junk. Something obviously wrong here.

A straight forward calibration with no surprises. I also ended up setting up the grayscale for the HD section.

Day Seven – Toshiba TW65X81 –

One of the first things I noticed about this set was CRT burn in. A quick look at just some cable based material showed that the service convergence grid system had burned itself into the CRT’s. It was ever so slight, but you could see it. The client was none too thrilled to hear and see this pointed out. Needless to say, I proceeded to reduce the intensity of the grid contrast and brightness. Lesson to be learned, watch out and don’t keep the convergence grids on screen for extended periods of time. Very bad for the set itself.

Day Seven – Panasonic Gaoo 36" Direct View –

No surprises here and only a minimum amount that I could do in the service manual here. There was no SVM parameter here although we could certainly see its effect on the needle pulse pattern.

Day Eight – Toshiba TW56X81 –

This was the return visit to redo the grayscale since the first attempt was performed in the 480I mode. A bit more complicated than I thought, because the 480P output from the Toshiba SD-6200 DVD player looked strange. The correct setting for the 480P DVD section meant that the regular cable/satellite material looked too red. As if someone turned the RCUT up some 20 clicks. To account for this difference, it was necessary yet again to customize the medium colour temperature setting to HD/satellite/cable.

We also discovered that the convergence on the TV had drifted significantly in just a week since we last left it. The TV’s convergence board was definitely dying. While it was unfortunate that the repairs would ultimately undo the time spent on the convergence and geometry, the client learned how the process was conducted so he could do it himself in time.

Now for those that are the least bit curious about the type of schedule that one has to keep to on a trip like this … hang on tight.

Day One – Wake at 4:30 AM to catch a 6:30 AM flight from Calgary to Toronto. Arrive at 12:00 PM and begin work on the TV by 1:00 PM following lunch. Seven hours later, the TV is done.

Day Two – Wake up in preparation for next client who will pick me up at 9:30 AM. Arrive and begin work through 6:00 PM. Off to next Client’s home and arrive at 7:30 PM. Finish work on Toshiba RPTV by 2 AM.

Day Three – Wake up and do RCA 32" tube set. Off to next destination following a lunch at a restaurant. Arrive at 2 PM and begin work on a Pioneer 510. Five hours later, it’s finished and then dinner through 8 PM. Then I spend 2 hours on the Sony 53" RPTV.

Day Four – Wake up for 9:00 AM pick up to next destination. Work to 7:00 PM and time for dinner. Head off to bed for 6:00 AM departure.

Day Five – Wake up at 5:00 AM and prep to leave at 6:00 AM. Two hour drive to drop off location point where the next client will meet us. Arrive at client’s home by 10 AM and begin work on Pioneer 610 unit. Then the Panasonic 36" tube set, then a Proscan 32" set all in one day. Work is done by 11 PM.

Day Six – Wake at 7:00 AM for 9:00 AM appointment with next client and another Pioneer 510 unit. I finish by 1 PM amid calls from remaining clients asking how fast I can finish up. Schedule conflicts and people have to shuffle the list. Ride to Toronto and meet with next client at 7:00 PM. Calibration work starts at 8:00 PM and goes through 2:30 AM. Client takes me to hotel to check in.

Day Seven – Wake up and check out by 11 AM. A relatively easy day until I get picked up by the final client at 4:00 PM and I work to 1:30 AM on a Toshiba TW65X81 and another Panasonic 36" Gaoo. A chance to play with the progressive labs CA-1 colour analyzer. Cool device although it has its own drawbacks.

Day Eight – 11 AM pick up by a client for a return visit. Some additional touch up work to do takes 90 minutes and then I am back at the host’s home again. A nice dinner with the host and his wife and it is off to bed again for a 7:00 AM flight back to Calgary.

Day Nine – 7:00 AM flight back to Calgary. Arrive at 9:30 AM and spend the next six hours printing out receipts, and ISF reports for mailing.

The concept of me staying over at the various homes remains a great conversation piece. The paranoia factor is brought up as friends on both sides think that the others could be serial killers. Welcoming a stranger into your home for one evening. We have a good laugh about it all … and the fact that I stayed over was pretty low key.

While not physically tiring, the tour was definitely mentally tiring and if I had to do this on a weekly basis, I would probably choose death.