Home theater nerds have long known that calibration is necessary to get the most out of your TV. Back in the day, that involved playing a DVD with test patterns and patiently cycling through them, making adjustments to brightness, contrast, and sharpness. Then came the fun part: using red, green, and blue color gels and more test patterns to fine-tune your TV’s colors.
You no longer need DVDs, as there are apps for the purpose, like THX tune-up, but if you own a modern Apple TV, you don’t necessarily need those apps anymore either. tvOS 14.5 has introduced a new feature, called Color Balance, that can automate the process of correcting the colors on video from your Apple TV (see “Apple Releases iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5, macOS 11.3, watchOS 7.4, and tvOS 14.5,” 26 April 2021). The feature is available on all tvOS-compatible Apple TV models: the Apple TV HD, first-generation Apple TV 4K, and the upcoming second-generation Apple TV 4K. However, you need an iPhone that supports Face ID.
Getting Started and Why You Should Turn Off HDR
To get started, update your Apple TV and iPhone to tvOS 14.5 and iOS 14.5, respectively. Color Balance calibration will fail midway if you have HDR enabled, so you’ll want to disable HDR on your Apple TV in Settings > Video and Audio > Format.
You might protest since HDR makes supported content look so vibrant, but here’s a tip from Take Control of Apple TV. Instead of enabling HDR in general, keep your TV on an SDR setting like 4K SDR, and instead turn on Match Dynamic Range in Settings > Video and Audio > Match Content.
When HDR is enabled all the time, the Apple TV tries to force HDR on non-HDR content, which looks weird (for example, the main menu looks washed out) and causes menu stutters and poor game performance. But if your TV (and HDMI cable) is HDR-capable, the Match Dynamic Range setting will turn on HDR for content that supports it. You get the best of both worlds!
Running Adjust Color Balance
On your Apple TV, go to Settings > Video and Audio > Color Balance. You see an onscreen notice instructing you to bring your iPhone closer to your TV.
In theory, you should see a pop-up on your iPhone prompting you to start the calibration process. I ran several Color Balance tests, and sometimes the notification wouldn’t appear at all. The only way I found to fix that was to exit the Color Balance screen on my Apple TV, restart my iPhone, and try again.
If the pop-up appears on your iPhone, tap Continue to start the process on your Apple TV. A sparkly iPhone outline appears on your TV screen. Hold the front of your iPhone about an inch away from your TV screen, inside the sparkly iPhone outline. Color Balance relies on the Face ID sensor.
Once the iPhone is in position and the iPhone and Apple TV are talking to each other, the iPhone outline will cycle through a range of colors. Hold the iPhone steady while this process completes. If you move the iPhone away (or forgot to turn off HDR), the process will fail.
Once complete, click on the View Results button on your TV. It displays an overhead scene of a beach, and you can switch between Use Original and Use Balanced to see the difference between the two. The balanced setting will probably look a bit duller than what you’re used to since most TVs come out of the factory set to use overly saturated colors.
You can reset the color calibration at any time by going to Settings > Video and Audio > Color Balance. There, you see options to repeat the calibration, view the results again, or reset calibration.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Color Balance corrects only color, not brightness, contrast, or sharpness.
- Color Balance doesn’t affect any settings on your TV. The color will be corrected only on video played from the Apple TV.
- If you change any display settings on your TV or change the Apple TV’s HDMI input (since many TVs remember separate settings for each HDMI input), you may want to run Color Balance again.
- If you move the Apple TV to another TV set, you’ll want to run Color Balance again.
There are also a few reports of the option not appearing or being grayed out. I don’t yet have any idea what causes this or how to resolve it beyond the usual recommendations to restart everything.
Color Balance may not make a huge difference, and it won’t change your life, but it’s a simple way to optimize the quality of video from your Apple TV. Between the new Siri Remote ditching gaming features and this new Color Balance feature, it appears that Apple is repositioning the Apple TV as the premier device for home theater enthusiasts.