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NEW YORK (AP) – High-definition TV sets are big sellers these days, and no wonder, since the picture can be amazing.

But a lot of people seem to care more about how cool the flat panels look on the wall than what the picture looks like: It’s common to see the image stretched horizontally to fill the screen, giving even the most attractive anchor a bloated look, or the color is off, giving everyone the reddish skin tone of the recently boiled.

The fact is picture quality varies quite a bit among HDTV sets, and calibration is often necessary to make the image look the way it should.

I tried three different ways of doing this: two do-it-yourself methods, and one professional calibration.

Sadly, the DIY options were hit-and-miss. They helped a few sets, and screwed up others. A good calibration still seems to be the domain of professionals – a surprising situation in our age of smart machines.

Here’s what I tried:

– ”HDTV Calibration Wizard” DVD from Monster Cable Products Inc. and Imaging Science Foundation. This was the cheapest option, listing at $30, and the least thorough. It’s simply a DVD that shows video loops with voiceover narration that tells you how to adjust your set’s image using the basic controls accessed with the remote.

For example, it shows a man in a white shirt, and tells you to adjust the contrast so that you can make out the buttons and folds of the shirt. This got me into trouble with a plasma flat-panel set I tried it on. I couldn’t get the details to show using the contrast setting, so I went into a more advanced menu and changed the ”Input Level.” That made the shirt look great, but when I later played a regular DVD, it was obvious that I’d reduced the contrast so much that everything looked gray and dull.

The DVD does get points for including scenes and instructions that help you adjust the image’s sharpness, size and the ratio between length and width.

– SpyderTV color meter from Datacolor, which lists for $229. This is a kit that comes with a light sensor that attaches to the TV screen. It’s connected by a cable to your computer. The cable is short, so a laptop is recommended. An accompanying DVD shows test patterns, which are measured by the sensor and recorded by software on the computer.

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