Reviewed: Blu-ray setup discs for your HDTV

Setup discs help you ensure that you're getting the best performance from your TV. These discs will help you out, no matter what your skill level.

Geoffrey Morrison Contributor
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
4 min read

HDTV Setup Blu-rays

If you've never adjusted the settings on your TV, it's a good bet it's not performing as well as it could. While it's possible to get the picture settings close just by using your eye, the better option is a Blu-ray setup disc.

Beginner to expert, there's one for every skill level. All will get your TV performing much better than before.

Reviewed: Blu-ray setup discs for your HDTV (screenshots)

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Disney WOW: World of Wonder

For: Beginner - Intermediate

Disney went all out with its foray into the setup disc world. Extremely high production values, well-made and easy to follow tutorials, and even extensive test patterns.

Main Menu of Disney WOW: World of Wonder
The main menu of Disney's WOW: World of Wonder Blu-ray. It's purrrrdy. Screenshot: Geoffrey Morrison - Pattern: Disney

Disney WOW: World of Wonder
A screenshot from one of the tutorials on the Disney WOW disc. Here it's explaining interlaced and progressive exceedingly well. Screenshot: Geoffrey Morrison - Content: Disney

Disney WOW: World of Wonder Contrast Pattern
This is one of the Disney WOW disc's patterns to help you set contrast. There's a similarly designed pattern to set brightness. Screenshot: Geoffrey Morrison - Pattern: Disney

Disney WOW: World of Wonder Blu-ray
The good: Excellent tutorials teach the basics better than any other disc. More than that, it teaches more advanced subjects like deinterlacing, 24p, and more. Test patterns are good, if not extensive.

The bad: The other discs here have more patterns, but the ones on the Disney disc are well-designed and offer all the basics and then some.

The bottom line: Disney's WOWis a fantastic disc that should be the go-to choice for all beginners looking to learn about their TV, and how to set it up.
BD: $39.99, DVD: $34.99--disneydvd.disney.go.com/disney-wow-world-of-wonder

Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics

For: Advanced Beginner - Intermediate

Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics is the latest disc from TV sage Joe Kane. You'll find detailed and extensive test patterns that not only help you set up your TV, but aid a trained calibrator (more on this later) in getting every last pixel of performance from your TV.

DVE Main Menu
The main menu of DVE: HD Basics. Not as intuitive as Disney's menu, but better than previous generations of DVE. Screenshot: Geoffrey Morrison - Pattern: JKP

DVE Menu and Resolution
Here you can see DVE's most user-friendly feature: the menu overlays over the pattern so you can quickly navigate to another pattern. The pattern in the background here tests for per-pixel resolution. Screenshot: Geoffrey Morrison - Pattern: JKP

DVE Contrast and Brightness
A pattern to check contrast and brightness from DVE: HD Basics. Screenshot: Geoffrey Morrison - Pattern: JKP

Digitial Video Essentials: HD Basics
Joe Kane Productions
The good: Extensive test patterns, lots of tutorials.

The bad: Not as easy to navigate or understand as the Disney disc.

The bottom line: There's a lot here to keep the average TV enthusiast busy for hours. Tutorials and test patterns will ensure everything is set up correctly.

It's not as user-friendly or as slick as Disney's WOW, and real beginners could get overwhelmed. That said, its got just about everything most people would need.

BD: $29.95--videoessentials.com

Spears & Munsil High-Definition Benchmark

For: Intermediate - Expert

Note! This has been replaced by the Spears & Munsil HD Benchmark 2nd Edition, which we've reviewed.

Stacey Spears and Don Munsil created the ultimate disc for TV reviewers, and were nice enough to share it with everyone. In addition to clever and exacting test patterns, there's a whole suite of deinterlacing and scaling tests that are second to none.

Spears and Munsil High-Definition Benchmark Main Menu
The simple main menu of the Spears and Munsil High-Definition Benchmark. Screenshot: Geoffrey Morrison - Pattern: Spears and Munsil

Spears and Munsil Contrast Pattern
A pattern to set contrast on the Spears and Munsil High-Definition Benchmark. Note the fine gradations between steps, allowing for precise adjustment. Screenshot: Geoffrey Morrison - Pattern: Spears and Munsil

Spears and Munsil Sailing Ship
This is an HD video of a sailing ship. The test here is in the rigging. The better the video processor, the more the ropes will be diagonal lines without jaggies. Screenshot: Geoffrey Morrison - Test Clip: Spears and Munsil

Spears and Munsil Rotating Bar
This is the infamous rotating bar pattern that tests video processing, as seen on the Spears and Munsil High-Definition Benchmark. Ideally, the bar is smooth throughout its entire rotation. Most TVs or Blu-ray players will create small jagged edges (jaggies) as the bar nears horizontal. Screenshot: Geoffrey Morrison - Pattern: Spears and Munsil

Spears and Munsil High Definition Benchmark Blu-ray
Spears and Munsil
The good: Well-designed test patterns, advanced deinterlacing/video processing tests.

The bad: Not for beginners.

The bottom line: The Spears and Munsil Blu-ray is an advanced tool for evaluating many aspects of a television's performance. I use it while testing every TV and Blu-ray player I review.

If you have a fair amount of knowledge, and know your way around a setup menu, this disc is awesome.

BD: $25--spearsandmunsil.com

THX Optimizer (found on THX-certified DVDs and Blu-rays)

For: Advanced Beginner

The THX Optimizer has been found on DVDs for ages, and recently on Blu-rays as well. A handful of patterns will get you through the basics of setup quickly.

The good: Free(ish)

The bad: Only the most basic patterns.

The bottom line: If you already have, or are going to buy, a THX Certified disc, the THX Optimizer has the basic patterns to get your TV set at least better than stock. The other discs here offer more extensive (and in some cases, better) patterns. If you're just looking to make sure your TV isn't horribly mis-set, the Optimizer will likely do what you need. If you're looking to get all you can out of your display, one of the other discs here will get you closer to that goal.

Varies--THX.com (Direct link to Optimizer titles)

Using a DVD instead of a Blu-ray

Many setup discs came out during the DVD era, like Avia, the Monster/ISF Calibration Wizard, and so on. Many of these are still available. If you have one of these discs, there really isn't any reason not to use them. As far as basic setup goes, using a DVD should be fine, especially when played through a Blu-ray player. If your TV has different picture memories for different resolutions (or inputs), you'll need to be careful to make sure the settings you choose when using your setup disc apply to the other inputs/resolutions. This is true for any setup disc. Each source will likely need slightly different settings, but they should be close.

Full calibration

To get the ultimate in performance out of your TV, you'll want to check out getting it calibrated by a professional. A trained calibrator (from the Imaging Science Foundation, for example) can calibrate your TV's color temperature, make sure every setting and connection is correct, and ensure that your TV is performing the best it can.

If you're interested in learning more about getting your TV calibrated, check out my What is HDTV calibration article.

You don't have to take my word for it:
Must-have Blu-ray TV setup discs--OK, admittedly this is taking my word for it, as I talk about some of the discs here with more words but fewer pictures.
Picture settings and calibration FAQ--Ask the editors