Apple’s TV Calibration Feature Might Bork Your Picture Quality, Actually

Apple’s TV Calibration Feature Might Bork Your Picture Quality, Actually
Photo: Stephen Lam/Stringer, Getty Images

Last month, Apple introduced the new Apple TV and with it, a new colour calibration feature in tvOS 14.5 for its streaming boxes. The way it works is you hold a compatible iPhone against the screen as it flashes through a series of colours and then voila — you’re supposed to get a properly balanced TV in a super-easy way. Turns out, it might not be that simple.

Professional TV calibrator Vincent Teoh posted a YouTube video (via 9to5 Mac) that puts the new colour balance feature through its paces. Teoh used two first-gen Apple TV 4K boxes and an iPhone 12 Pro to see whether the feature improved colour accuracy on the LG C9 OLED TV, Samsung’s Q80T QLED TV, Sony’s XH90 (X900H) LED LCD, and a Sony BVM-HX310 reference monitor worth roughly $55,000. Some of the tweaks aren’t that noticeable to a layman’s eye, but Teoh also measured the results with professional calibration tools.

In Teoh’s testing, Apple’s calibration feature delivered mixed results, and in others, actually made colour accuracy worse. For example, with the Samsung TV, the calibration feature did improve colour accuracy but also ended up making the overall image bluer in tone. It also shifted the Sony’s image to a cooler tone while worsening overall colour accuracy.

The best results came from the LG TV, in which the feature improved colour accuracy without shifting the image to a cooler tone. Meanwhile, the feature should’ve left the $55,000 reference monitor alone. Instead it “corrected” the image to an inaccurate one, which defeats the whole purpose of the feature. Overall, it appears that Apple’s feature uses a bluer white point than the standard D65 white point used by filmmakers and other creators.

Another issue is what out-of-the-box preset mode you’re running the calibration feature on. If you’re using the most accurate one for your particular TV, you might not notice too much of a change. But if you’re calibrating from a much more inaccurate setting, like Standard, Teoh found Apple’s feature delivers more significant improvements — but at the expense of image quality.

Colour accuracy was better, the feature ended up overcompensating, resulting in posterisation. (Posterisation is when instead of a smooth transition between colour gradients, you end up with visible bands.) The feature also performed differently on OLEDs versus LED LCDs. These results also line up with CNet’s testing, which found that the feature sometimes improved an image and colour accuracy. Other times, not so much.

Or in other words, while the Apple TV 4K’s colour calibration feature works and is super simple to use, it’s not a replacement for choosing the right preset picture setting or having a basic knowledge of what these settings mean. (For most people, that’s going to be Cinema or Movie.) Once you’ve done that, you can try the colour balance feature, see how it shifts the image, and go from there. Sorry folks, but one-stop solutions are always going to be too good to be true.