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Tech tips

3 simple steps to improve your TV’s picture quality

A common complaint we hear from readers is how disappointed they are after buying a new TV. The main problem is the picture quality just doesn’t live up to expectations.

The thing is, it isn’t necessarily the TV’s fault. Any new TV can be a disappointment when you first get it home. That’s often because new TVs aren’t always calibrated correctly for your home’s lighting.

If you bought the store’s floor model, it will be even worse. Floor models have heavily tweaked saturation and hues designed to catch your eye in fluorescent lighting. Once you get it into standard lighting at home, it looks terrible.

Fortunately, you don’t have to return that shiny new TV. A better picture is just a few adjustments away. You could pay an expert to set your new TV up, or you can save some money and get great results doing it yourself. Even if you’re not buying a new set, try these tips on your TV and see how great it can look.

1. Use the display presets

Your TV likely has several built-in presets geared to different uses, like movie-watching or sports channels. You can find these in your TV’s picture settings menu. Look in your TV manual to find out how to get to these settings on your device. If you don’t have your manual, tap or click here to find it online.

Sometimes your new television set might have defaults for presets like “Vivid” because that gives colors the most pop — often too much. In fact, many store models use this type of preset.

For general TV viewing, the standard preset — or whatever your TV calls it — is your best bet. Just making that switch alone can fix a lot of image quality problems.

Try cycling through the other options and see which one you like best. You can also test out settings for different scenarios. Some TVs even have presets for specific types of sports, so load up a game or two and see what those do for you.

2. Use your eyes

If none of the presets are to your liking, take more control of your picture settings. You’ll be the one watching it, after all.

Settings you can adjust include contrast, hue, brightness, sharpness and color temperature. To get started, grab a few of your favorite movies that have a range of scenes with different lighting. 

Make sure the films include scenes that are very dark, very light, filled with people and are extra colorful. Be sure to set your room lighting to how it typically is when you watch TV.

In the dark scenes, adjust the brightness setting so shadows are as black as they can get while still showing detail. Then, head over to a light scene and adjust the contrast up so the white spaces are as white as possible without blowing out all the detail.

Next, adjust the color temperature until skin tones and colors look natural. If your TV has saturation controls, you can fine-tune how vivid the colors look; you want the sweet spot between “washed out” and “hurts your eyes to look at.”

Once you get everything looking good, test your settings with a few more movies at different lighting levels in the room. You also might need to turn the TV off a few times and come back after a few minutes to see your changes with fresh eyes. 

If you don’t quite trust your eyes, or want a bit more help, there’s another step you can take.

3. Use a calibration disc

To get a more exact calibration, you can use a calibration disc. This walks you through each setting and gives you carefully created visual images to help guide your tweaking. It works well in most cases, but don’t be afraid to change certain settings based on your preference. It’s your TV, so the best picture is the one you like the most.

There are a couple of options when it comes to buying a calibration disc. You can get this Blu-ray from Spears & Munsil that is very helpful for under $30.

Another option is Disney WOW: World of Wonder. There’s a DVD version you can buy for around $20.

If you don’t want to purchase a disc, there are other options. First, check your TV’s manual because you might have a calibration routine built in.

Also, there are some calibration videos on YouTube you can load if you have a Smart TV. Do a search for “AVS HD 709” for a string of them. Of course, they do take a little more work on your part.

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If you really want to get technical, Netflix also has a calibration option. Log in to your Netflix account and then visit the link http://www.netflix.com/title/70136810. Click “My List” to add this video to your list, then fire up Netflix on your TV and look in your list for “Example Short 23.976.”

Start the video and fast forward to the 9:40 minute mark. You’ll see color bars to show color saturation, a pattern of circle and boxes to make sure your aspect ratio and sharpness are good (the circles should be perfectly round and the boxes perfectly square) and a grayscale pattern. (Adjust the brightness and contrast so you can see every box clearly, but the black and white are as dark and bright as they can be.)

The grayscale test can also tell you if your color temperature is off because the center gray boxes will have a tint to them.

Performing any of the tips discussed in this article should give you better picture quality than you’ve been experiencing with your TV. Now you can watch the big game in style.

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