12 Tips to Tune Up Your TV

If you care about picture quality, you can greatly improve the performance of just about any display by following these 12 simple steps.

As most AVS Forum members know, watching a TV as it comes out of the box is not ideal—it’s typically too bright and too blue for the best image quality at home. A professional calibration will ensure that it looks the very best it can, but that can cost several hundred dollars. This is unreasonable for many buyers, especially if the TV was relatively inexpensive—say, less than $2000.

Does that mean you must live with a bright, blue flame thrower? Not at all—there are several things you can do to greatly improve the picture quality without spending more than a few bucks. Here are 12 tips to help you tune up your TV, which will typically get you 70-80 percent of the way to the best possible picture quality that TV can produce; if you want that last 20-30 percent, you can always hire a pro calibrator—and those of us who are picky about picture quality do so gladly if we can.

To perform these tasks, you’ll need to open the TV’s menu system and find the cited controls, which often go by different names in different manufacturers’ products. I can’t include all the possible names here; I’ve tried to use the most common names, but you might have to do a bit of sleuthing to determine what the manufacturer of your TV calls these controls.

1. Select the most accurate picture mode. In most TVs, this is the Movie or Cinema mode; in some, it might be the Standard mode, and a few even have a Calibrated mode. After selecting this mode, you might think the image looks dim and dull, but give yourself some time to get used to it; the picture will look much more natural and realistic than the out-of-box mode.

2. Select the warmest color temperature. In most TVs, the color-temperature settings are often labeled Cool, Normal, and Warm or High, Medium, and Low. The Warm or Low setting is usually the closest to reproducing what the content creators intended. In the Movie or Cinema picture mode, the color temperature often defaults to Warm or Low.

3. Turn off all “‘enhancement” functions, such as dynamic contrast, edge enhancement, and noise filters. These usually do more harm than good to image quality.

4. Turn off overscan, which slightly upscales and crops the image. This is a holdover from the CRT days and is no longer necessary; in a digital display, it softens the image. In the TV’s menu, this parameter is often called something like Picture Size or Aspect Ratio, with selections that include various zoom settings; select the setting that displays each pixel exactly as it is in the video signal.

5. Turn off frame interpolation, which sharpens motion detail by synthesizing artificial frames between the actual frames in the video signal. But it also creates the soap-opera effect, making movies look like they were shot with a video camera. This parameter goes by many different names; here are some of the more common ones:

LG: TruMotion
Panasonic: Motion Picture Setting
Samsung: Auto Motion Plus
Sharp: Motion Enhancement
Sony: Motionflow
Vizio: Smooth Motion

6. Turn on backlight scanning or black-frame insertion to sharpen motion detail without frame interpolation. Some models do not offer separate frame-interpolation and backlight-scanning controls, but combine them into one control; in this case, turn it off to avoid the soap-opera effect. This parameter goes by many different names; here are some of the more common ones:

LG: TruMotion Clear Plus
Panasonic: N/A (combined with frame interpolation)
Samsung: LED Motion Plus, LED Clear Motion
Sharp: AquoMotion
Sony: Motionflow Impulse
Vizio: Clear Action

7. Adjust the backlight (LCD) or cell-light (plasma, OLED) control according to the amount of ambient light in the room; the image should not be too bright to watch comfortably over extended periods. Backlight scanning and black-frame insertion can dim the picture considerably, so the backlight should be increased if you use this feature.

8. Use a setup disc to adjust the TV’s five basic picture controls (brightness, contrast, color, tint, sharpness). For newbies, the Disney World of Wonder (WOW) Blu-ray is excellent; for more experienced users, I recommend Spears & Munsil’s HD Benchmark or Joe Kane’s Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics. Each of these discs costs around $30. Another option is the AVS Forum 709 HD program available here to download for free. The THX Tune-Up app for iOS and Android devices is very convenient, and it’s also free.

9. Follow the directions for whichever disc or app you choose to set the brightness (black level) first, then contrast (white level). Go back and check the brightness again; these controls can be somewhat interactive, so you might need to go back and forth a few times to get them both right.

10. In most cases, set the sharpness control at 0 or off; higher settings apply edge enhancement that does more harm than good to the image. I’ve seen at least one TV in which a setting of 0 softened the picture quite a bit, while a setting of 1 was fine.

11. Setting the color and tint controls requires you to look through a blue filter at the test pattern or, better yet, setting the TV to display only blue, not red or green. Unfortunately, the blue filters that come with various setup discs aren’t always accurate for all types of TVs, leading to misadjusted controls.

12. With digital TVs, the tint control rarely needs adjustment, so leave it alone. If your TV has a “blue-only” mode, use that to set the color control; if not, use the blue filter that came with the setup disc or carefully adjust it while looking at content with natural skin tones; they should not look sunburned or sickly green.

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