January 17, 2022

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Easy Suggestions for Getting the Greatest Image From Your New TV

To properly set sharpness, turn the setting down until you can no longer see false white lines and noise around hard edges. With some TVs, the picture will become noticeably soft when the sharpness is set near or at zero; if that happens, bump up the setting a few ticks to make sure you aren’t losing actual detail. I wrote about this at length over at CNET: “Why you need to turn down your TV’s sharpness control.”

Color temperature

Every piece of content you’ve ever seen on your TV—from reality TV shows to scripted dramas—was created using professional display monitors set to a color point called D65. It’s essentially a way to describe how “white” white is. Not too red, not too blue, not too green. All of the displays on the production side of things will look nearly identical because they’re all calibrated to match D65.

An image of three moons showing three color temperature settings. The moon on the left has an overly warm color temperature, the moon in the middle is accurate, and the moon on the right is too cool.
This image illustrates color temperature differences. The moon on the left would be considered too “warm,” while the moon on the right would be considered too “cool.” Your TV is likely preset to look like the moon on the right. Photo: Geoffrey Morrison

Ideally, you also want your TV to match this as closely as possible so that at home you’re seeing what the filmmakers had intended for you to see. Professional calibration is usually required to set the color temperature perfectly, but most TVs now include a few presets from which you can choose—oftentimes, they’re labeled “cool,” “medium,” and “warm.” On most TVs, the preset called “warm,” or “6500,” is the closest to D65. This is the preset that most Movie and Cinema modes will switch to. After giving your brain a day or two to adjust to the “warm” setting, if you still think the picture is too red, you can go to the next highest setting, often labeled “medium.” But you should avoid the “cool” setting.

Motion smoothing, aka the soap opera effect

One of the most, shall we say, controversial settings involves the use of motion smoothing, also known as motion interpolation or the soap opera effect. This setting creates an overly smooth motion that makes a film look like a cheap soap opera. Some people don’t mind it, and some people actually like it. But many people hate it (including Tom Cruise). Most TVs have the smoothing function turned on by default (sometimes even in the Movie or Cinema mode); fortunately, if you don’t like it, you can turn it off. The function goes by different names, depending on the manufacturer, but the word motion is usually in there somewhere. Samsung calls it Auto Motion Plus, LG calls it TruMotion, Sony calls it MotionFlow, and Vizio calls it Smooth Motion Effect.

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The Vizio TV sitting in from of a window. A cartoon is displayed, with an overlay of the TV's Motion Control settings panel.
Some TVs, like this Vizio, offer a custom mode that lets you adjust the aggressiveness of the motion smoothing. If you don’t like the overly smooth effect, you’ll want to set the judder control to zero. Photo: Chris Heinonen

The side effect of turning this feature off is that you can lose detail in fast-motion scenes. All modern TVs can experience something called “motion blur,” which the soap opera effect was created to combat. But there are other options for dealing with motion blur. Some TVs offer black-frame insertion, which can result in a dimmer image and possibly some flickering, but it can also do a very good job of reducing motion blur. Some TVs offer a custom mode that lets you adjust the aggressiveness of the motion smoothing to your liking. There’s no “right” setting for this—it’s basically personal preference. Find out what the different modes on your TV do, and see if you like one more than another. I dive into this tech in an extensive article.

Setting the backlight or OLED light

If your eyes feel sore after watching a movie at night, or if you’re having trouble seeing the action during an afternoon football game, you probably need to adjust the TV’s backlight or OLED light level to suit your room’s lighting conditions.

Most TVs on the market today are LCD/LED TVs, which use a backlight that shines through a layer of liquid crystals to form the image you see. You can adjust this backlight to be as bright or dim as is appropriate for the situation. In a very bright living room with lots of windows, you may need to push the backlight level near its maximum. For nighttime viewing in a dim to dark room, the backlight level should be set much lower to avoid eyestrain and headaches.

OLED TVs don’t have a backlight, because each pixel creates its own light. However, you can control how intense those pixels get using the OLED light control. Higher is brighter, obviously, but higher also means greater energy consumption and a greater potential for image retention.

