How to... get the best TV picture

Mon, 25 Nov 2013, 11:20am

So you've got your brand new flatscreen LCD or plasma TV home from the shop: you excitedly remove it from its packaging, and start revelling in its delivery of the characters and colours of a favourite DVD or Blu-ray film. But are you getting the best out of your new set? Unless you've taken a few simple steps to calibrate your TV properly, the answer is almost certainly no.

If you've never tweaked your TV's standard video settings, you're doing your eyes a disservice. As standard, almost every telly is preset to ridiculously high levels of brightness and contrast, so as to appear more enticing on the shop floor.

Turn it down...
So, the basic rule of thumb is to turn everything down: roughly speaking, brightness should be set at about 45 percent, contrast to 65 percent, and colour to about 50 percent. Turn sharpness controls off altogether, and if your set is equipped with digital picture processing modes, we recommend you experiment by keeping them turned off, too.

But it's not quite as simple as all that: you can achieve far more precise results by getting a DVD or Blu-ray with THX approval (try Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith for example). These discs feature an 'Optimode' section, which has simple but useful suggestions on how to adjust your picture.

Or, you can invest in a specialist set-up disc: both the Digital Video Essentials (the PAL version) or the AVIA Guide to Home Theater are superb, though both can be overly technical for the uninitiated. You can find either disc on sale at

If you really want to get the maximum image quality, try investing in the Datacolor Spyder, which uses simple-to-follow PC-based software, a disc loaded with test patterns, and the spider-like 'colourimeter', which fixes to your screen using simple suction cups. It's easy to use – honest – and works a treat.

Once your flatscreen marvel is properly calibrated, you can optimise its performance even more by making sure you have the right cables. You should always use the best possible video connection that your TV and your sources will allow. The hierarchy of picture quality runs (best to worst): HDMI, DVI, component, RGB Scart, S-Video and composite.

It's also a good idea to buy the shortest runs of cable you need. Video signals are vulnerable to quality loss over distance, especially if you use HDMI or Scart leads. You should also avoid tangling your video cables up, either with each other, or with other cables in your kit rack – especially mains leads.

Match screen to room
Of course, when choosing a TV, you should match the screen to the room in which you're going to watch it – don't automatically buy the biggest TV you can afford. It might be too large for your available viewing distance. See our blog, HOW TO... Choose the right size of TV, for a full explanation of how to calculate the right size of TV for your room.

It's also well worth investing in a decent kit rack. It really can improve your TV's picture: try it for yourself if you don't believe us. To get the best results from your rack, ensure it is both stable and level - use a spirit level to get things adjusted to their optimum.

Lastly, a great way to maximise your flatscreen TV's impact is to feed it the best possible signal by embracing high-definition, be that via Blu-ray, Sky HD or Virgin TV.

There's a price to pay for either of the latter services, in the form of a set-up cost and a monthly subscription. But once you've seen football or a movie in HD, chances are you'll be hooked.


by Andy Clough

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Calibrated my TV last night using the DVE (Digital Video  Essential's) system and am very pleased with the result's.

As an avid Stamp collecter I have digitally recorded my collection. I viewed the stamp collection disc before and after calibration and the colour's are much closer to the real thing.

Will be recomending this Calibration to the Maidstone Stamp Collecting Society.

I have an NTSC version of 'From Hell' which has a fantastic THX optomiser (video and audio) in the special features section - I don't know if the R2 version has it - but if it does - GET IT!  It complements the Avia guide very well and I use them both.

First off, yes, crucial to use something like the THX setup section on DVDs like 'Pirates of the Caribbean' to set up your LCD - I used it for my Sony Bravia TV and the difference was staggering.

As to high quality cables for digital...  ...ahhh...  the wonder of the 'Emperor's New Clothes' syndrome!!   It pervades every area of HiFi, not just digital media!

Some people are suckered into buying very expensive OFC digital interconnects because they are used to automatically buying them for analogue systems.  The data on the benefits is mixed indeed on this.  

It seems that at certain points in the process that cable quality is important, witness this somewhat technical report:

However this is dealing with fairly esoteric studio stuff, and we should examine down-to-earth reports like this:

http://www.another site/forums/archive/index.php/t-42968.html

which fires a very amusing torpedo into the belly of HiFi!!

