A good friend of ours just joyfully reported he dropped some serious coin for a Sony Bravia XBR 46" LCD HDTV panel. When we asked whether he was going to calibrate his new pride and joy upon delivery he seemed perplexed:
"Why would I have to calibrate it? Doesn't the set come pre-set with calibrated settings?"
And thus this is a common misconception amongst consumers. Wowed and impressed with overly contrasty and saturated images at their local brick and mortar dealers, consumers are often unaware of the true capabilities of their new HDTV sets (accurate colours and deep, rich black reproduction). We've had an ISF certified technician come out and calibrate our set before and it makes a huge difference (it was compliments of Sony years ago when my set when awry right after purchase), and we've also done some minimal calibration ourselves using Video Essentials or the Avia II Calibration DVD.
An inbetween solution between a technician and the DVDs is this Calibug HDTV calibration system. The USB device plugs into your PC or laptop and allows for Video Signal Reference and Multimedia testing using a series of 200 pattern generators and tests. Note, this only supports 1080i and 720p HD resolutions.
Don't want to spend any money on calibration. You can do some it yourself just using your own eyes and your remote control taking these steps recommended by Barry Willis of Crutchfield:
With your room as dark as you can get it (or as dark as it will be when you watch movies), cue up a good black-and-white source.
Find a good daylight outdoor scene.
Turn the color all the way down. Adjust the brightness so that the white portions of the picture are as bright as possible without making the black portions turn charcoal gray.
Adjust the contrast to the point where any glare disappears, and then adjust the focus or sharpness for crisp outlines and edges. If you push the sharpness too far, you'll get a bit of "edge crawl" or "buzziness" at sharp transitions in the picture — such as a black jacket over a white shirt.
Go back and forth between the brightness, contrast, and sharpness adjustments two or three times, making small corrections until you feel that the picture is as good as you can get it.
Now carefully look at the intermediate tones in the picture — the various levels of gray. Are they neutral gray, or slightly brownish red? Or are they slightly bluish? If the color is too warm, you need to back off the red slightly. If it's too cool, back off the blue. If it's slightly purplish, boost the green; if it's slightly turquoise, boost the red.
Your last adjustment is to bring the color level up and then to tweak the "hue" or tone. Do this with a DVD with natural outdoor scenes. Slowly bring the color level up to the point where the sky onscreen looks like the sky outside — a pale radiant blue, not cobalt or aquamarine.