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Christmas Gift Guide

Welcome to the lab!

Let's get to 'work'

The lineup

Behind the curtain

Going dark

Couch potato

The calibration setup

Spectroradiometer

KM at work

The human eye

Reference Elites

HDMI distribution

Rat's nest

The stacks

Cable bins

Blu-ray library

Long-term testing

Inventory...

...managed.

Oh, hello, we didn't see you there.

Welcome to the lab, where your friendly, experienced, and above all hard-working CNET reviewers, David Katzmaier (left) and Ty Pendlebury, test televisions. If you think our hard work involves mainly just sitting around on incredibly comfortable brown leather couches watching TV all day, you're only half right. We have plenty of comfy chairs, too.

(These captions were updated in February 2013, as was our How We Test TVs article.)

Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET

In addition to lots of sitting, a typical day in the lab also involves hefting big-screen televisions (thank you, thin LED!), plugging in cables, calibrating, shooting video, and, oh yeah, writing.

Luckily, both Ty and David can move at superspeed when needed (pictured).

Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
To the left you see David seated in the sweet spot at the nexus of "the lineup." At CNET we compare every TV we review directly with other competing models side-by-side, and in our reviews, explicitly call out the differences we see. If this was a real lineup, the TVs pictured would be better matches for one another and their placement equalized for height and seating distance.

Meanwhile, Ty occupies a second testing area that we're building out this year to allow another lineup.

Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Curtains can divide the room neatly in half to create those two independent, light-controlled testing areas.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Most of our TV tests are done in a completely darkened environment, achieved by blackout shades drawn down over the windows. For testing purposes, David likes color bars, whereas Ty prefers wildlife that reminds him of home.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
If this were a real test, the PC would be controlling the signal generator to fill the screen of the TV being calibrated with a white, gray, or occasionally colored rectangle. All of the other TVs would be turned off, with the lights out and curtains drawn, to assure the accuracy of the measurements and to allow David to nap.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET

Did we mention calibration?

At CNET we calibrate every TV we review to both establish a level playing field for comparison and to enable us to publish our popular picture settings. They enable users to easily set up their own TVs' picture controls to replicate as closely as possible the picture we see in the lab.

Last year CNET transitioned to using CalMan software by Spectrcal to both help calibrate the TV and to generate reports that capture many of the TVs' characteristics. In 2013 we have begin using version 5 of the software. We publish those reports with every TV review.

In 2012 we will began using a new signal generator, the VideoForge by AVFoundry (left, above the mouse) to generate the test patterns for our calibrations. In 2013 we switched to using the Quantum Data 780 (not pictured) as our primary generator.

Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
A "Spek-tra-ray-dee-ah-meter" measures the color and luminance of light six ways from Sunday. This particular model is the Konica Minolta CS-2000, the most expensive device in our lab (about $30,000) and capable of accurately measuring the color and brightness of "black" down to 0.003 cd/m2--darker than many TVs can display. OLED's "absolute" black might kick its butt, however.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
The spectroradiometer connects via USB to the PC and feeds its data directly into the CalMan software.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
In addition to sophisticated inorganic measuring equipment, CNET's reviews make heavy use of the most accurate instrument on the planet: our eyes. Here, Ty notes the characteristics of a hockey game on a 60-inch Sharp Elite--notoriously difficult material on a notoriously expensive and excellent television.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
CNET's comparisons usually include a "reference" TV in the lineup against which all of the others are measured. On the left there's the 2008 50-inch Pioneer Elite Kuro, and on the right the 2011 Sharp Elite, the best TV of last year. Both will be kept for different reference situations this year, along with a Panasonic TC-P65VT50 and a Panasonic TC-P55ST50--our favorite high-end and mid-tier (respectively) TVs from 2012.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
To compare between TVs, we use a distribution amplifier and switch combination, both from Key Digital. This setup allows us to feed four different sources to as many as eight displays without any signal degradation. We use primarily Monoprice cables and have for years to help demonstrate that all HDMI cables are the same.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Every self-respecting AV setup hides a warren of cabling, and our lab is no different.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Testing TVs isn't all lineups of TVs. Our shelves are literally bulging with accessories, sources, cables, media, and more. Can anybody spot the DirecTiVo straddling the D-VHS deck? What about the first-gen HD DVD player? Good times.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Plenty of cables are available for different hookups. We also keep old remotes, manuals, and other gear just in case they come back into style.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
We have hundreds of Blu-ray discs on-hand, and we're taking volunteers to organize them all by tier.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Last year we took over a couple of shelves from CNET's PC test lab for the seven plasma TVs we're running 24/6 as part of a long-term plasma test. The Illuminati has taken an interest in the results. As a result we have decided to scuttle long-term testing in 2013.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
We currently have 25 TVs we're keeping for comparison purposes or long-term testing, a few queued for return to the manufacturer, and a few more we bought and plan to give away to readers. Stay tuned for more on that.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Just to reiterate, we work hard in the CNET TV labs and rarely have fun, because we're working too hard. We've got our work cut out this year, so we'll see you on the Internet.

--Ty and Dave, signing off.

Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
Updated:
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