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How To Calibrate Your TV

There are plenty of options for calibrating your TV, ranging from calibration discs to professional calibration services, or even just to the recommended settings we include with every review. If you’re interested in learning how to make basic adjustments to a TV’s picture, here is a guide to calibrating the essential settings on a TV. For each one, we include a test pattern that will help you in finding the right setting.

All patterns are from the AVS HD 709 calibration package, which can be downloaded in full here. To use them, just display the images on your TV via HDMI or USB, and then follow the instructions we outline below.

Note: Adjusting one setting can affect the results for another, so it’s a good idea to re-check the earlier patterns throughout the process, just to make sure everything is still working well.

If you want to see our calibration settings for monitors, check our article here

Picture Mode

'Standard' mode
'Movie' mode
'Dynamic' mode

Correct setting: Likely ‘Movie’ or ‘Custom’ mode.

The first setting to adjust is the picture mode. This is what makes the biggest difference in the calibration. Different picture modes usually start off with different default settings, but they also often behave differently from each other, even if you try to match the other settings.

To calibrate your TV correctly, choose the picture mode on your TV in which the test patterns are the closest by default. Most of the time, this will be something like 'Movie', 'Expert', or 'Custom.

Special settings for gaming

Good picture quality is important for video games, but you also want to make sure you don’t have too much input lag.

If that is a concern, you should choose the ‘Game’ picture mode (or ‘PC’ on some models), or go into the TV’s settings and enable ‘Game’ mode. From there, the rest of the settings can be adjusted normally, and the picture will look very similar to what you get with ‘Movie’ or ‘Standard.’

Backlight

Minimum backlight
Medium backlight
Maximum backlight

Correct setting: Whatever you like best.

An LED TV’s backlight setting determines the brightness of the LEDs that light the picture. The higher the setting, the brighter the picture will be.

There is no one backlight setting that is right for every person or situation. People watching TV in a sunny room will likely want a higher setting than people watching in a dark room, since otherwise the screen would be too dim. Personal preference also plays a part in finding the right setting.

Different backlight settings don’t create significantly different picture. Because increasing the backlight lightens everything pretty much equally, the contrast between white and black will be about the same no matter what you set the backlight to.

So for the backlight, just set it to whatever you like best, and don’t worry about using a high backlight setting. It won’t make your TV wear out sooner.

Brightness

Minimum brightness
Correct brightness
Maximum brightness

Correct setting: Default setting is correct in ‘Movie’ mode.

The ‘Brightness’ setting on a TV is used to adjust the depth of black on the screen. Set it too low and you will ‘crush’ the blacks, which means you’ll lose detail in darker images. Set it too high and the blacks won’t look dark enough.

Almost all TVs have this set correctly by default, so we recommend leaving it alone. If you want to try adjusting it using the pattern above, set the brightness to the minimum value and then increase it until you see the black portion on the left begins to lighten.

Download pattern

Contrast

Minimum contrast
Correct contrast
Maximum contrast

Correct setting: Default or Max.

The contrast setting adjusts the amount of detail present in bright images. Set contrast too high and the whites could be ‘clipped,’ which means there is detail being lost in bright portions of an image. Too low, and the bright portions of the image won’t look bright enough.

This setting should be pretty close to correct by default, but sometimes needs a bit of tweaking. Just lower the contrast setting on your TV to the minimum, and then increase until only lines 230-234 appear. It’s very rare for a new TV to clip the whites, so it’s fine to set the value to the max if there is no loss in detail at that high setting. As you can see from the above images, there's little difference between the correct setting and the maximum.

Download pattern

Sharpness

Correct sharpness
Maximum sharpness

Correct setting: ‘0’ for Samsung, Vizio, LG, Sharp. ‘50’ for Sony and for Samsung TVs in PC mode.

Adjusting a TV’s sharpness setting changes how it defines distinct objects on the screen. The proper sharpness setting will make things look about the same as they do in real life. Too much will exaggerate contours and lines. It's very rare for a TV to have the option to remove sharpness from an image, which is why only two images are compared here.

Because high levels of sharpness make an image ‘pop,’ it’s not uncommon for a TV’s picture to be over-sharpened by default. To adjust this setting with the pattern, increase Sharpness to as high as it goes, and then decrease until the lines look normal and any geometric patterns in the lines (usually diamond-shaped) go away.

