When you see an electronic product being demonstrated at the store, it’s often been set up for that specific environment. Whether it’s a sound system, computer monitor or phone, there’s a good chance an employee tweaked its settings to make it look and sound as good as it can in that store.
When it comes to television sets, the right model for you can be narrowed down by many factors, but most people start with price. Have about half a million burning a hole in your pocket? This 165-inch monster TV folds away into your floor.
Whether you spend hundreds or thousands of dollars, you can improve your TV experience by calibrating some essential settings. Most TVs now come with presets that can do most of the work for you. Armed with a bit of knowledge, you can fine-tune settings yourself. We’ll give you the rundown on four picture settings and what they do.
1. Looking for a sharper picture?
Sharpness is a tricky setting. You would think that turning it up would sharpen your picture, right? It actually works the opposite way. On most modern TVs, the sharpness controls something called edge enhancement. This highlights the edges of images with an outline or halo.
While turning up this setting may make images appear sharper, you will lose detail along with it. The edge enhancement will be affecting images all over the screen, hiding things and making them look less natural.
If you’re using one of your television’s preset cinema/movie modes, sharpness will be turned down by default. If you want to tweak this setting on your own, turn the sharpness down until you don’t see any outlines.
Or turn it all the way down to zero and then bring it up in small increments to your liking. Some TVs have a zero setting for sharpness in the middle and you can actually go negative, but you should avoid doing so.
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2. Noise reduction
Who wants a noisy picture? This setting seems like a no-brainer, but like many calibration options, it’s not so simple. Noise refers to film grain, artifacts and pixelation. This was more of an issue in older television sets and standard or lower definition content.
Noise reduction can produce a cleaner picture, but it also washes out details — making everything on screen look soft and unnatural.
If you are watching high-definition and 4K content, it’s better to disable noise reduction. Leaving it on may cause you to miss out on finer details and textures, and your picture will look soft and unnatural.
3. Motion smoothing/blur reduction
This setting comes with different names from different manufacturers, but it all comes down to the same thing. Motion smoothing attempts to smooth out moving images by artificially adding frames. It can make high-end productions look like hastily-made YouTube videos, known as the soap opera effect.
Motion smoothing can help when watching sports or playing video games, as fast-moving content can be seen more clearly. It can also negatively impact this type of content. If a football is flying across the screen, it could move too fast for the algorithm to keep up, resulting in an artificial-looking image as more frames are added to compensate.
With video games, motion smoothing can add lag, which ruins any gaming experience. This is why the setting is disabled in game mode.
Most movies are broadcast in 24 or 30 frames per second. When you turn on motion smoothing, your television, which may have a refresh rate of 60, 120 or even 240 hertz, will interpolate frames to bring the picture up to its standards. The result is a movie that can feel too real. You lose the cinematic edge the creators originally intended, which means less immersion.
For most types of content, turn off motion smoothing.
4. Picture mode
Stores use picture modes to maximize a TV’s appearance to shoppers. Vivid, sports, dynamic, bright and more all blow out colors and images. Employees may tweak individual settings to exaggerate colors further. Floor models are set to take advantage of the store’s lighting, which will be different than your home’s.
That’s one reason there is a Vivid mode, to begin with. It’s intended as an in-store demonstration mode to help a set stand out next to the dozens of other TVs in a brightly lit big-box store. Beware: Your set may be left in Vivid mode by default.
This looks great in a store but not in your home. Try cinema or movie settings instead. This will bring your picture closer to what filmmakers originally intended you to see.
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If all else fails, start over
If you have made changes you are not happy with, you can always reset picture settings to factory default.
On Samsung TVs, go to Settings > Picture > Expert Settings > Reset Picture > Yes. If you have a Sony, go to Settings > Preferences > Picture > Reset > OK.
You can do the same with LG TVs by going to Settings > All Settings > Picture Mode Setting > Reset > Yes.