TV Display Trouble: Why Adjustment of Your Set Is Necessary
Floor models of television sets at retail stores are set to "torch" or demo mode with unnaturally high contrast, brightness and blue tones to compensate for showroom lighting. But when you set up your new TV, it's important to program its display to the mode best suited to your viewing habits and your home’s lighting conditions.
Cartoon lovers may find the default setting adequate, sports watchers may like the smoothing effect of a fast action setting, but movie lovers should consider a cinematic mode to see a "correct picture" ― as close as you can get to the director's intention outside the cineplex.
You can also use these tips to inject new life into the TV you already have. It's easy to adjust your TV to what you're watching. Here's how:
The multipurpose mode on most TVs is called "standard" and while it's less extreme than a made-for-the-showroom "vivid" setting, the pre-programmed setting still increases in contrast, brightness and sharpness are inappropriate for movies. The standard mode is good for just that: standard definition broadcasts via your TV's input signal. Use your TV remote to access the modes and choose the "cinema" or "movie" mode when you're ready to watch a movie.
If you've been watching standard fare, the cinema setting may appear too yellow and dull. The effect is temporary and you will soon settle in to the theater-like experience.
Turn off motion smoothing
Today's TVs are made for sports enthusiasts. In 2010, there were 40,500 hours of live sporting events on broadcast and cable ― that's more than four years worth of 24-hour programming, according to Nielsen. Most sports are characterized by fast action and that's why we're seeing TVs with higher refresh rates — from 60Hz to 120Hz and 240Hz.
Refresh rate refers to how many frames are shown each second. Early LCD TVs suffered from motion blur and struggled against their plasma competitors. LCD manufacturers overcame this by increasing the number of frames that were displayed each second and adding "smoothing technologies" that together eliminate the jerkiness of older displays.
However, this same process destroys the ethereal quality of film. Movies are filmed with 24 frames per second — no more. At higher refresh rates, extra frames are inserted between the original images to smooth out the action. The result? The dreamlike quality of "Inception" turns into what looks like amateur video.
Once you've set your TV to its movie setting, turn off motion smoothing using your remote. Different manufacturers refer to the technology by different names: Samsung calls it "Auto Motion Plus," LG uses "TruMotion" and Sony refers to it as "MotionFlow." Usually the setting is found under Picture Options, but refer to your owner's manual for specific information for your television. If you have a plasma TV, pat yourself on the back. Because plasma technology is different than intermittent-light-based LCD technology, plasma TVs do not suffer from motion blur. Plasma TVs appropriately display fast action sports as well as movies. And, plasma remains a better deal than LCD.
You can also make a few minor adjustments to your picture to get even closer to the "correct" display. You may have to access "advanced settings" under "picture options."
Brightness is officially known as black level. The goal is to adjust your TV's brightness so that black looks truly black without losing the details in darker scenes. Experiment.
Contrast is referred to as "white level" by TV experts. Try reducing contrast by about 50 percent of the TV's maximum setting. Aim to make bright white objects as crisp as possible.
Sharpness is really artificial edge enhancement and is designed to make lower definition pictures clearer. When sharpness is set too high, you may see a halo effect around objects. Turn this down to zero on an HDTV.
Color adjustment will help make people look more natural. When color is set too high, you risk a cartoon-like effect and people may look sunburned.
Advanced and still easy: calibration
Like a professional photographer prefers to manually set his camera for the conditions at hand, a true cinephile may do the same for his TV. But you won't need years of experience; all you need is a calibration disc. And, you probably already have one.
Every THX certified DVD and Blu-ray movie disc includes a free calibration tool. The tool can also be used to fine tune your home theater sound system. Slip the disc into your DVD or Blu-ray player and follow the directions to properly calibrate your TV, especially the cinema setting. You will notice the difference.