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HDTV: Adjust the picture for best quality

Consumer Reports News: July 23, 2008 05:55 PM

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When you turn on your new high-definition TV, it probably won't look as stunning as it did in the showroom. The default, out-of-the-box settings on most HDTVs are designed to create a super-bright, vividly colored image, but they're almost always a bad choice for use at home. Here in our labs, our engineers fine-tune each set before evaluating the picture. It's likely the TVs in our Ratings would have much lower scores if we didn't.

You don't need an engineering degree to get the most from your HDTV. The easiest way to adjust picture quality is to use one of the preset picture modes. (Press menu on the remote and find picture or video controls.) Most TVs are set to Vivid or Dynamic (names vary by brand), but we've found that modes like Natural, Cinema, or Pro generally provide the most pleasing, natural-looking picture. Play around with the choices and see which looks best. Finding the right mode might be all you need to do.

You can also adjust picture settings individually rather than using a preset mode. One simple method is to set the brightness, contrast, color, and tint controls to a middle or neutral position, then move them up and down until the image pleases you. Also, turn off sharpness, noise reduction, and image-enhancement. This approach generally results in a decent picture.

If you're more adventurous, try these seven steps to better picture quality. You'll find more detail in our article on tuning your TV.

Seven steps to better looking HD

  1. Lower the brightness, or black level, to the setting that gives you the deepest black without obscuring detail in the darkest areas.
  2. Raise the contrast, or white level, to the setting that gives you the brightest image without losing subtle, near-white details, such as the buttons on a white dress shirt.
  3. Set the color temperature, or color tone, to warm or low.
  4. Adjust tint/hue to around the middle of the range, so flesh tones look natural, neither too red nor too greenish-yellow.
  5. Set color-level, or saturation, so that colors look vivid but realistic, not too hyped up.
  6. Turn sharpness down to zero, then raise it slightly only if the image looks soft or edges are indistinct.
  7. Turn off noise-reduction and image-enhancement, which tend to reduce image detail.

Don't worry about messing up—if you're unhappy with the results, press the reset button to restore factory settings, and you can start over.

While you can make any TV look better, you'll get top picture quality only if you start with a great TV. If you're a subscriber to, view our LCD TV Ratings, plasma TV Ratings, rear-projection TV Ratings, and front projector TV Ratings to see which models did best in our tests.

A few last pointers

To get high-def signals, you must:

  • use either the component-video or HDMI connection; S-video and other inputs cannot carry high-def signals. (For off-air HD, you can get high-def signals using the RF input.)
  • have a high-def receiver and sign up for high-def service from your TV service provider
  • tune to a high-def channel displaying a high-def program.

See "Get the most from your HDTV," for more details. If you tweak your TV successfully, tell us about it.

—Eileen McCooey

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