Plenty of people have decided that it’s not yet the right time to buy a 4K TV for a variety of reasons. That’s because the benefits of a 4K television aren’t apparent unless you buy a big TV. In addition, there isn’t a huge amount of 4K content available yet, streaming 4K content is complicated, and budget-friendly 4K TVs often aren’t good buys. So if you’re sticking with your regular HDTV for the time being, you’re probably wondering: How to fix the crummy HDTV picture that made you consider upgrading to a 4K TV in the first place?
1. Use the right sources and connections
If you’re having issues with the picture quality on your HDTV, the first thing that you should check is that you’re using the right sources and connections. As Steve May reports for TechRadar, you need to use “decent source components,” which today means either a DVD player at the low end, or a Blu-Ray player and HD set-top box if you’re concerned about picture quality. If you have decent broadband speed, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re set up to stream Netflix, Amazon Prime, or your favorite streaming service in HD. And make sure that your TV service is, in fact, in HD.
Once you’ve ensured that your equipment is up to date and your service is in the right resolution, you need to make sure that you’re using the right connections. May notes that, “by and large, the only connection you should be using is HDMI, unless there’s an overriding reason to opt for a legacy interface.” You don’t need to spend a lot of money on HDMI cables, since they all perform the same, but you should use HDMI cables whenever you can so that you’ll actually get HD on your HDTV.
2. Check that your sources are set up correctly
The next step is to make sure that all of your equipment is working together correctly. May notes that while source components often have a variety of display options, they “typically manage themselves” depending on the display that they’re partnered with. However, you can check the settings and intervene in the case of any strange effects or weird behavior. If you occasionally watch standard definition content on your HDTV, you’ll want to ensure that your TV and not your set-top box is doing the upscaling.
As May explains, “Hi-def from set top box services is invariably 1080i. In Auto mode, the upscaling of SD content is carried out by your TV, rather than the set top box. In most cases, your screen has the tools to do a better job, although on a budget HD screen you’ll probably be hard pushed to tell the difference.”
May says that the same advice applies to Blu-Ray players. And, speaking of Blu-Ray players, Geoffrey Morrison reports for CNET that this may be a good time to upgrade to a Blu-Ray player, since “even the best up converting DVD players can’t match the picture quality of full 1080p HD from Blu-Ray.” If you’re sticking with DVD, make sure to set the player’s aspect ratio to 16×9 to increase picture quality and minimize black bars on movies.
3. Make sure you have the right settings for your home, not the store
Whether your HDTV is new or you’ve left the settings alone since you installed it in your living room, you may be seeing less-than-ideal picture quality. This is because the TV’s settings are optimized for the fluorescent-lit big-box store where you bought it, not for the lighting conditions in your home.
As Eric A. Taub reports for The New York Times, stores like Best Buy or Walmart typically crank up the brightness, pump up the colors, and set the backlight to maximum on an LCD or plasma TV, “which is the worst thing you can do when you get the TV home.” Lighting warmer than the fluorescent glare of your local electronics store requires “different settings from a TV to produce pleasing, natural-looking colors and images.” Test out the television’s preset picture modes to find what looks best in your home.
4. Dim the lights in your room, and on the TV
The contrast ratio of the picture on an HDTV indicates the range of brightness from white to black, and is measured in pitch-black rooms. Your living room probably isn’t ever pitch black. The brighter the room, the more likely the picture will lack detail in the darker parts of the image. An easy way around this problem is to dim the room’s lighting. But if you can’t do that, the next-best solution is to make sure that direct light isn’t hitting the screen, which will wash out the picture.
It’s not just the lights in your living room that you should dim, either. LCD televisions create their images with a fluorescent or LED backlight. These backlights are typically turned up to their maximum brightness at the factory, but when you put a television in your living room, you should turn the backlight down to around half of its maximum level.
5. Change the brightness setting
Getting the lighting right is important, but you can also improve the picture quality you see on your HDTV by making sure that the television’s brightness is set correctly. If you set the brightness too low, then images will lose their detail. If you set the black level too high, then the picture will look muddy. Taub notes that the black level is important “because the truer the blacks, the greater the perceived sharpness of the TV image. A muddy picture will look less sharp than one that has true blacks.”
6. Adjust the contrast
7. Change the colors
8. Ensure the sharpness isn’t set too high
Another setting to check is the sharpness on your HDTV. If you’ve just bought your HDTV, or haven’t changed its settings since you’ve owned it, the sharpness will probably be set too high. You can check if this is the case by looking at black text on a light background. If it has a white glow around it, you’re seeing the effects of sharpness that’s set too high, and you should turn it down.
9. Customize motion handling
May reports that motion handling is “one of the most challenging aspects of picture performance for LED LCD TVs.” While frame interpolation is used to smooth images, it can also result in motion artifacts that make the picture look smudged or unnatural. High motion interpolation is also what’s responsible for the notorious “soap opera effect.” You should check for a mode like Panasonic’s Intelligent Frame Creation, LG’s TruMotion, Sony’s MotionFlow, and Samsung’s Auto Motion Plus and make sure that it’s not on the highest setting.
May recommends a medium setting as “a decent compromise for sports and studio based content,” while low or off is best for “movies and movie-like TV dramas.” Your TV may also enable you to customize motion handling settings with adjustable sliders for blur and judder, which is often the best way to get the picture you want without the effects of excessively aggressive motion handling.
10. Make sure that you and your TV are positioned correctly
You can often improve the picture quality you experience with your TV by taking a moment to ensure that both you and your television are positioned correctly. Many TV sets lose contrast and color when your viewing angle is off, and May notes that this applies vertically as well as horizontally.
First of all, make sure that you and your friends or family are seated as straight-on to the television as possible, without anyone seating far to the side. If you’re mounting your TV on the wall, make sure that you don’t mount it too high, since it should be at your eye level when you’re seated. Melissa Perenson reports for Tom’s Guide that you should sit far enough away from the TV that you can’t see the individual pixels, and you should do your best to keep glare off the screen either by moving the TV or by adding curtains and dimmers.