Reviewing TVs at home till the cows come home.


David Katzmaier/CNET

Working from home looks different to different people. Much of my work is probably just like yours during coronavirus lockdown: sitting in front of a computer, taking Zoom meetings, juggling childcare and homeschooling with my spouse while the kids slowly drive us insane. But a big part of my job is reviewing TVs. In normal times I do it in CNET’s awesome TV lab in New York, where I can sit down in a big room with five or six huge TVs side-by-side and compare picture quality. Sadly that awesome lab is shut down, along with the rest of the office, so I needed to find another way.


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Watch me set up a TV review lab in my basement



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Of course new TV reviews aren’t nearly as important as the work of millions of other Americans nowadays, especially health care workers, first responders, grocery and delivery workers, hell, even many of my own colleagues at CNET who help readers deal with the new normal. But I like to think they help a little bit, even if it’s just narrowing down what new screen can help keep your family entertained at home. New 2020 TVs are shipping now, and dammit it’s my job to review them, even if I’m stuck at home.

Enter the basement

To do that part of my job, a lot of things needed to go right. TV makers had to agree to ship sets to my house directly (they have). The folks at the office had to help me get crucial test equipment and gear from the lab packed into my minivan (they did). I had to have enough space at home to compare at least three 65-inch TVs side-by-side (I do, barely). And it had to be worthwhile: There’s no point in going through the effort of setting up a remote lab if we’re all gonna go back to the office in a couple weeks (unfortunately, I don’t think we will).

So anyway, my relatively small basement now has a lot of TVs in it. It took a few weeks to get it all set up but so far, so good. I’m well into the first new TV review of 2020, an LG CX-series OLED TV, which now sits between a couple of reference models that made the trek out to the suburbs. Here’s a rough timeline of what I did:

  • Moved a bunch of stuff out of the basement into big a tent in my driveway, including a twin bed, mattresses and trundle, a bunch of shelves and lots and lots of miscellaneous basement crap. The tent is also where big TV boxes are stored.
  • Arranged with CNET’s facilities team to extract gear, including the TVs, from our Manhattan office without me going upstairs into the lab at all or violating social distancing guidelines. I can’t thank those guys enough.
  • Partial gear list: Five 65-inch TVs, one 55-inch TV, three rolling TV stands, two light meters, one 8×8 HDMI matrix switch, three 4K streamers, one 4K Blu-ray player, reference Blu-rays, hardware, cables, lots of miscellaneous test equipment.
  • Packed it all into our family’s two cars — a 2007 Honda Odyssey minivan (seats removed, my bulk hauler with most of the gear) and our 2016 Toyota Sequoia SUV (with my wife and kids, who just wanted to get out of the house) — and drove home.
  • Prayed that nothing broke during the drive (nothing did).
  • Blacked out the basement windows for light control during TV measurements and calibration. I can still open and close them for bright-room comparisons or when needed for photos.
  • Repainted a wall of the basement to make a better backdrop for photos and video. Bought and assembled a new TV stand as well as a rug, plants and even vinyl floor panels to gussy up those photos and video.
  • Set up two comparison TVs on rolling stands, hooked up all the gear I needed for testing, worked with CNET’s photographer to fine-tune the setup while making sure everything was modular and movable in the tiny space.

There’s still some work to do, especially to improve the look of photos and video, but happily it’s pretty much up and running. For more details, check out the video. And stay tuned for the first of what I expect to be many new 2020 TV reviews, coming soon, from the basement.

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