If you look at the model pages for any of the sets in our TV Ratings, you'll see that we now publish the settings we used during our evaluation that provided the best picture quality for each of the TVs. If you have the same model, you can use these settings on your TV, perhaps making small adjustments to compensate for the slight differences among individual sets.
It's generally good to start with the attributes set to a middle or neutral position, then adjust up or down until the image looks realistic. Although sharpness sounds like a plus, keep it at a bare minimum so details don't look harsh and overly enhanced. The same holds true for brightness and color. In most cases, high settings look unnatural.
I was recently reminded of just how important picture settings are when I switched video inputs on my TV. (I switched the cable box from HDMI to component-video so I could use the HDMI input for a Blu-ray player.) Suddenly, the TV picture looked atrocious—harsh, glaring, unnaturally sharp. It turned out that the set remembers the settings for each input. That's a nice feature in general, because it lets you optimize the picture for each source, say, your cable box on one and your disc player on the other. A few changes to the picture settings and I was back in business.
Of course, you need good-quality content to get optimal picture quality. A Blu-ray disc is the best quality you can get at home, but some HD TV programming is very good as well. And make sure you're using either the HDMI or component-video input to get high-def from a cable, satellite, or phone company box. With off-air HD from an antenna, you can use the coaxial input.
If you held off shopping for a new set until after the holiday dust settled, be sure to check our latest LCD and plasma TV Ratings (available to subscribers) to see which sets deliver the goods.
So don’t settle for less than the best your TV has to offer. It's all in your hands.