Best tips for improving your TV picture quality right now

So you've bought this brilliantly large (read perfect size for your lounge) television, but think the picture quality could be better, chances are it probably could, but that's not because you've bought a duff one (read our best TVs feature to make sure you don't) but because you haven't tuned it properly.  

We sat down with Stuart Tickle, MD of AWE, one of Europe's leading distributors of audio-visual products for custom installation into homes, and board member of CEDIA to see what tips you can follow at home.

So you've bought a TV, what is the best tip you can give when it comes to setting it up?

Locate it in a position where you and other viewers can comfortably view the screen and make sure you can control the lighting within the room. If that means moving the aerial point or power socket (e.g.: from the old corner TV position) then consider getting this done!

If you've done that you should make sure that the picture setting is correct. Many screens are set up by default with everything boosted to look brighter and more colourful than its competitor in a shop environment, but this usually means picture accuracy is pretty poor when you get it home in your living room.

Professional calibration requires specialist training and equipment, but this doesn't mean that you can't improve on the "out of the box" picture quality by using more simple techniques. Also, generally speaking, a more expensive TV should give you better performance so don't assume the cheapest one with the most features is the best.

Can you give us three easy steps to get a perfect picture and what's a quick way to calibrate your TV?

Three areas to look at are:

a) Brightness/contrast - Adjust to give the blackest blacks you can, whilst still retaining a white white.

b) Colour - When using the colour control, adjust the colours so that they do not look overblown and bleed into each other. Bold colours should look natural; make sure you avoid the temptation to over-saturate.

c) Sharpness - adjust so that the image is crisp, but without over correction, so no borders/double edges around images) 

Is there any DVD or Blu-ray that you can use to calibrate your TV?

Yes, you can only make accurate picture alterations by having a reference tool, and if you have the interest to really maximise your investment, then buy the DVE (Digital Video Essentials) Blu Ray (or DVD) and follow the tutorial and setup. It will probably take you an hour or two but is well worth it and the best you can do without calling in a professional.

If you are an enthusiast with an expensive system, consider utilising the services of a THX certified video calibrator.

Are the preset modes that come on televisions any good and should you use them?

Presets are a good way of very quickly finding your preference for different signals or programs, but they are only broad presets.

Most people stick them on the Vivid/Dynamic/Shop mode as it looks the most vibrant, but they are usually very overblown and inaccurate. Most TV’s have a cinema or movie mode where the colour temperature is often more accurate, but this can't take account of your specific viewing conditions or the source variations.

Some TV's enable you to save different settings on different inputs, but that makes no difference when changing channels on TV between TV and Movies. Unless you have a TV that enables you to save different user settings so you can select them at the touch of a button, the chances are you should just set it up the best you can (as above) for your most common usage and leave it at that. However, in all cases you want the most accurate colour reproduction you can.

Should you turn on any added technologies (like picture processing)?

There are a host of technologies from the major manufacturers, some of which are superb and clean up judder, flickering etc in all cases, but some are optional noise filters, which can sometimes reduce quality too. Where you have a high quality screen and a decent source (e.g. SKY HD) you would normally not use these features for the most natural reproduction of an image.

They are however very useful for cleaning up poorly recorded programs or sources so it is a matter of personal taste. If your TV enables you to switch them on and off, switch them all off and try them one at a time on your most common source (e.g. TV, Blu-ray etc) and only switch on those that you consider beneficial.

What picture aspect should you use?

For correct viewing use the native aspect of the content which gives no stretching of the image. Most broadcast TV is now 16:9, but movies will usually appear with black bars as they are filmed in 2.35:1. If you can see the black bars this is likely to be the original aspect, and by selecting a different aspect ratio to remove them you are actually distorting the image. However, this is personal preference...

Do expensive cables make a difference?

They can do, especially for analogue connections. As a guideline, never buy the cheapest cables as these are often very poor, so buy the best you feel comfortable with. 

However, there is no point spending hundreds of pounds on top quality cables unless you have bought high quality products and remember that longer cable runs of a few meters or more will benefit most from high quality cables. Specifically, cheap yet long HDMI cables may cause issues with the digital handshake, the way two home cinema devices talk to each other, causing problems.

If you enjoyed this article, then head over to our World Cup Week homepage where you'll find a collection of features getting ready for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.



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