Spyder 3TV colour calibration kit review

With so many settings on a modern television, you’d be forgiven for wanting a little help to set it up. Spyder 3TV think they have the solution in their colour calibration kit. But is this worth the time and money? We get tinkering to find out.

The kit provides you with several basic components: the colorimeter, a tripod mount, PC software and a test disk. Before you start the process, you are asked to warm-up the TV and DVD player for about 20 minutes. It will also calibrate CRT, RPTV and projectors.

After installation of the software, you are invited to connect the colorimeter to the PC via USB, which is quick and simple. You then have to enter some basic details about your TV, usefully, you get to log your current settings for later comparison, but also good to roll back to if things go horribly wrong.

The system is interested in the following main areas: brightness, contrast, colour, tint and colour temperature. If these settings don’t appear on your TV, you have the option to remove the tests. You are also invited to define the scale, so enter the maximum and minimum values.

Attaching the colorimeter to your screen is via two options – either an in-built sucker, or by using the tripod mount. Depending on the type of screen you are calibrating, the set-up is slightly different, so it is advisable to refer to the instructions.

Once attached, away you go. The software guides you through the basic procedure, asking you to perform various tasks whilst taking readings against the test screens from the supplied disk, which is playing through your DVD player. The process is simply a case of following the instructions through the steps and you are given the best setting at each stage.

At the end of the process you are invited to view several screens and play around to see the difference that the changes have made, and you can save the results of the test in graph form for later referral.

All well and good, but does it actually make any difference? We tested the Spyder 3TV on a 40in Samsung LCD screen and immediately found that many of the options were simply not catered for. For example, there are settings to fine tune all the colour settings, there are advanced settings for digital noise reduction and so on, as well as black boost settings, etc, etc. Whilst it seems happy to deal with brightness, this was done in isolation, with no consideration of any power saving features or backlight options affect the TV.

So what of the results? The biggest changes were to brightness and contrast, which we feel resulted in detail being lost in shadows and dark scenes. On the other front, colours were boosted, but at times where too overwhelming, due to changes in the colour temperature, which we had to turn back.

There are some additional test patterns set aside for visual verification, to get around what Datacolor call “red push”, allowing you to remove the colorimeter and use your eye and when we performed these tests, it took the setting back towards the original settings prior to calibration.

Of course, on modern TVs, this will probably calibrate the input channel, so you’d have to copy the settings across.

We ran a second test on a smaller LCD with one range of settings to govern the whole TV. We headed off into complete darkness once again, the only illumination provided by a little Nina Simone in the background.

Again the results returned were too vivid on the colour front, but the same overall changes were recommended: contrast up, brightness down. One of the claims on the packaging is that calibration saves money, so perhaps turning the brightness down is how this is achieved.

Verdict

Overall we couldn’t help but be a little disappointed by the Spyder 3TV as a calibration tool. Whatever science lurks behind the detection and analysis process, it doesn’t account for one major thing: settings are subjective. The interpretation of a good picture varies so much and there seems to be no way of telling the system what you want to achieve.

At this price it feels as though something critical is missing. Put up against a modern TV, too many options could not be covered and without the option of selecting the look you are aiming for, it doesn’t feel like good value for money.