TV Calibration: 14 tips for getting the best picture quality out of your screen

Don't stick with your TV's default settings!

There are many colour settings you can play with on modern TVs
There are many colour settings you can play with on modern TVs

6. Handle colour with care

With colour, you're looking for a balance of settings where colours look vibrant and dynamic but aren't flared at the edges.

You don't want the picture to look garish or so over-saturated that you can no longer see subtle colour blend differences.

Also important is that a TV delivers colours with a 'temperature' closer to the 6500 Kelvin level generally best suited to video playback versus the higher temperatures preferred for PC monitors.

We mentioned 'balance of settings' very deliberately, as our experience is that a TV's colour adjustment alone only gets you so far. Adjusting the backlight and especially contrast settings tends to be more important to getting credible colours than the main colour setting, which usually defaults to a pretty sensible 45-55% level.

If you're really serious about video quality, though, you might want to explore any deeper colour management facilities your TV might carry.

These usually take the form of adjustments to the main RGB colour elements. Some TVs also support adjustment of the secondary cyan, magenta and yellow colour components.

These tools can be useful in correcting biases a TV may have towards a single colour. Where they really come into their own, though, is with some sort of test signals (more on these later). Colour metering technology is designed to help you know when colours are getting as close as possible to those defined by the Rec709 TV standard.


While the Rec709 standard may suit some tastes and can help a TV produce colour subtleties not expressed using more strident settings, it doesn't necessarily always produce the most pleasing picture quality for every LCD and plasma panel.

Many mainstream viewers feel that accurately calibrated pictures look a bit muted and flat – and it's not our job to tell people who feel this way that they're wrong!

If you want your pictures to look punchy, go for it. But don't get so greedy for dynamism that you reach a point where certain tones become over-dominant or you can no longer make out subtle tonal shifts.


7. Don't fall into the sharpness trap

With HD sets it's tempting to imagine that you're going to get the best results if you set the TV's sharpness level really high. In truth, though, pushing sharpness can lead to some significant problems.

The most obvious one is that too much sharpness can cause pictures – even good quality HD sources - to look really noisy and gritty.

The edges of objects in the image can also start to look forced and 'glowy'. The picture can start to look so forensic in its detailing that you feel aware of the pixel structure of the panel rather than just getting immersed in the overall pictures.

Many brands – especially Samsung – tend to push sharpness too hard using their out of the box presets. We strongly recommend that you feed your TV a Blu-ray and carefully adjust the sharpness until you get to the tipping point where sharpness starts to tip over into noise.

Ambient light sensors are unnecessary in most situations
Ambient light sensors are unnecessary in most situations

8. Deactivate ambient light sensors (usually!)

Almost all TVs these days carry sensors able to detect the ambient light in your viewing room, so that the TV can automatically adjust facets of the picture to compensate.

However, this automated approach can lead to problems, especially given the usual tendency for sensor-equipped TVs to ramp the contrast up too far if high ambient light levels are detected.

Also, it's a simple fact that no automated process can replace what your own eyes and tastes are telling you. Generally speaking our advice is that you turn eco settings off and calibrate pictures manually.

To be fair, some manufacturers are delivering better results with these auto-adjustments than they used to. For instance, the Eco mode on the Philips L8008 was actually clever enough for us to recommend that you use it.

Bang & Olufsen is doing some interesting things around the light sensor with its newly launched Avant TV too – especially the way they take your room's colour tone into account. But for the most part TVs fare better with their sensors off – especially when watching films.