A TV remote resting on the arm of a couch.

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.


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More About TVs

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.

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. 

We've been telling people to shut off these features for years. The process soon gets easier, thanks to a new feature called Filmmaker Mode, which was developed with input from some high-profile movie directors, such as Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan. Among other things, when the TV detects that a movie is playing, it will automatically disable any motion smoothing effect, which is described below. (This is just one of several interesting TV developments for 2020.)

So far, LG and Vizio have signed on to make TVs with this feature, and we'll be watching to see whether more brands come onboard. We'll be testing some TVs in 2020 that have the feature to see how well it performs.

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 lesser-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 its 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.

Photo of a hand pushing a TV power button.

2. Sharpness Control/Edge Enhancement

Another denizen of 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 in the picture. 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. And like a spy or credit card fraudster, this feature has many names, including smooth motion, motion estimation/motion compensation, and motion interpolation.

To make things even more confusing, companies tend to give this feature their own proprietary names, such as Auto Motion Plus (Samsung), Motionflow (Sony), and TruMotion (LG).

So what's the problem?

Many companies tie these efforts to another technology, called motion smoothing or judder reduction. 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 attempts to reduce judder by increasing the TV's frame rate via a process called frame or motion interpolation.

This involves the TV analyzing adjacent video frames, making an educated guess as to what the in-between frames would look like if they'd been captured, and then inserting those new frames into the video stream. But when activated, motion smoothing 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. Unfortunately, in some televisions motion smoothing is tied to blur reduction, so you can't get one without the other. If you can, shut off the anti-judder feature while engaging the anti-blurring processing.

Here's a final bit of advice to anyone buying a new TV: Try experimenting with the various picture-control settings to find the best ones for your room and viewing conditions. Though we recommend turning these three features down or all the way off, play around with them and see what effect they have on your set's picture quality.

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.