Turn Off These 3 TV Features for Better Picture Quality

    They sound like performance boosters, but these settings actually make your TV look worse, no matter what model you own

    A TV remote on the edge of a couch Photo: Getty Images

    So you finally sprung for that jumbo 4K TV and set it up in your family room, only to be disappointed to find that, well, it doesn’t look quite as awesome as you imagined.

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

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

    More on TVs

    Many new TVs come with a bevy of optional display features that are turned on by default, and a few could be robbing 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 a new TV home.

    One bit of good news is that the process has been getting easier for owners of many new TVs, which can automatically adjust their settings to optimize picture quality. These new features include Filmmaker Mode and to a lesser extent Netflix Calibrated Mode, which we describe in more detail below. These are just two of several interesting TV developments for 2022.

    In addition to turning off the following three features, you can adjust other TV settings, such as black levels and color, to get the best picture quality. And CR members can consult our TV Screen Optimizer to find the best settings for their model.

    1. Noise Reduction

    “Hey,” you might say, “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” on account of the black and white dots in the picture—was a big issue with older analog TVs, and especially with low-definition analog signals. 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 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 a more natural-looking image.

    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.

    2. Sharpness Control/Edge Enhancement

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

    What it really does is accentuate the edges of images. At first glance, this might give the impression of greater detail, but in reality it masks fine detail—and oversharpened images can add a halo around objects.

    So turn it way down or completely off. Some TVs have a zero setting in the center of the control. That’s what you should use. Lower it beyond that point and you 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, particularly in action movies or sports.

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

    So what’s the problem?

    On its own, blur reduction is fine, even helpful. But 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.

    But with 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.

    One of the new picture settings I mentioned above, Filmmaker Mode, helps eliminate the soap opera effect. When it’s active, the TV will automatically shut down motion smoothing and some other features when it detects a movie is playing. This year, sets from Hisense, LG, Samsung, and Vizio will offer a Filmmaker Mode setting. A new development for 2022 TVs is the use of sensors to detect ambient room light and then adjust the settings for Filmmaker Mode accordingly.

    Netflix Calibrated Mode also tries to eliminate the soap opera effect—and adjusts color, brightness, and contrast—but only on the service’s streaming movies and original shows. So far, it’s mainly been found in Sony Android and Google TVs.

    We’ve found Filmmaker Mode to generally be a useful feature that comes close to our own optimized settings. But 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. (This is the issue that TVs with the ambient light sensors are meant to address.) We haven’t tested Netflix Calibrated Mode yet.

    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.