Most people never change their TV’s user settings. This is sad, as most TVs look their worst with the standard “out of the box” factory presets.

Our tips on picture optimization will go a long way to getting you a better TV picture for little or no cash outlay.

We’ll begin with the basics after the break.

Room Lighting

Before making any adjustments, you should be aware proper room lighting is very important in getting a better HDTV image. The two biggest obstacles to a better picture are screen reflections and high ambient light levels. The former can be solved by moving any lamp that is opposite the screen.

For the latter, try to lower overall room lighting levels. For daytime viewing, this means closing blinds or opaque curtains. For evenings, lower any light dimmers, use lower output light bulbs, or simply shut off some lamps. Check out are article on the issues with high ambient light levels  here.

Viewing Distance

For people with “normal” eye sight, there are maximum viewing distances to be able see all the resolution of a given HDTV screen size . Sitting too far from the screen will prevent you from seeing the all the detail. For the maximum viewing distant for your chosen screen size check out our HDTV Seating Distance Chart.

Sources and Connections

If you want to see a high definition image, you’ll need an HDTV signal, source box, and an HD connection. Sounds very basic, but you would be amazed how many times we’ve seen people viewing their HDTVs using a standard defintion cable box or the wrong connection.

If you use cable TV, you’ll need a high definition cable box. Satellite users require an HD receiver. Over-the-air antenna users get HD automatically by tuning to your local high def channels.

In addition to the HD box you’ll need to learn which channels are in high definition, as many cable providers send the same content on two channels, one in standard def 4:3 aspect ratio (you’ll see bars to the left and right of the picture) and one in high def 16:9 aspect ratio.

Next you must make sure the output of the set top box (STB) is set to 1080i. Consult the box’s owner’s manual or call your cable/satellite provider for instructions to adjust your specific STB.

Last, you need an HDMI cable for the best connection between the STB and your HDTV. They are inexpensive from Amazon and we have written extensively on a how dealers try to sell you overpriced HDMI cables that perform no better than quality inexpensive ones. There is no reason to buy a 2-meter – HDMI cable for $40, $50 or more. Amazon offers a great Hi-Speed HDMI Cable that sells for $7.49 for 3 meters or $5.49 for 2 meters with free shipping. (Hi-Speed is the designation for HDMI cables that are capable of handling all HDTV signals including Blu-ray 3D.)

Save On The Best Selling HDTVs

Blu-ray Deals

Big Markdowns on 3D TVs

Deals On New 2012 HDTV Models

User Controls

All LCD and plasma TVs have controls for Brightness (black level), Contrast (white level), Color (saturation), Tint and Sharpness. Optimizing these controls will produce the best image, with the deepest blacks and “punchiest” whites possible.

There are several discs you can purchase that will explain these controls and provide test signals so you to set them correctly for your viewing environment.

The most popular discs are the Disney WOW: World of Wonder ($25.99), Spears & Munsil High-Definition Benchmark ($25) and Digital Video Essentials ($14.50).  For more on setting these controls check out our “setting up your new HDTV article” here. For a comparison and review of these test discs, go to our test disc review here .

The backlight control is an additional control available on most LED LCD HDTVs. Our set up article covers it. For more on backlight control go here.

Professional Calibration

For the best image possible, an ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) calibration will optimize advanced controls — such as fine tuning the TVs color temperature to the industry D6500K standard — in addition optimizing other controls usually found under the “advanced” heading in the TV’s  user menu. The quality of an ISF calibration is dependent on the calibrator’s test equipment (which includes a color analyzer or a spectroradiometer), skill and experience. For a list of calibrators in your area go to the ISF website  here.

Are You The One In Five?

According to a Nielsen survey, one in five HDTVs is not being fed a high definition image and therefore have never had TVs tweaked to maximum performance. By following our recommendations, you’ll see a real improvement in your HDTV’s picture quality.


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