You can usually adjust the brightness of a projector, too. In addition to high and low lamp modes, many projectors have an automatic iris that adjusts itself to suit the intensity of the onscreen image. Unless you see this iris working (pulsing with bright and dim scenes), you can leave it in auto mode. The eco or low lamp mode will extend the life of your lamp, and you should generally use it, unless you really want or need the extra light.

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Should you use automatic brightness?

Today, the majority of TVs feature a sensor that can determine how bright your room is and then automatically adjust the TV’s light output accordingly. There are different names for this (for instance, LG calls it Automatic Power Saving, or APS). There’s a lot of variation in how effectively this function works. We recommend that you turn it off while you’re adjusting the other settings. Once everything else is to your liking, you can turn this on and see if you notice and like its effect.

Turn off dynamic black, dynamic contrast, dynamic anything

Most TVs have settings labeled “dynamic” that analyze the video signal and adjust, on the fly, how the image looks. Generally speaking, you should turn or leave these off. Once you’ve got your settings adjusted correctly, the TV shouldn’t need to adjust anything on its own based on the video. These features will often do more harm than good. For instance, they could sense a dark scene and crank the brightness. Sure, you’ll get to see what’s in the shadows, but you could also end up seeing something the director hadn’t intended to show yet—for example revealing Pennywise or Jason before the scare was supposed to happen. Not to mention that the image will briefly look washed out and then return to “normal” in the next scene, which can be distracting. The one exception to this is Dynamic Tone Mapping for LG OLED TVs, which we discuss below.

Game-specific settings

A lot of TVs offer either a game-specific picture mode or a game mode that you can enable for any picture mode. This mode disables nonessential video processing to improve the TV’s response times, so the gaming experience is better. In the past, game-specific picture modes typically offered worse image quality, with overly vivid colors and bluish whites, but in recent years the image quality of game modes has improved. We recommend the best TVs for gamers here.

Some new TVs with HDMI 2.1 inputs may include a feature called automatic low latency mode (ALLM). When paired with a compatible video game console, these TVs will automatically enter game mode when you’re playing a video game, so you don’t have to remember to do this yourself. The ALLM function is even smart enough to know when you’re streaming a movie from the Netflix app on your console and when you’re playing a game, so you get the best image quality when watching movies and shows and the best input performance when playing games.

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Leave the following settings alone

We’ve covered only a fraction of the total adjustments that can be made to the majority of televisions. But most of the remaining adjustments should be left alone. They range from rare situational uses to settings that should be adjusted only by professionals.

For instance, most TVs have a color management system that allows you to adjust the red, green, and blue (and usually cyan, magenta, and yellow) colors. You can’t adjust these accurately by eye; doing this requires specialized test gear and a trained professional.

A TV sitting in from of a window. A cartoon is displayed, with an overlay of the TV's Color Tuner settings panel.
Most TVs include a color management system to precisely adjust the six color points, but these controls should be adjusted only by a professional calibrator with the proper measurement equipment. Photo: Chris Heinonen

Likewise, most TVs have advanced white balance controls to fine-tune the color temperature, but this also requires special test gear. See “The next step,” below, for more on this.

Most projectors and some TVs have a setting called RGB Mode, with options for Limited and Full. This mode specifies how to read the incoming video data, and you should leave it set to Limited (or Automatic, if it’s available) on both your TV and your sources. The exception is when you’re connecting a PC to your TV, in which case you’ll want to use the Full setting for that source.

Finally, you shouldn’t need to adjust your TV’s HDR settings, beyond perhaps choosing among a few preset HDR picture modes. Some settings may be locked, and trying to adjust things like brightness or gamma can do more harm than good. You may have the option to enable or disable Dynamic Tone Mapping, which affects how the TV handles HDR signals that are too bright for its light-output capabilities. You can adjust this to your preference.

The next step

If all of this is still too daunting for you, or you really want to eke every last photon out of your TV, consider hiring a professional calibrator. For a fee (which could be several hundred dollars), a trained tech will come to your house, make sure your TV is connected correctly, and use thousands of dollars of specialized test gear and software to make sure all of your settings are correct.

But most people will find that adjusting the settings mentioned above should be enough to significantly improve the look of a TV. This is a far better approach than the highly inaccurate method of copying someone else’s settings from the Internet, since they won’t apply to your TV, your room, or your viewing habits.

[“source=nytimes”]