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HDTV triggers return of TV technician house calls

Today’s HDTV sets have become mind-bogglingly complex, triggering the return of a 1950s tradition: the video technician house call, according to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times.

Experts are now getting from $225 to more than $1000 to tweak the new HDTVs of those who can afford it.

“Technology may be at our fingertips, but many people don’t know what buttons to press,” said Joel Silver, president of the Imaging Science Foundation, an organization that trains and certifies TV set calibrators. “The old technology was mature and forgiving. So when a set was badly adjusted, it still looked OK. Now, with high-definition, there’s no place to hide.”

And because images are viewed and appreciated by human eyes in lighting conditions that can vary dramatically from living room to living room, there’s only so much that machines can do to create a picture that’s perfect for every home, the Times reported.

Mark Fairchild, professor of color science and director of the Munsell Color Science Laboratory at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY, said in a completely dark room, he could come up with equations for what colors will always look like to the human eye.

“But in the real world, you have windows, different lighting, different room sizes, and our knowledge of color perception starts to break down,” he said. “That’s where we need a human to come in, look at your TV and tell you why it looks funny.”

Human eyes have the ability to discern minute changes in color and light, said Dr. Michael F. Marmor, professor of ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, CA. Calibrators are trained to pay attention to conditions outside the set, such as the type of lighting in a room that can affect the way a TV picture looks.

Then there is the tendency among manufacturers to set their TVs at their maximum brightness, so that their products grab more attention in a crowded retail show floor with bright fluorescent lights.

Manufacturers often include two or three predefined settings: “movie” adjusts the set for viewing in a dark room; “dynamic” has a high sharpness for viewing sports programs; and “brilliant” is the default setting on most TV sets.

Some manufacturers such as Sony Electronics devote a button on their remote controls to make rotating through these preset modes easy.

All this adds up to a situation not unlike the 1950s and 1960s, when technicians delivered TV sets to homes and installed them. The job sometimes involved demagnetizing the sets and clambering to rooftops to set up antennas.

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