So you might have been convinced with HDTV may be based on my previous post, and might have brought a new HDTV. Whether you purchased your HDTV yesterday or last year, there’s a big chance you just plugged it in and fired it up. Tweak your HDTV for better viewing quality.
While HDTV has a pretty awesome picture, and you’ve likely been enjoying your screen just fine how it is, your television didn’t come out of the box pre-programmed for your living room. Your HDTV came out of the box preset for a showroom floor, with the settings cranked up to compete with a wall of other HDTVs to induce that certain feeling of, “Oh my God, I can’t believe how HD-riffic this is!” Your living room is not the same as a showroom floor for a myriad of reasons—bright polo shirts and tube fluorescents among them—so the best viewing experience requires a few display setting switches.
You might be a little confused as to why the picture doesn’t look as bright, sharp and, well, as swoon-worthy as it did on the shelf at the big-box retailer you bought it from. Well not all picture settings are created equal. In a busy and fluorescent-lit environment, a super-bright picture with the colors enhanced and the LCD back light set to the maximum is what’s going to look best. But not necessarily in your living room…
For those with a factory default tube, the New York times put together a crash course in tweaking your television. Most of their advice, as you would imagine, involves cranking things down from their eye-searing in-store levels. Start by controlling the external lighting as much as possible, then start tinkering with your settings starting with the brightness:
A picture’s black level is controlled by the TV’s brightness adjustment; it needs to be set dark enough so that the screen displays rich, deep blacks. Set too low, many images will lose their detail. Set the black level too high, the picture will look muddy.Black level is important because the truer the blacks, the greater the perceived sharpness of the TV image. A muddy picture will look less sharp than one that has true blacks.
To get the proper black level, you can use a PLUGE pattern, which typically consists of six vertical bars of varying black levels. Turn the picture level down until one of the bars disappears against the background. PLUGE patterns, and other patterns discussed here, are available on a variety of TV tuning discs.
Once you’ve got a handle on your brightness, don’t neglect the contrast and colors. But wait! Don’t run out and spend money on a calibration disc. Not only are there tons of free test patterns a Google Image search away, but there are hundreds of DVD movies that include test patterns tucked in the bonus features.
- The backlight on an LCD TV is usually set to the maximum setting when you get it from the factory because the picture’s contrast ratio is measured in a pitch black room, which is obviously not the case in your living room. The best place to start in getting a good picture is to turn the backlight setting down to about half.
- A good next step is to adjust the brightness and get a proper black level, which will keep the picture from being too washed out or too muddy. A PLUGE pattern of six vertical bars of varying black levels is the best tool for adjusting your brightness. You can find PLUGE patterns in the special features on many DVD movies. The trick is to set it so the black is as dark as it can be while you can still make out details on the screen. You can do the same with ‘brightness’ for proper black levels and ‘contrast’ for white balance.
- Once you know black is black and white is white, play with the ‘color’ and ‘hue controls until grass looks green and the sky looks blue. “At first, softer, natural colors may look too muted, but after a few days you will find them more pleasing.“
- You will also need to consider that settings for an optimal picture will change throughout the day and depending on the source of the picture. At night in a darker room, you will need to lower the contrast control. And if you change your input device from a DVD player to the satellite feed, you might see a difference in the picture quality. Check to see if you can set your own image profiles to keep the settings switching.