TV factory settings are generally designed to look good in bright, fluorescent retail stores -- not your living room. To get the best TV picture, you'll need to make some adjustments.
This guide begins with some of the simpler (but impactful) settings -- like disabling unnecessary features and adjusting basic options -- before diving into some of the more in-depth calibration techniques. Give it a whirl; if you make it through the fifth step, you're sure to have a better-looking TV.
1. Disable any extras, like the 'Soap Opera Effect'
TVs purchased any time over the last few years are likely stocked with seemingly arbitrary features, like "Motion enhancement," "Noise filtering," and "Motion Eye Care."
"Motion enhancement," (also known as "Auto Motion Plus" on Samsung TVs) is a feature that attracts polarized opinions. When enabled, the setting makes anything playing look like a soap opera, as it attempts to reduce motion blurring and introduce a more real-life quality.
Read more: What is the "Soap Opera Effect?"
Noise filtering, along with Motion Eye Care, and even MPEG Filtering, should, for the most part, be disabled. Disabling these settings, along with the Soap Opera Effect, will improve the quality.
2. Check the aspect ratio
Maybe you wanted to get rid of the black bars. Or, maybe you were watching an older 4:3 format show. Whatever the case, your TV's aspect ratio might not currently match the input source (like a cable box or DVD player), and may be cutting off parts of the picture.
As you switch between sources, be sure to check the aspect ratio, a setting that can be found in the general settings menu or through a dedicated button on your remote (usually "P. Size" or "Aspect").
3. Adjust the basic (most impactful) settings
Sometimes, changing a few basic settings can make a big impact on your TV's settings.
Like aspect ratio, make a habit of accessing your TV's picture modes as you switch between programming. For instance, many TVs have a "Movie" mode, while some even have "Gaming" and "Sports." These presets are designed to optimize the picture settings for the content you're watching -- and they're usually accurate.
These presets can also act as foundations for fine-tuning. For example, you could choose "Dynamic," then dive into the picture settings and make adjustments for brightness, backlight, contrast, and color temperature.
To find out how to adjust each settings, check out this tutorial on how to calibrate your TV by eye.
4. Get a settings cheat sheet from the pros
If freestyling menu options sounds like a daunting task, CNET might have a cheat sheet for you.
Whenever CNET's TV expert, David Katzmaier, reviews a new TV, he also posts recommended picture settings based on his testing. His cheat sheets include all the basics, but they also dive into some of the more advanced settings, like white balance, along with those extra features (like the Soap Opera Effect).
If you can't find David's settings for your TV specifically, give TweakTV a try. It's another trusted resource with an expansive library of recommended settings.
5. Pick up a calibration disc
While you can achieve great results by calibrating your TV by eye, more accurate adjustments can be made with a calibration disc.
There are many DVDs in this category, like the Disney World of Wonder Blu-Ray DVD, but if you'd like guidance picking the right one, check out Geoffrey Morrison's roundup.