Samsung has been the world’s biggest selling TV brand for 16 years in a row. Which means, of course, that you’ll find the best Samsung TVs sitting in more living rooms across the globe than those of any other brand.
Samsung has earned a reputation for delivering typically impressive performance standards to rival the best TVs across its whole range, no matter whether you've splashed out on an elite model, or have grabbed a low-priced bargain. Indeed, this is likely a big factor in its enduring success.
However, the experience you get with any Samsung TV depends unusually heavily on how you set them up. This raises the prospect of potentially millions of people around the world unwittingly making do with a TV picture performance that’s not as good as it could be, because the out-of-the-box settings are rarely the best option.
So here, based both on our own experiences and correspondence from Samsung TV owners over the years, are the 5 key tips to instantly improving how your TV looks.
1. Switch from the Dynamic picture preset
While Samsung thankfully no longer sends out its TVs set to their Dynamic picture preset by default, the option is still available. In fact, it appears at the top of what remains a very limited list of picture preset options.
At first glance it’s easy to fall in love with the Dynamic mode. After all, it’s designed to ‘show off’ the extremes your TV is capable of when it comes to colour range, brightness, contrast and sharpness. As such, it lures unsuspecting consumers in like moths to a flame.
Unfortunately, though, once you get past the initial razzle dazzle, the Dynamic mode actually doesn’t do picture quality any favours at all. Rich colours, for instance, can become so extreme they look noticeably unnatural. Some color tones tend to get pushed more than others too, leading to a loss of balance, and subtle shading details can disappear, causing pictures to feel flatter and more cartoonish.
The difference between the darkest and lightest parts of the picture can be stretched to a point where again things start to look forced and inconsistent, and sharpness can be pushed so much that highly textured parts of the picture can look bitty, excessively grainy, or beset by shimmering noise.
In short, what you really want from a TV picture, to make the viewing experience more immersive, is consistency and balance. Which is almost the opposite of what the Dynamic picture presets is designed to deliver.
So tip one is to avoid the Dynamic preset… but what should you do instead? Ah, well, we've got a tip for that, too.
2. Adjust picture presets for different sources
Even once you've dodged the Dynamic bullet, research shows that most people only stick with just one of their TV’s other preset options. Don't!
The Standard mode Samsung TVs default to now is actually pretty nice for some types of content. Its mildly aggressive approach typically plays nicely, for instance, with regular broadcast TV sources and sport. However, with movie sources, especially HDR movie sources playing at 24 frames a second, you can get significantly more balanced, consistent and therefore immersive pictures if you use the Movie or Filmmaker Mode presets available on Samsung’s recent TVs.
Both of these modes are designed to reproduce content with more ‘accuracy’. Which is to say, using picture settings that track closer to the color, brightness and sharpness levels creatives tend to use when mastering their content.
The Filmmaker mode has actually been established in conjunction with third party industry body the UHD Alliance, though personally we’d say that Samsung’s Movie mode delivers a slightly more enjoyable all-round result with films.
3. Use motion processing… but carefully
Motion processing on TVs is designed to reduce the judder or resolution-reducing blur – or both – that can appear when TVs have to show objects moving around the screen. It usually works by analysing every frame of an incoming image source and figuring out how to add extra ‘made up’ image frames between the real ones – a process known as frame interpolation.
Many premium TVs offer a menu of motion processing approaches, though, that include alternative options such as simple frame repeating techniques, which reduce the burden on a TV’s video processors, and systems that add black frames to the video stream to try and recreate the experience of judder you get with 24fps films at the cinema.
Most TV engineers seem to love motion processing, with pretty much every TV shipping with motion processing active – usually on a fairly high level of power – out of the box. Filmmakers, on the other hand, almost all hate motion processing with a passion. Some very big Hollywood names have even put out videos telling everyone to turn motion processing off.
Motion processing certainly can be unhelpful. If too much judder is removed, for instance, it can make films look like cheap soap operas. Too much processing can also make images look fake, while poor quality motion processing can cause ugly unwanted side effects (such as flickering or smudgy haloes around moving objects).
However, at the risk of upsetting the Hollywood glitterati, we wouldn’t say that motion processing is always a bad thing. Regular TVs are not in the same ballpark in core panel performance terms as your average professional mastering monitor, and nor do they work in the same way as cinema projectors. So in some cases, at least, a little high-quality motion processing can actually make pictures better by taming any judder or blur shortcomings a consumer TV panel may suffer with.
With Samsung TVs, we’d typically suggest setting their motion settings (found in a Picture Clarity menu on recent models) to a Custom setting, and choosing levels three or four for the separate blur and judder elements. Given the differences there can be between core panels and processing power at different parts of Samsung’s range, however, we’d recommend experimenting with motion settings on your particular set to get the most effective, natural-looking balance. But start there.
4. Avoid noise reduction
Almost every Samsung TV carries noise-reduction processing, and almost every TV has this set to on in its out of the box state. Digital 'noise' means little imperfections in the image that creep in due to how compression works – in theory, noise reduction looking for any bitty little areas and smooths it out.
While the idea of noise reduction processing sounds overwhelmingly positive on paper, though, in reality it can damage rather than enhance picture quality. Either by making pictures look ‘soft’ (as it tries to blur excessive grain, blocking or speckling out of an image), or by scrubbing images of fine detail. If noise reduction gets too excited when you're watching films that have natural film gain, it can end up smoothing over other texture in the image that you want to keep. Poor noise processing can even cause smearing over particularly messy images.
The noise-reduction processing on Samsung TVs is actually typically quite good by the standards of the TV world at large, especially in premium models with AI processing. Nonetheless, we’d recommend that you turn both regular and so-called MPEG NR off with all but the messiest looking sources to enjoy a more direct-looking and natural picture. Especially with any remotely decent 4K sources, which really don’t need any interference from noise reduction at all.
5. Turn Energy Saving modes off for more consistent viewing
In the face of increasingly stringent power consumption regulations, Samsung TVs ship with so-called Eco features in play. While these sound like a good idea on paper, they can seriously harm picture quality.
The main offenders on Samsung TVs are the Ambient Light Detection and Motion Lighting options. The Ambient Light Detection system adjusts the brightness of the picture in response to the amount of light in your room. This system routinely leaves pictures looking duller than they should look, even in quite bright settings. And in very dark rooms even HDR images can be left looking dull and flat. Not to mention nothing like they were designed to look by their creators.
The Motion Lighting (or LED Clear Motion) system, meanwhile, seeks to save power by reducing brightness when there’s motion in the pictures you’re watching. As with the Ambient Light Detection option, though, this again typically leaves images looking darker than they should, selling you short in terms both of what your TV is capable of, and how true-to-source pictures look.