Q I was told by the TV salesman that I should calibrate my new $499 42-inch Samsung plasma HDTV. He said the life of my TV will be many years longer if I do this. Is this necessary? It is $199 for a tech to come to my house after 800 hours of use to calibrate it. That is almost 50 percent of the cost of the set.

A You don't need to have your set professionally calibrated. I doubt it would last many years longer after calibration vs. setting the picture yourself.

The reason it might extend the life of your set is that the out-of-the-box picture settings are much too bright, and calibration will reduce the brightness level while making the picture as accurate as possible. I would recommend calibration for an enthusiast who has an expensive TV, but I don't think it makes as much sense on a $499 TV, especially for $199.

To get an accurate picture that will extend the life of your set, simply turn the picture setting to Standard or Movie mode, and not one of the bright modes such as Vivid. Also, set the color temperature to Warm. Adjust the brightness and contrast to taste.

You will get a nice picture, and the lower brightness will extend the life of your set. Most plasmas are rated to 15 years of use until half-brightness, and you will probably want a new TV then anyway.

Looking for viewfinder

Q I'm going to replace an old camera with a subcompact. My experience with the old one is that my pictures were better if I used the eye-level viewfinder rather than the LCD screen, because I'm just not able to hold the camera steady enough while pushing the picture button. Looking through a retail store display, I didn't see any subcompacts with an eye viewfinder. Do the stabilization programs work well enough that I can do without a tripod to get sharp pictures?

A Generally speaking, yes, they do work well enough. There are factors such as available light and shutter speed that will affect the sharpness you can achieve hand-held, but in generic picture-taking you should be fine.

Look for a camera with a form of optical image stabilization or sensor-shift image stabilization. Digital or electronic stabilization doesn't do nearly the same job, because they don't actually stabilize the image but crop the sensor or raise the ISO speed, both of which lower picture quality while still not doing a great job of stabilization.

There are plenty of cameras out there with eye viewfinders, but they tend to be bigger than a subcompact and represent the higher end of small cameras. If you are that concerned about sharpness, you might want to consider these, and carry around a bit more bulk and weight. Besides the viewfinder, these cameras also have the best sensors, lenses and image processing which leads to noticeably better images. Some models to consider are the Canon G11 and G12, as well as the various super-zoom models with electronic viewfinders.

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