Simple steps to improve your new or old TV’s picture quality

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TVs are cheap this time of year, but people are often disappointed after buying a new set. The picture quality doesn’t live up to expectations. Fortunately, a better picture is just a few adjustments away.

Picture this

Let’s say you snag a great deal on a fancy new TV. All you have to do is plug it in and start watching your favorite TV shows and movies. But as soon as you start, you notice that the colors are off or too bright. 

It isn’t necessarily the TV’s fault. Any new television can be a disappointment when you first get it home. That’s often because they aren’t always calibrated correctly for your home’s lighting.

It would be even worse if you bought the store’s floor model. 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.

You could pay an expert to set your new TV up, or you can save some money and get great results doing it yourself. Let’s start with a basic setting.

Element 4K Ultra HD Smart TV – Amazon Fire TV Edition.
(PR Newswire)

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 them. If you don’t have your manual, tap or click here to find it online.

Sometimes your new television might have defaults for presets like vivid because that gives colors the most pop — often too much. Many store models use this 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.

Samsung Television set.

Samsung Television set.

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 start, put on a few of your favorite movies with various scenes and lighting. Keep these tips in mind:

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

Tap or click here for a deeper dive into individual picture settings.

Once everything looks good, test your settings with a few more movies at different lighting levels in the room. You also 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 entirely 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 specific 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 for buying a calibration disc. You can get this Blu-ray from Spears & Munsil that’s helpful for around $40.

Other calibration options

There are other options if you don’t want to purchase a disc. 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. Search for “AVS HD 709” for a string of them. Of course, they do take a little more work on your part.

If you want to get technical, Netflix has a calibration option. Log in to your Netflix account and visit 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 circles 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 possible.)

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

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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