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Take your TV-watching experience to the next level

Our advice will help you properly set up and calibrate your television

Published: January 2013

With 3D, Internet connectivity, gesture and voice controls, and more smart features on the way, today's TVs are high-tech devices. Instead of being intimidated by all that techology, use our tips and advice for setting up, calibrating, and taking care of your set.

Hook up with HDMI

You don’t have to live with a tangle of wires behind your TV set, even if you want to connect several gadgets. All it takes is a few cheap HDMI cables, which cost $7 or so online for a 6-foot length and a bit more at retailers such as Target and Walmart. Buy the shortest cable that will reach from the devices to the TV, with at least a foot or so of extra play.

Most new TVs 40 inches and larger have three or four HDMI inputs. Choose a set with enough for the number of devices you want to connect so that you don’t have to unplug one to use another. You don’t need as many inputs on the TV if you’ll be using an A/V receiver to switch between devices.

Basic setup. If all you want to connect is the box from your TV service provider, plug the cable coming in from the service into the back of the box. Then connect the box to the TV with one HDMI cable that will carry both the video and audio.

Adding a Blu-ray player. You do essentially the same thing. If the inputs are numbered, note the number so that you can switch to that source to play a disc. Some TVs let you assign a name, such as “Blu-ray.”

Adding a streaming media box. If your TV doesn’t have Internet capability, you can add it via a streaming-media player, such as an Apple TV or a Roku box. Follow the same steps, connecting the box to another HDMI input on your TV. (Google TV connects between your cable box and TV.)

Adding a sound bar. The most common setup is to run audio from your cable box, Blu-ray player, or TV to the sound bar via digital (optical or coaxial) or analog (stereo) cables. You can use an HDMI cable with some sound bars that have multiple inputs and the ability to switch between components. In this scenario the audio of the program you’re watching on the TV will be steered to the sound bar. Some TVs support ARC (audio return channel) via the HDMI cable, enabling the TV to send the TV’s audio back to the sound bar on that cable instead of via the digital audio output. Even simpler: a wireless Bluetooth connection between the sound bar and the TV. Look for TVs with that feature this year.

More on TVs

In the market for a new set? Take a look at our most recent TV test results, reviews, and Ratings. And don't miss our free TV buying guide.

Is professional calibration necessary?

Not unless Martin Scorsese will be stopping by to watch a movie with you! It’s hard to justify spending one-third to one-quarter of the cost of many TVs on calibration. And most consumers don’t really need it.

New TVs have preset modes that get you close enough to a professional calibration to satisfy even picky viewers. Choose a picture mode such as THX, Movie, or Cinema, turn down sharpness, and turn off noise reduction and “dynamic” control features, and you’ll probably be very happy with the picture quality.

If you want to go further, try the THX Optimizer that comes free with many DVDs and Blu-ray discs, or try a calibration disc from Avia, Video Essentials, or Spears and Munsil.

Having said that, if you’re a perfectionist with an expensive home theater, you might want to consider professional calibration. Be sure it’s done by an industry-certified professional.

Best way to clean the screen

To clean your television's screen, remember never to use window cleaner, alcohol, ammonia, abrasives, or paper towels, which can damage the screen.

First, turn off your TV and let it cool down. Then wipe the screen gently with a soft, lint-free cloth (similar to the microfiber cloth used on eyeglasses). Make sure the cloth is clean; dust or dirt can scratch the screen.

If that doesn’t remove all of the dirt or smudges, slightly dampen the cloth with lukewarm water, water mixed with a few drops of mild dish or hand soap, or a product specially designed to clean TV and computer screens. (Spray the cloth, not the screen itself.) Rub the screen gently, then let it dry. That should do it.

Watching the Super Bowl this year?

Have we got advice for you! Bookmark our guide to the Super Bowl for ideas and tips on how to watch from anywhere, how to host a party, what to eat on game day, and lots more.

Pick the best picture mode

In your typical room lighting, freeze on an image with faces and detail. Press the menu button on the remote and find picture settings in the menu, then picture mode.

Try the options. If there’s a THX mode, that might be the best choice. If not, try Movie, Cinema, or Pro, which usually provide a natural-looking picture. Modes such as Natural or Standard might trade off color accuracy for brightness, so see how they look. Avoid Vivid or Dynamic modes, which are overly bright and harsh.

Fine-tune the attributes. You can usually fine-tune attributes within a mode, though some TVs will let you do that only in Custom mode. Turn sharpness down to zero and inch up only if the image looks soft or edges are indistinct. Turn off noise reduction and enhancement, which can reduce detail. Turn off dynamic and power-saving controls (which can create brightness fluctuations) and motion smoothing (which creates a soap opera-like look).

Don’t worry about messing up—the Reset button in the onscreen menu lets you restore default settings and start over.

Watching the Super Bowl this year?

Have we got advice for you! Our guide to the Super Bowl features ideas and tips on watching and streaming the game (on your TV, smart phone, and/or tablet), hosting a party, and lots more.

Fix your TV's brightness and color

Get shadows right. First, freeze on a dark scene. Raise the brightness control (black level) to expose shadow details.

Now inch down the same brightness control to get the deepest black without losing detail in the darkest areas. Then freeze on an image with near-white shadows, such as a wedding dress. Set contrast (white level) to the max, then lower it until you can see subtle details, such as folds in the dress.

Adjust colors. Find “color temperature” in the menu and select warm or low. Set tint/hue and color controls at the midpoint. Adjust tint so that flesh tones look natural and color level so that colors don’t appear too hyped up.

And remember that you can bring back default settings by hitting Restore in the onscreen menu.

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