Get high performance, not just high def
Just because your TV is the latest and greatest doesn't mean your viewing experience is. Here are some simple ways to get the most out of your TV -- without feeling like you're fiddling with too much Doctor Who-level future tech.
Get the right aspect ratio
Let's start with aspect ratio, a setting that controls how the program you're watching fits on the screen. If you have a widescreen TV and the picture looks squished, zoomed in, or stretched out, you have the wrong aspect ratio dialed in.
Old-school TV shows are usually in squarish 4:3 aspect ratio. But today you don’t need to stretch Spock's head into a melon just so you can use every pixel on your new TV; it’s OK to watch those old favorites with black bars on either side of the image.
Most TVs have a smart function that automatically detects the correct aspect ratio. Use it. Or look for the "wide," "format," or "aspect" button on your remote.
Gauge the correct distance
The distance between the couch and the TV is usually determined by the size of your room, but if you want a more immersive picture, get a bigger TV. Or move your couch closer.
Make sure everything is actually HD
Surveys vary on how many HDTV owners actually take advantage of HD sources, but overall, the numbers haven’t been all that impressive. If you don’t have an HD source for watching movies (your PS4 is good for a lot more than just FIFA 16), an HD-capable cable box and HD cables connecting ‘em all, you're doing it wrong.
That includes channels, people
Many broadcasters offer two channel options, a standard and a high-def. If you forget to tell your DVR to record the HD version of "Doctor Who," luck will have it that you will get the standard version. And that’s a waste of timey-wimey.
Get in the habit of watching the HD versions of your fave channels, usually way up in the 500-ish range. Better yet, if you have a programmable remote, disable those lowly SD channels so you can click directly to the HD penthouse every time.
Do not fear manual calibration
It ain’t magic. In fact, calibrating your TV’s settings is easier than you think. You can do a lot of it by eye.
For example: Love watching films but hate fiddling with dials? Choose the “movie” setting and you’ll be fine for your average night in.
Don't worry about burn-in
Worried about burn-in, that dreaded way that TV images can get permanently seared into a TV screen?
Don't. Older plasma TVs could be vulnerable, but even they had to be left on for hours with a still image, and even then the burn-in was usually temporary. Newer TVs are even less vulnerable.
TV experts say that with normal TV viewing habits, you shouldn’t take burn-in into account when picking your favorite way to watch.
Get the right color saturation
Confused about getting the perfect color saturation? Choose your favorite fair-skinned TV character (such as Joan Holloway Harris of "Mad Men") and reduce the saturation until she just loses the sunburn look, but the rest of the colors remain vibrant.
Master the contrast
Again: Easy. Choose a detailed TV scene with white as the main color…say, an exterior scene from snowy "Fargo." Slowly decrease the contrast until your eyes don’t feel overloaded by all the white, but you can still see the lurking menace in the eyes of Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo.
Or just let a disc do the calibrating
Maybe you just don’t feel like doing all that stuff yourself. That’s what a great test Blu-ray comes in. Here are a few recommendations.
Don't have a Blu-ray player?
Maybe you just want to use your phone to calibrate your TV. In fact, there’s an app for that.
Turn off that soap opera effect
That smooth look that makes high-end films look like daytime TV? Unless you actually like that look, you should turn it off. Here's how.
Improve viewing on the cheap
Something as simple as shining a light behind your TV can make its images even more gorgeous than they already are. Illuminating the wall behind your screen can boost image quality by providing a neutral reference point.
The easy and inexpensive way to create such a backlight? Plug in a cheap desk lamp (or a pricier, "Hobbit"-inspired Eye of Sauron desk lamp) behind your HDTV with the bulb pointed at the wall.
Improve viewing with a little more money
You can also buy specialized bias lighting system, such as the Ideal-Lume to create a pool of light behind your TV. CNET has used these lights when reviewing monitors, to ensure accurate color perception. Our TV reviewers like them, too. These kits usually start at around $65 and go to about $380.
Channels still misbehaving? Change the source
Getting a lot of macro blocking when you’re watching your favorite action-packed TV shows or movies? If you have a robust Internet connection, try streaming the same show via an Apple TV or Roku or some other box. All video you see is compressed, but some compressions are better than others. (In our specific case, we’ve found that our streaming services have much less macro blocking compared with our cable provider.)
Better yet, if you can watch and record shows over the air (which you still can), that’s often said to be clearer than over-compressed cable as well.
And remember that P > I
If you have HD cable box, Blu-ray player or streaming device like a Roku or Apple TV, make sure it's properly set up to send high-def video to your TV. With most TVs that means setting the output to 1080p, if available, and if not, to 1080i.
The “p” stands for “progressive” scan, which is always better than “interlaced” scan -- you know, those horizontal lines that buzz and flicker and invoke the dark ages of old-timey television (anything before the late 1990s).
That said, sadly, most broadcasters and cable providers use 1080i, because it contains less information than 1080p and is thus faster to transmit.