Cable length may be the significant factor in all this, and if you stick to very short lengths - less than 1m, preferable 75cm, then the effect of quality is fairly minimal, but as the length increase beyond 1.5m the capacitive differences of the cables' quality reduces the HF response of the cable.  

Since digital signals are HF, they ARE susceptible to the effects described in the technical article first mentioned above, with the eventual loss of 'bits' of information.

For plasmas get a "break in" dvd that can be downloaded from AVS forum... it will get your Plasma through its most delicate hours (100-200 ca.) so that you can expect a long life span from it.

I don't recommend the Spydertv at all. I've tested one for approximately a month on Lcd's & plasma tv's. Read some reviews on it. It needs approx. an hour or so to aclimitize to your room eachtime you move it; it ought to be calibrated annually to keep it honest. It was designed as pc to printer calibration tool that Datacolor created software for it so that it can be used for tv sets. It recommends contrast settings that are too high & tends to kill the optimum balance between contrast & brightness. Use the THX optimizer (found on several films) or the Avia or DVE if you also want to learn about TV standards & the technology in general. You are certainly better off trying those & if you are not happy hire an ISF calibrator.

I have recently purchased the Philips 32PFL9632D.  As per what hi-Fi suggestion, i have turned off digital natural motion and i am very happy with the picture i have nw got.

I set the tv a natural setting and went from there.  However on every setting the contrast is set at 100% and if i try to turn it down to say 65% the whole picture is too dark to watch and definately is not right.

Has anyone else noticed this with the 32PFL9632D?

Will it do any damage to the tv at 100% contrast?

Also the tv does not have a changable backlight setting as it uses CRT technology for the back light.

The basic settings i have as contrast 97%, colour 50% and brightness 50%. Should these settings be OK?

Also the sound is very tinny, can anyone suggest a way of boosting the sound without going down the full six speaker and loads of wires route?

I have looked at soundbars but i'm not sure, is there any active speakers that will just plug intothe tv just fo a sound boost?

Any suggestions welcome!  thanks.    

in July I had installed a new Panasonic 32" 700 TV & Sky HD box connected with Profitgold HDMI. The Sky box intermitently turns off the Sky picture on the TV which reverts to the digital channel it was on before,I have to  press HDMI1 to restore Sky picture. Sky say they don't know of this problem. How do I solve this problem. Already I have changed the Sky box once, and the TV. problem not solved. Any comments?

All these comments seem to refer to setting picture quality for digital pictures from either TV through SKy or from DVD's etc.  The picture quality of my new Samsung 37" LCD TV is really poor when watching "normal" TV channels; BBC1, ITV1 C4 etc.  I get lots of what I believe is called pixelation which affects large areas of single colour eg a snooker table and it seems to be really bad with skin tones.  Can anyone let me know if this is normal and how I can improve things? (Please!!  My family want me to take it back but I am sure it is really a thing of beauty waiting to be discovered).

@ andrewbritton, Unfortunately there is only so much that picture tweaking can achieve, how improved the final results will be will also depend on the set you have.

For example if your Samsung 37" LCD has a contrast ratio of between 3000.1 to 6000.1 and a low colour gamut to start with its unlikely that you will see any major benefit in reducing them further especially when viewing poor quality standard definition television broadcasts that can vary wildly from channel to channel.

I have the Samsung F86 and it has a very high 25000.1 contrast ratio (blacks extremely black & white extremely white) plus an extra wide colour gamut system, so these tweaks work wonders for my set which looked totally artificial before calibration.

Thats not to say that your set cant be improved by doing some simple adjusting. But just remember what works for HDMI/DVI sources might not work for an RGB/SCART source.

Hope this helped answer your question somewhat.

I am having trouble finding the optimode on my Revenge of the Sith DVD. Could someone tell me how to find it please?

Woggy78 - I think its under the options menu on Disk 1.

The point however is a fair one. You never say where the THX optimizer is on a DVD and its not obvious / easy to find. In future, when you make reference to this utility, it might be worth saying where on the stated DVD it is.

More info at:, but not where to find it on the DVDs

Interestingly, though THX is a standard, I am led to believe that the THX utility is disk specific rather than setup once and leave. However I doubt most of us would be able to discern the subtle differences in redoing it for each film (nor would we have the time) - though many AV forums have discussion on this issue. What does WhatHiFi have to say about this?

Hi there just in regards to the link about the SPYDER for$229 ,I found it for sale on EBAY for approx £70.00.A bit of a difference here is the link

Hope this is of some use to people