The new NFL season will bring footbll fans plenty of fast-paced action and gripping matchups. But if your TV isn't adjusted properly, even an exciting game could look flatter than a glass of three-day-old beer. Not to worry: With a few adjustments to the settings, you can give your set a big-game TV tune-up before the coin toss.

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If you've got a new set, you'll notice that things have changed when it comes to television settings out of the box. It used to be that when you brought a TV home, everything would be cranked too high—to "torch mode," in industry speak. Manufacturers would turn up the set's brightness controls and oversaturate the colors to make the picture pop in the harsh fluorescent lighting of a sales floor.

These days, you may find the opposite problem. The first time you turn on your new TV you'll see a setup option that lets you choose a "home" mode instead of a "retail" or "store" setting. Click on that setting, and your TV could look too dim or have undersaturated colors. Why? Because these settings help manufacturers to hit Energy Star energy-use guidelines. 

To fix this and get your television looking its best on game day, you could pay a few hundred dollars for a professional TV calibration, but we suggest trying to get the TV looking great on your own.

It's really not too difficult, and if you're nervous about screwing up the settings, don't be. Nearly all TVs have a reset button that you can use to bring the set back to its default settings if, for instance, the green turf starts looking more like an ocean of blue.

Ready? Here's what you need to do.

Start With a Factory Picture Mode Preset

All TVs now come with a menu of picture modes with names such as "vivid," "natural," "sports," or "cinema." When you select one of these modes, the brightness, contrast, and sharpness are automatically adjusted to preset values optimized for different viewing environments.

Although it might seem odd, don't choose the "sports" mode for watching sports. (It could artificially boost brightness, contrast, and colors, and turn on motion smoothing.) Also stay away from the "vivid" and "dynamic" modes, which tend to dramatically boost contrast and sharpness and lower brightness to less-than-optimal levels. We've found that modes with names like "natural," "cinema," "movie," and "calibrated" generally provide the best results.

Tweak the Settings Individually

Once you've selected one of those preset modes, TVs let you tweak the picture's appearance further. On some sets, if you try to change the settings, your picture mode will automatically change to a "custom" or "preference" mode. Either way, your procedure for the next part of the TV tune-up will be the same.

One note: For CRO subscribers, we provide the actual individual calibration settings we use for all the TVs in our TV ratings. Just visit the TV's model page, and scroll down to Detailed Test Results and look for the Optimized Picture Settings. Otherwise, here's what to do.

Brightness level: This is also called black level, and it's critical to getting top picture quality. Ideally, a TV should be able to display deep blacks without losing the near-black detail within the darkest areas.

Freeze-frame a nighttime scene, such as one from Batman or just about any vampire movie. Turn the brightness/black level up until you can see the details in the image's darkest areas. Then turn it back 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 you can with an OLED TV.

Contrast: Also called white level or picture, contrast affects how well the TV can display near-white shadow detail, as well as brightness.

Find an image with lots of white—say, a wedding gown, or a sky full of puffy white clouds. Lower the contrast control until you can see all the detail, such as the shadows in the folds of the gown, or the subtle gray shadings in the clouds. Then raise it to get the brightest picture possible without washing out those details. You'll generally want to set the contrast below the maximum level.

Color and tint: Once the black-and-white quality is optimized, then 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 setting generally works best when it's in the middle of the range. Adjust the color-level control, which might also be called "saturation," so that colors look vivid and realistic but not too intense like they're glowing. All these settings may interact with one another in odd ways, so repeat the process as necessary.

Sharpness and more: There are several settings you should probably turn off to get the best possible picture. Manufacturers often set the sharpness control rather high and turn on noise-reduction and other image-enhancement modes. The best HDTVs need little or no added enhancement to display HD images at their highest resolution.

You can tell if you've set the sharpness control too high because the background will start to look grainy, and halos will appear around the edges of objects, making the overall image appear less natural.

We suggest you turn the sharpness control down to zero, and then add sharpness sparingly only if the image looks soft. Also turn off any noise-reduction and image-enhancement or "dynamic" modes; these tend to reduce image quality.

Remember, if you're unhappy with your TV calibration, just hit the reset button to start over.

Try a Calibration Disc

If you're a real picture-quality aficionado, you can fine-tune your TV more precisely by using a calibration Blu-ray disc, such as the "Digital Video Essentials HD Basics" or "Disney WOW: World of Wonder on Blu-ray." When we tested these discs a few years ago we found the latter was the easier of the two to use for first-timers. Both discs will walk you through a step-by-step picture alignment process, eliminating guesswork. In addition, some THX-certified Blu-rays include a free THX Optimizer calibration tool that will help you optimize video and audio settings on your TV.

Consider the Source

Here's one potential, though increasingly less common, wrinkle: You may want to tweak the picture settings for various video sources, depending on the signal and its TV input. 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 an older DVD player connected to the component-video input yields a different-quality picture than another player connected via HDMI. When you switch sources, you'll get the best picture quality if you use settings customized to each input. Some TVs let you store these optimized settings; others, unfortunately, do not.

What About 4K With HDR?

Right now, there's little chance you'll have to deal with this, as no NFL games at present are broadcast in 4K with HDR. DirecTV is broadcasting a few college football games in 4K on one of its 4K channels, but not with HDR. So the picture settings you've set up for regular HD broadcasts will be fine for all the football you'll watch this fall. It's possible we may see some football with HDR next year.

So that's really all it takes to get your TV primed for prime-time viewing. If you don't want to do a more involved TV tune-up, at the very least try switching to one of the more accurate presets. But if you decide to go whole-hog with the individual adjustments, let us know in the comments section below how it went, and whether the improvements you've made are noticeable to your other family members. Also, remember that high-quality sound is also a big part of the game; you can check our sound bar speaker ratings for help picking the right one. And of course, you can check our TV ratings if you decide it's time for a new set.