What it is: Also called black level, brightness actually adjusts how dark the black sections of the picture appear.
What it does: Excessive brightness can result in a two-dimensional, washed-out look with reduced color saturation. Images with brightness set too low lose detail in shadows, and distinctions between dark areas disappear in pools of black.
How to set it: After connecting your DVD player using the highest-quality input available, insert a DVD that has letterbox bars above and below the image, and find a scene that has a roughly equal amount of light and dark material. Turn up the control all the way, then decrease until the letterbox bars begin to appear black, as opposed to dark gray. If you notice a loss of shadow detail--for example, when people's eyes disappear into the depths under their brows--then you've set brightness too low. Some plasma, LCD, DLP, and LCoS TVs won't ever look black, so you'll need a setup disc to properly configure their brightness.
What it is: Also called picture or white level, contrast controls the intensity of the white parts of the image and determines the overall light output of the display.
What it does: Contrast is usually set extremely high by default because it makes images look brighter in the store. High contrast can obscure details and distort lines in the image, cause eyestrain in dim rooms, and shorten the lifespan of tubes and plasma elements. Setting contrast too low robs the image of impact.
How to set it: Display a still image from DVD of a white object with some visible details--such as someone wearing a white button-up shirt or a shot of a glacier from the Ice Age DVD. Adjust the control up all the way, then reduce it until you can make out all the details in the white (such as buttons on a shirt or cracks in the ice). In general, TVs look best when contrast is set between 30 percent and 50 percent.
What it is: Also called saturation, this control adjusts how intense the colors look.
What it does: When there's too much color, the set looks garish and unrealistic. It's most noticeable with reds, which are often accentuated (pushed) by the TV's color decoder. On the other hand, too little color diminishes the impact of the picture, making it look drab. Setting color to zero results in a black-and-white image.
How to set it: If available, first set the color-temperature control to the warmest option as described below. Then find an image of someone with light, delicate skin tones, preferably a close-up of a face, on a DVD. Turn up the color control until it looks like the person has sunburn, then reduce it until the skin looks natural, without too much red. If the rest of the colors look too drab, you can increase color slightly at the expense of accurate skin tones.
Tint: Unless you're using one of the DVDs mentioned in the Intermediate section to set it properly, this control is best left at the midway point.
Sharpness: This adds artificial edges to objects, which sometimes helps with soft cable signals but almost always mars the already sharp image from a DVD. Reduce it to zero unless you detect visible softening along the edges of text; if you do, increase it until the edges appear sharp again.
Edge enhancement: Also called VSM or SVM for scan-velocity modulation, set this control to Off if possible.
Color temperature: This important control affects the entire palette of colors. Select the Warm or Low option, which should come closest to the NTSC standard of 6,500 degrees Kelvin.
Generally, the image looks best for DVD with picture "enhancements" such as autocolor, autoflesh tone, autocontrast, noise reduction, and other proprietary processing modes turned off. DVD image quality is good enough that these modes usually do more harm than good.