How to fine-tune your HDTV You don't have to be a video expert to finesse the picture settings on your new HDTV. Follow these tips from our expert testers
to tune your set for optimal performance.
Picture mode: Most TVs have a menu of picture modes with names such as "vivid," "natural," or "cinema." When you select one of these modes,
brightness, contrast, and sharpness are automatically adjusted to preset values optimized for different viewing environments.
We've found that modes with names like "natural," "cinema," and "pro" generally provide the most-balanced settings. We suggest
you stay away from "vivid," "dynamic," and similar modes, which tend to dramatically boost contrast and sharpness and lower
brightness to less than optimal levels.
In most cases, you can modify a particular setting within a mode to tweak the picture's appearance. On other sets, if you
try to change the settings, your picture mode will automatically change to a "custom" or "preference" mode allowing you to
adjust picture settings individually.
To get the best picture quality from your TV, we suggest you adjust the individual picture settings yourself rather than use
a preset mode. These picture settings are described below.
Brightness level: This is also called black level, and it's critical to top picture quality. Ideally, a TV should be able to display deep black
without losing the detail within the darkest areas. To help you achieve the right balance, freeze-frame a nighttime scene
like one from a "Batman" movie. Turn the brightness/black level up until you can see the details in the image's darkest areas.
Then turn it down so the black gets as black as possible without obscuring the details in the dark areas. With LCD sets, you
won't get as deep a black as with other display technologies.
Contrast: Also called white level, contrast affects how bright the picture looks. Find an image with lots of white--whether it's a
wedding gown, a man's dress shirt, or a sky full of puffy white clouds. Lower the contrast until you can see all the detail,
such as the shadows in the folds of the gown, the buttons on the shirt, or the subtle gray shadings in the clouds. Then raise
it to get the brightest picture possible without washing out the subtle, near-white details described. For the best picture
quality, it's generally best to set contrast below the maximum level.
Color and tint: Once the black-and-white quality is optimized, it's time to adjust the color settings. Start with color temperature, sometimes
called color tone. We recommend choosing the "warm" or "low" setting, so whites don't appear too blue. Then adjust the tint/hue
control so that flesh tones look natural, neither too red nor too greenish-yellow--this generally works best when it's set
in the middle of the range. Adjust the color-level control ("saturation") so that colors look vivid and realistic but not
excessive (glowing). All these settings may interact with one another, so repeat the process as necessary.
Sharpness and more: Manufacturers often set the sharpness control rather high and turn on noise-reduction and other image-enhancement modes.
These are rarely needed when you're watching high-quality HD programming or a DVD movie. In most cases, resist the temptation
to crank up sharpness to enhance HD's fine detail. The best HDTVs need little or no help to show all the resolution in HD
If you set the sharpness control too high, the background will start to look grainy, and a halo will appear around the edges
of objects making the overall image appear less natural. We suggest you turn the sharpness control down to zero, then add
sharpness sparingly only if the image looks soft. Also turn off any noise-reduction and image-enhancement modes that tend
to reduce image detail.
However, if your TV viewing consists mainly of standard-definition programs with typically noisy picture quality, then you
may want to explore the noise reduction modes to determine if they work for you. These modes are typically found in the menus
for picture adjustments, advanced picture settings, or setup.
If you want a do-over: If you're unhappy with the adjustments you've made to the picture, don't panic. Hitting the reset button should restore the
factory settings, and you can start over. Or choose a picture mode and fine-tune the automatic settings that produces. If
all else fails, set the brightness, contrast, color, and tint controls in the middle. You'll usually get a decent picture.
Consider the source: You may have to tweak picture settings for each video source, depending on the signal and the TV input it's coming in on.
Each TV input has different circuitry that processes various types of signals, so brightness, color, and other picture attributes
may vary. You may find that a DVD player connected to the S-video input yields a different quality picture than the same player
connected to the component-video input. When you switch sources, you'll get the best picture quality with settings customized
to each input. Some TVs let you store the settings; others, unfortunately, do not.
Do-it-yourselfers who want to calibrate their TV picture in a more precise way can use a calibration DVD such as the AVIA
Guide to Home Theater ($50 from Ovation Multimedia, www.ovationmultimedia.com) or Digital Video Essentials ($25 from Joe Kane Productions, www.videoessentials.com). These will walk you through an easy step by step picture alignment process, eliminating guesswork. Or try the free THX
Optimizer included on THX-certified DVDs, including Pixar's "Toy Story" and "The Incredibles." Visit www.thx.com for details.
For the ultimate fine-tuning, consider a professional calibration--but be prepared to pay hundreds of dollars for the expert
touch. In most cases, we don't think it's worth it.