You agonized for months and finally found the perfect set, but you're not done just yet. Below you'll find every last detail you need to optimize your home theater experience without spending a small fortune.
When you first turn on a fresh-out-the-box television, it will ask you if you are in a store or at home. Pick “Store” and your TV will be set to cornea-scorching intensity, because people tend to buy the brightest TV in a shop. Pick “Home,” mode, which is designed to save energy, and your new TV is likely to be too dim, with colors set unrealistically to make up for the dimness.
That problem is easy to fix, and it's just the beginning of improvements you can make to your picture for free....
You bought a high definition television, so make sure you are getting high definition.
Televisions often come from the factory set to “Overscan” or “Zoom.” Those settings enlarge the picture and crop out the edges, which hides a flickering white line along the edge you can get from a subpar signal. But those modes can reduce picture resolution by up to 30 percent.
To fix this you’ll need to go into the TV’s menus. That probably means reading the manual. Sorry—can’t be avoided. Look for a setting called something like “Full Scan” or “JustScan.” Different manufacturers may call it different things.
But don’t stop with the TV. Check the resolution on everything that feeds your TV, like your cable box and your DVD player. They may not be set to full HD.
See the Light
You’ll probably have to adjust brightness, but first try adjusting the picture mode.
Go back to the TV menus to find an option called something like “screen settings,” or “modes.” Within those menus are names that are sometimes self explanatory, like Sports, or Games. Sports, for instance, tells the TV's processor to enhance the color green and to pay special attention to motion, so there is less blurring—that way soccer balls don’t appear to have a comet tail.
For the optimum performance from your TV, you could reset the mode each time you watched something different—Cinema for movies, Sports for sports. But if you want to pick just one mode, choose “Theater,” “Cinema,” or “Movie.” That is the setting that gives the most film-like appearance.
But that might not fix the screen brightness. If not, look for a menu item like “Backlight” or “OLED Light,” and crank it up.
You can do even better than the factory provided modes, however. Most TVs have an Advanced Setting menu that lets you customize individual adjustments like Tint, Brightness, and Motion Smoother.
You can find the optimum setting numbers on web sites like TweakTV, which is run by professional screen calibrator Kevin Miller. He publishes a list of settings for the televisions that he has adjusted using his advanced calibration equipment.
Or you can look on audiovisual forums like AVSforum for settings that members have used (and debated endlessly).
If you would rather not take someone else’s word for what looks best, you can buy a calibration disc, which are DVDs with video test patterns that help you customize the screen specifically to your liking.
One of the most popular is the Spears & Munsell HD Benchmark DVD, a straightforward set of tools with concise but understandable directions and screen tests. It can be found online for $30.
Make sure that you do the setup under room lighting conditions that you most often watch the TV — room lights have a big influence on how the screen will look to you.
What about adding high-end cables? In short, nah.
Fancy cables help only if the regular old cable is really, really, really bad, or the cable run is longer than 10 feet. At less than 10 feet, if the HDMI plugs fit snugly in the HDMI slots, you’re good to go.
If your cable run is longer than 10 feet though, consider an “active cable” that has a signal amplifier built in. You can find a 10 foot Redmere technology cable at Monoprice for $14.