I've noticed that the picture on my new LCD TV looked significantly better in the shop than it does now I've brought it home. Is it broken or have I bought a dud?
First off, the good news is no, your TV isn't broken, and the chances are you haven't bought a rubbish model. The issue here is that when a TV leaves the manufacturing line, the settings are configured to make the screen look its best in the shop. Because most electrical stores usually have bright lighting, this involves pushing the brightness and backlight up to full. Essentially, the TVs are set up to attract your eye and then make you part with your cash.
It's annoying that they do this because most people are unaware that they're not getting the best picture from their new TV, but with a little know-how it's not too hard to tweak the settings to make it look a lot better.
In a normal home there isn't an awful lot of light around, especially if you turn all your lights off to watch a movie, so the first thing to change is the backlight. If this is set beyond 50 per cent it will not only make the picture look washed out, but it could shorten the life of the TV -- backlights only last a certain amount of time before burning out for good. Don't worry, though -- you'll get tens of thousands of hours' use before this happens.
Ideally, a backlight should be set as low as you are comfortable viewing. In a dark room you could probably get it down to the minimum setting, but in a light room you may need to set it to around the 25 to 30 per cent mark. Because lighting conditions vary, you might like to programme a number of presets if your TV supports them.
Colour settings are a whole different matter, and although you could calibrate them to be technically perfect, this won't meet everyone's tastes. With colour, you are better adjusting it until you're happy with the look of the picture. Don't be surprised if you have to change these settings when watching different programming -- hi-def video looks a lot more colourful than standard-definition DVD does, so you made need to tweak based on the format you are watching. Some TVs will remember settings based on the input you use -- this is good for setups that contain a lot of equipment.
There is another trick you can use to set your TV up properly. If you have any THX-certified discs, these will often contain a setup feature that will guide you through getting the best setting from your TV using colour bars and patterns. These are usually designed for the movie you are about to view, but as a general rule will help you get a head-start on setting up your screen.
Finally, if the TV has a 'sharpness' setting you should consider turning it off if you can, or reducing it to a minimum level.