Turn Off These 3 TV Features for Better Picture Quality

They sound like performance-boosters, but these settings actually make the picture look worse, no matter what TV you own

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So you've finally sprung for that colossal 4K TV, set it up in your family room, and well, it doesn't look quite as awesome as you imagined.

In fact, everything looks a bit fake and unnatural, surely not what you anticipated when you plunked down your cash for a state-of-the-art television.

Become a member of Consumer Reports to get access to our TV Screen Optimizer, which will help you get the perfect picture on your TV in just minutes. Join today to get started.

Before you race back down to your local TV barn to demand a refund, take a deep breath—you may be a victim of your TV's out-of-box settings rather than a conniving salesman looking to unload a lackluster piece of technology.

More About TVs

Many new TVs come with a bevy of optional display features that are turned on by default, and a few could be robbing you and your set of the best picture possible. Below are three features we recommend you shut off—or at least turn way down—when you get the TV home.

The process will soon be getting easier for many owners of new TVs, thanks to a new feature called Filmmaker Mode, which was developed with input from some high-profile movie directors, including Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan. It's described below. (This is just one of several interesting TV developments for 2021.)

In addition, we have advice on how to adjust other TV settings, for black levels, color, and more to make sure you are getting the best possible picture on your TV. And CR members can consult our TV Screen Optimizer to find the best settings for their model.

Don't worry about straying too far with any of these adjustments—most TVs have a reset option to restore factory settings.

1. Noise Reduction

"Hey," you might argue, "why do I want to turn off noise reduction? I don't want to see any noise on my TV!" That would seem to make sense, except it doesn't.

Noise—sometimes called "snow" due to the appearance of black and white dots in the picture—was a bigger issue with older analog TVs, and especially with lower-definition analog signals. And, yes, when TVs upconvert video signals from low-quality sources you may still see some noise.

But for the most part, you're getting much cleaner, higher-quality digital source content these days, whether you're using over-the-air digital broadcasts, high-def signals from cable and satellite TV services, streaming service signals, or pristine video from Blu-ray discs.

The problem with engaging noise reduction is that it comes at the expense of detail and fine texture—these tend to get smoothed over when the feature is active. The picture can get soft-looking. Turn off noise reduction and you'll have more picture detail and a more natural-looking image.

2. Sharpness Control/Edge Enhancement

Another entry in the "sounds good but really isn't" department is sharpness control, which oxymoronically doesn’t actually make the image sharper.

What it really does is artificially boost fine detail and texture, while accentuating the edges of images. At first glance this might give the impression of greater detail, but what it's actually doing is masking fine detail—and oversharpened images can add a halo around objects.

So turn it way down or completely off. Note: Some models have a zero setting in the center of the control, so lowering it beyond that point might actually soften the image.

3. Motion Smoothing

One issue with LCD-based TVs, in particular, is that the image can blur during fast-moving scenes, such as in action movies or sports.

TV manufacturers use various technologies to reduce motion blur, including repeating frames or inserting black frames into the video signal. It goes by a number of names, including Auto Motion Plus (Samsung), Motionflow (Sony), and TruMotion (LG).

So what's the problem?

Many companies tie these efforts to another technology, called judder reduction, which is often referred to as motion smoothing. Movies have a slightly stuttering effect, called judder, especially when the camera pans across a scene. This appearance comes about because movies and a lot of prime-time TV shows are shot at a relatively slow 24 frames per second, or 24Hz.

By contrast, video is typically shot at 60Hz. That's why sports, reality and game shows, and soap operas have smoother motion than 24Hz films.

Motion smoothing also attempts to reduce judder by increasing the TV's frame rate via a process called frame or motion interpolation.

The TV analyzes adjacent video frames, making an educated guess as to what the in-between frames would look like if they'd been captured, and then inserts those new frames into the video stream. But when motion smoothing is activated during a movie, it removes the normal film cadence and can make even classic, gritty films look like video, something referred to as "the soap opera effect."

Many sets with 120Hz and higher refresh rates let you turn off motion smoothing separately from blur reduction. Do that if you can.

However, in some televisions the two effects are tied together, so you can't get one without the other. In that case, turning the feature off is probably your best bet.

Filmmaker Mode, mentioned above, helps eliminate the soap opera effect. When it's active, the TV will shut down many of these effects—including motion smoothing—automatically when it detects a movie is playing. This year, sets from LG, Samsung, and Vizio will offer a Filmmaker Mode setting.

We’ve found this to be a useful feature that comes close to our own optimized settings. However, you may want to raise the TV's brightness just a bit, because Filmmaker Mode assumes you’ll be watching in a very dark room.

James K. Willcox

I've been a tech journalist for more years than I'm willing to admit. My specialties at CR are TVs, streaming media, audio, and TV and broadband services. In my spare time I build and play guitars and bass, ride motorcycles, and like to sail—hobbies I've not yet figured out how to safely combine.