How to use your iPhone to calibrate your TV

For enthusiasts who demand the very best from their TV’s performance, hiring a professional calibrator is the way to go. But if you’ve already spent top dollar on the best TV that fits your budget, the prospect of spending even more on a professional calibration can make your head spin.

Apple TV, one of our favorite streaming devices, wants to help. The little black box features a color calibration option that, using an iPhone, “fixes” your TV’s color for optimal display. But is it worth it? Here’s how to use Apple TV’s calibration feature.

What do you need to color calibrate your TV with Apple TV?

An Apple TV device and remote sit under a television.

Credit: Rated / TJ Donegan

Apple TV is among our top picks for streaming devices. To use the color calibration software, you need an iPhone with Face ID.

An Apple TV streaming box is an essential part, of course, but you’ll also need an iPhone equipped with Face ID to perform the color calibration procedure.

In addition, your Face ID compatible iPhone must be running iOS version 14.5 or later. At the time of publishing, we are a full generation away from iOS version 14.5, so chances are your iPhone is already updated for this feature.

How do I use Apple TV’s color balance calibration feature?

First, navigate to the Apple TV Settings menu. There, select Video and audio. You have to scroll down to find the Color Balance option, which is located under the Calibration submenu.

Make sure to check the Format option at the top of the Video and Audio menu. If it is set to 4K Dolby Vision, you will not be able to access the Color Balance option further down the menu. Instead, the menu indicates that your TV does not require color balance, as Dolby Vision can only be calibrated by a professional.

To unlock the Color Balance option, select a different video format at the top of the Video & Audio menu. Any format that does not refer to Dolby Vision makes the Color Balance option usable.

After selecting the Color Balance option, you will be greeted by the following screen:

A person holds an iPhone to change the color correction on a darkened television.

Credit: Apple

This is the first thing you see when you select Color Balance from your Apple TV’s Video & Audio Settings menu.

If your iPhone’s software is up to date, all you need to do is place yourself (and your iPhone) close to the TV.

A notification box should appear on your iPhone asking you to place the phone an inch away from your TV with the two screens facing each other. At the same time, an iPhone-shaped outline should appear on the TV. Place your phone within that overview.

A person is holding an iPhone towards a dark sky at night.

Credit: Apple

Your TV will cycle through different colors and neutral tones during the color balancing process.

For the next few seconds, your TV displays colors and various neutral tones within the iPhone-shaped outline. Your phone’s light sensor does all the work here, communicating color and contrast information to your Apple TV.

Once the process is complete, you will be shown a short running video (aerial footage of a beach). Before you decide whether to use the new color adjustments, you can switch back and forth between your Apple TV’s native color profile and the “calibrated” color profile. If you’re not happy with what you see, select “Use Original” instead of “Use Balanced.”

Should I have Apple TV calibrate my TV’s colors?

An adage that I often come back to when talking about TV settings is “go with what seems best” you.” That’s why I recommend anyone interested in this feature to give it a try and see what it looks like. After all, if you don’t like what you see, you can always reject the results.

However, there is a crucial distinction between allowing the Apple TV to calibrate its own color output and calibrating the TV itself. The Apple TV’s color balance feature does not make any adjustments to your TV. All it does is adjust how Apple TV content looks by the time it reaches your screen.

So if you jump to another input and shut down Apple TV completely, your TV won’t take those picture adjustments with it. You’re right back where you started: with a variety of preset picture modes to choose from, along with all the picture settings your TV happens to offer.

Apple TV’s Color Balance feature may very well improve the look of everything you watch on Apple TV, but it won’t improve the look of your TV on all your devices. Furthermore, the camera on the iPhone is not sensitive enough for a really accurate color calibration compared to a professional job.

Is a Professional TV Calibration Worth It?

A person uses a device to calibrate the color and brightness of a television screen.

Credit: Reviewed / Chris Snow

Calibrating a TV is an in-depth process that makes changes to the TV itself, not just one connected device.

Hiring a professional calibrator is a serious investment of both time and money. A calibration gives you at least one picture mode that can be applied to all HDMI inputs and streaming apps, or even multiple picture modes to choose from (depending on the time of day or the type of content).

Calibrators are also equipped with specialized and expensive equipment designed to calibrate displays. Color calibration is only part of the complete calibration process. Professional calibrators will also look at adjusting a TV’s grayscale and dynamic range (the difference between dark and bright), a more important part of the image based on how our eyes react to light. But unless you’re particularly picky about your image quality, this may be overkill.

The easiest way to improve the look of your TV without spending extra money is to simply choose the best picture mode (like movie or cinema mode) for whatever you’re watching. We also recommend turning off eco mode (or any power saving feature your TV may offer).

Apple TV’s color balance feature is a limited solution at best, and it’s not a substitute for a professional calibration. However, if you can’t afford the professional work, it should be enough to just choose the right picture settings – with the right TV.

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