HOW TO... Boost your TV's performance
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 movie. 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.
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 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 DVD: 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 www.amazon.co.uk.
If you really want to get the maximum image quality, try investing in the Datacolor Spyder TV (below), which uses simple-to-follow PC-based software, a DVD 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.
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. While Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs have only just launched, you can get high def content in your home now. A Media Center PC, such as the Uvem Classic (£3500), lets you download HD content from various sources, or you could opt to have your HD delivered on tap via Sky or Telewest.
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 1080i high definition, you're unlikely to want to go back to plain old 576-line standard-definition broadcasts ever again.