You don't need professional calibration to get the best picture from your television. Follow these steps to adjust simple settings that will make your movies, shows, and even games look better than ever.
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Setting your TV to the right picture mode is the single biggest step you can take in getting the best picture. By default, TVs tend to use ugly picture modes that either dramatically skew colors to be more eye-catching, or wash everything out with overbearing power-saving options. Your first step needs to be finding the most accurate picture mode, which almost certainly isn”t going to be your TV”s default.
Every TV has some form of Movie mode that attempts to be as accurate as possible in terms of color and contrast. This mode will get your TV”s colors as close to what the director intended as it can, without going through calibration. You can almost certainly get colors a bit closer with a professional calibration, but that”s an expensive process. In our testing over the last few years, Movie mode consistently results in remarkably accurate color performance out of the box, with no tweaks needed.
This mode isn”t always called Movie. Sometimes it”s referred to as Cinema or Calibrated. Whatever it”s called, you”ll find it in your TV”s settings menu, usually under Picture. Find the mode that sounds most like it has to do with movies or calibration, and you should be good to go. And if multiple picture modes are available, like separate Movie, Calibrated, and Filmmaker modes…honestly any of them are going to get closer to accurate color representation than the Standard, Vivid, or Dynamic picture modes commonly set by default.
Step 2: Make Sure the Colors Are Warm
The proper picture mode should already cover this, but it doesn”t hurt to check. While still in your TV”s picture configuration menu, look for a setting called White Balance or Color Temperature. Make sure it”s set to Warm, or the warmest-looking setting.
Any white on the screen will shift from visibly bluish to slightly red-orange as you tweak this setting. It might look like it”s tinted, but the fact is that it”s actually the closest the TV will get to the D65 white point considered to be standard in broadcast television and digital cinema. Default color temperature settings, like Cool and even Normal, have more blue light in their balance than they need. It makes the picture seem brighter and more vivid, but it”s less accurate.
Odds are the Movie picture setting already has the color temperature set to warm, but it doesn”t hurt to check.
Step 3: Disable Power-Saving Features
This tip might draw the ire of energy conservationists, but your TV”s eco-friendly settings might be seriously hurting your picture. By cranking down the backlight and dimming the picture, TVs can save a lot of power. That”s good for your power bill, but not for getting the best picture possible.
Look for a setting in your TV”s menu called Eco or Power Saving. Set these modes to Off, or at least Low. This will ensure you”re getting a bright, high-contrast picture.
You should also disable settings called Eco Sensor, Ambient Room, or anything similar. Many TVs have light sensors that can tell how bright the room is and adjust the backlight accordingly. It sounds good on paper, but it takes backlight control out of your hands and generally makes the picture dimmer than it should be. Disable the sensor to make sure what you”re watching stays bright.
Step 4: The Motion Smoothing Dance
If you”ve ever noticed the “soap opera effect,” that means you”ve experienced your TV”s motion smoothing feature. It makes whatever you”re watching look smooth, but unnatural. In the vast majority of cases, you should turn it off completely.
If you want to watch a TV show or a movie, disable any motion smoothing feature on your TV. Go into your TV”s picture settings and look for anything with the words Motion, Smooth, or Flow in it. Turn that feature off and kiss the soap opera effect goodbye.
There are some exceptions where you want the feature turned on, though. If you”re planning to watch live sports, re-enable the motion smoothing feature. The game will actually look better with this mode turned on, because it improves some choppiness typically caused by the type of action and camera movement sports show.
Step 5: Turn On Game Mode (Gamers Only)
Finally, if you want to play video games on your TV, make sure Game Mode is turned on. This might be a dedicated picture setting, or a separate feature you can enable or disable, but either way it”ll drastically improve your gaming experience.
Game Mode reduces input lag for your TV, which means the picture updates much more quickly when it receives a signal. This is vital for video games, because it affects how responsive controls feel. We test input lag on TVs, and we”ve seen it regularly hit 80 to 110 milliseconds without Game Mode. With Game Mode enabled, that lag can drop below 20ms (the threshold we use to consider a TV best for gaming), and we”ve even seen some hit 3.2ms, which is fast enough to pit against a gaming monitor.
Look for any setting in your TV”s menu that refers to Game or Gaming. It might be in the Picture menu or the General menu, but either way it”s the feature you need to enable to cut input lag down. This mode can slightly hurt image quality by disabling certain image processing features in order to reduce lag, so you might want to disable it when you”re done playing to get the best experience with movies and TV shows.
A special note for Samsung TV owners: Recent Samsung TVs have easily accessible Game modes that indeed reduce input lag, but you can go a step further. By default, the Game mode on Samsung TVs still enables motion smoothing, which produces lag. Go into your TV”s External Device Manager menu, select Game Mode, and turn off Game Motion Plus. On the Samsung TU8000 series, it means the difference between an input lag of 19.4ms and 3.2ms!
Of course, if you want the absolute best picture quality possible, you can still pay for professional calibration or do it yourself. Check out our TV calibration guide to get started, but keep in mind it”s far more involved than following any of the steps above.
If you haven't dived into your TV's menu system, you might be dealing with annoying quirks you didn't even know you could fix. The default settings on many TVs don't always offer the best picture, especially when you consider that each video source (cable box, media streamer, Blu-ray player, game system) likely has its own ideal settings that apply. Here are easy fixes to four common picture problems.
Table of ContentsTable of ContentsReturn to The TopStep 1: Welcome to Movie ModeStep 2: Make Sure the Colors Are WarmStep 3: Disable Power-Saving FeaturesStep 4: The Motion Smoothing DanceStep 5: Turn On Game Mode (Gamers Only)