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How to Calibrate Your TV
There's just something magical about bringing home a brand new TV with higher resolution, an ultra-smooth refresh rate, the latest tech, and more bells and whistles than your previous set. You're eager to take advantage of that crystal clear 4K resolution, but sometimes the picture right out of the box is not quite right.
Or maybe you're simply looking to optimize the image quality of your current television. Manufacturers' presets are often designed for showroom floor displays. The settings needed in your bright living room will vary greatly from how you may want to view a TV in a dimmer bedroom. Luckily, there is a myriad of settings available.
Whether you are simply looking to adjust the basics or you want to do some advanced tweaking, here are some tips for calibrating your TV to provide the best viewing experience.
Keep It Simple
Set It and Forget It
If you prefer not to fiddle with advanced settings, that's ok! Thanks to the preset options set by your TV manufacturer, it doesn't take a technical genius to make quick adjustments for more optimal picture quality.
Whether you prefer bright and bold or more natural and realistic, these preset options usually cover most people's picture preferences.
Here are some of the most common preset modes included for your TV and what they do.
This setting might work best for you if your TV is in a dimly-lit room or a home theater space that doesn't have a lot of windows. Another preset may work better if you watch television primarily during the day or under bright light.
Turning this mode on is akin to the settings used by retail stores to draw your attention to the television and might be a good choice if you prefer a bolder and brighter picture and works well in rooms with a lot of natural or bright light.
This is a good "all-around" option for viewing most content—movies, sports, broadcast programming—and the most widely used because of its position somewhere between Vivid and Cinematic.
It gets a little more technical than some previous modes in that it’s designed to decrease latency and prioritizes frames per second. This setting is also pretty specific to gaming and is not commonly used for viewing other kinds of content.
Like Game mode, this preset is optimized for a specific type of content and may require switching to another mode when the game is over.
Your television may also feature other preset modes, and you can always experiment with each until you find the setting that suits you best. You may also find that you prefer different calibration settings depending on the specific content and viewing situation.
For example, the Cinema mode may be best suited for watching movies in a dimly lit room, while the Standard or Vivid presets may be your preferred setting for daytime viewing, watching sports, or TV shows, in which the brightness gets a bump.
Don't be afraid to try out an option – you can always revisit the menu and select something else or simply reset to the default settings and start over. If you're unsure what specific settings do, you can usually find an online guide for your TV or access a pop-up help feature in the TV menu.
Take It a Step Further
For Those Who Like to Tweak
Often, the general presets are enough for your purposes. But you might want to tone down those greens, turn off motion smoothing, or adjust another small detail to dial things in a little more.
Here are a few options that will work with most TVs.
- One of the easiest ways to get your picture quality to match your preferences is to adjust your picture settings, like brightness or contrast, manually. You can also try Consumer Reports' TV optimization tool (free, but the site will ask you to register with your name and email address to access it).
- Brightness adjusts your overall image; get it too high, and your screen will turn into a beacon. Get it too low, and you'll squint to see the details. The screen gets brighter when the backlight is turned up for LCD and LED screens. It's easy to go too high with this setting, so be cautious. Contrast brightens light or white areas on the screen. And sharpness adjusts the fuzziness or focus of objects on-screen.
- Try pushing a setting to one extreme, then adjust it up or down until the picture quality is where you want it. Alternatively, you could start at 50% with everything and make minor adjustments in one direction or the other. If you start watching a show and things aren't quite right, you can always jump back in and make changes. Sometimes it helps to freeze a screen of the movie or show you want to watch; you can see how your actions change the image as you go.
- Another setting that is often a matter of personal preference is Motion Smoothing, which produces something commonly referred to as the "soap opera effect" and is often automatically turned on under most presets. This is a visual effect caused by motion interpolation, a process that high-definition televisions use to display content at a higher refresh rate than the original source. Motion interpolation aims to give the viewer a more life-like picture but can often look unnatural. Try turning it off and on to see which you prefer.
For the Cinephile
The average cinephile values realism over visual tricks and will want to calibrate their TV picture settings to produce the most natural and true-to-life results.
If this is you, become familiar with the details of your particular model, from screen type to the available settings. Then, find out if your television manufacturer offers a calibration guide for your particular model. You can also search the web for forums and posts by other users who own the same unit. For example, you'll likely find many useful Reddit threads with optimized settings specific to your TV model posted by other users or a professional who has calibrated it.
You can also hire a professional to help out. Your local Best Buy or AV dealer usually offers a TV calibration service, in which a technician will come to your home. If that option is too pricey, or you live in an area without a local pro, you might consider shopping for a calibration disc instead. Our friends at Digital Trends recommend the Spears and Munsil HD Benchmark, and they also offer a great calibration guide based on different TV models.
Don’t have a disc player hooked up to your TV? There are apps for that. A quick search of the app store for Apple or Android using the term “TV calibration” will bring you many options to choose from. And remember, what constitutes the best picture is a subjective matter. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little and tailor your viewing experience to your specific tastes and needs.
Here are a few of the settings you can adjust manually to achieve your desired results:
This affects the overall brightness or dimness of your screen. You might want to bump this up for daytime or viewing under bright lights and bump it down for a night in. Many of the latest models to come out in the last few years offer a brightness setting that automatically adjusts to the available light.
This feature can also affect the brightness of the entire image, depending on your screen type. Adjust the backlight by freezing a dark image on the screen, and then turn the backlight down. Now, gradually increase the setting until you can see details to your satisfaction while still maintaining the appropriate black levels.
This affects brightness, too, especially in white areas and highlights. You can adjust it effectively by using a very light scene (like a snow-covered landscape), pushing the setting to maximum, and then gradually pushing it down until just the right amount of detail emerges.
This affects how objects appear on the screen: whether edges are crisp or blurred. Counterintuitively, a lower sharpness setting may yield more high-definition results. Experiment by starting at 50% and then gradually adjusting down until your image is clear.
If You Get Stuck at Any Level
Whether you stick to the basics or get into advanced settings, you may get a little overwhelmed and have unintended results. Luckily, you always have the option to hit the reset button and start over with the default/factory settings.
Remember – there's no right or wrong answer. It's all about what brings the best results for your personal viewing experience.
Another thing to keep in mind is your source. Broadcast and cable television channels only output at a maximum 1920x1080p resolution, while many streaming services offer a 4K or UltraHD option. Also, the latest generation of gaming consoles can support 4K resolutions at up to 120Hz (if your television has an HDMI 2.1 port), so you'll want to consider your gear and streaming services to take advantage of your TV's capabilities fully.
Although many of the latest televisions can natively "up-res" HD signals to near 4K resolutions, to get the best picture, ensure you have a streaming device, gaming console, or subscription level that provides the highest possible resolution.