Download pattern

Color

Faded color
Correct color
Maximum color

Correct setting: Default setting is correct in ‘Movie’ mode.

The ‘Color’ setting adjusts the level of saturation of colors in the TV’s images. Too little saturation will wash out the color of the image (extreme example at the above-left), and too much will oversaturate the picture (above-right).

Modern TVs almost always have this set correctly by default in their ‘Movie’ mode, and while the most basic way to modify it, which requires a blue filter, works pretty well, the best policy is to just leave this setting alone.

To adjust this setting with the pattern, look through a blue filter (THX sells glasses with blue tinted lenses that work well, available here) and adjust the color setting so that the blue box on the far left looks the same as the smaller gray boxes within.

Download pattern

Tint/Hue

Green tint
Correct tint
Red tint

Correct setting: Default setting is correct in ‘Movie’ mode.

This setting adjusts the amount of red and green tint to the image on the TV. Like the color setting, this is almost always correct by default, so there’s no need to adjust it yourself. Once again, if you decide to adjust this setting yourself, use a blue filter.

To adjust this setting using the pattern, look through your blue filter and adjust the tint/hue setting so that the magenta and teal boxes (located in the blue and red columns) look identical.

Download pattern

White balance & Color space

White balance menu
Color space menu

Adjusting the white balance means changing the amount of red, blue, and green in several different shades of gray. By correcting each of these shades, the overall color of the image is corrected to be as accurate as the TV can manage.

You need special equipment and software to properly adjust the color settings for a TV, so it’s best to leave these alone. Trying to set them by eye is not a great idea, and because every individual unit is a bit different, just copying the settings listed in our reviews (or on other websites) is not guaranteed to work.

Other common settings

Color tone/color temperature

Warm color temperature
Cool color temperature

Warmer color temperatures will make the picture look yellower, and cooler temperatures look bluer. We recommend using a warm temperature – that’s what professional calibrators use (it is the closest to the 6500k standard color temperature) - but you should choose whatever you like best.

Full/Limited RGB

TV RGB: Limited / PC RGB: Limited (Correct)
TV RGB: Full / PC RGB: Limited
TV RGB: Full / PC RGB: Full (Correct)
TV RGB: Limited / PC RGB: Full

This setting determines the amount of detail in blacks and shadows, with 'Full' offering a bit more detail. It's not hugely important which one you choose. What does matter is that both the TV and the source device have the same setting. Both should be 'Limited,' or both should be 'Full.' As you can see above, a mismatch will result in poor blacks.

Dynamic contrast

Dynamic contrast OFF
Dynamic contrast ON

Dynamic contrast is a software based contrast enhancer. It doesn't actually increase the absolute contrast of the picture (pure blacks and pure whites stay the same). Instead, it gives the impression of a greater contrast by darkening the shadows and brighting up the highlights. We recommend turning off that feature, because it can produce color banding and changes the intended gamma curve.

Local dimming

Local dimming OFF
Local dimming ON

Local dimming changes the luminosity of parts of the backlight of the TV to match the picture. There are not many TVs on which we think this feature is worth using – it often does still dim brights, or else doesn’t have a noticeable effect - but you should test it out (if you have it) and decide for yourself. Learn more

Motion Interpolation

Motion interpolation OFF
Motion interpolation ON

The motion interpolation feature enhances the frame rate of video, smoothing it out and adding the ‘soap opera effect.’ Use it if you like it, disable it if you don’t. Note that this usually increases input lag a lot, so it’s not ideal for gaming. Learn more

Noise removal/reduction

Low-quality video (cable, DVDs, other low-resolution media) often have compression artifacts or other noise (little dots or general fuzziness). Most TVs have an option to reduce or remove noise, and it’s a good idea to use it for lower-quality video. High-quality video (Blu-ray, video games, PC signals) will be made worse with these settings, so don’t use them for those. Unfortunately, it's difficult to capture the difference in a photo, which is why none are included for this feature.

Glossary for different brands

Different brands use different terminology for their settings and features. Here is a table to clarify what each brand’s settings really mean.

  Samsung Sony Vizio LG Sharp
Picture mode Picture mode Picture mode Picture mode Picture mode AV mode
Backlight Backlight Brightness Backlight Backlight/OLED Light Backlight
Brightness Brightness Black level Brightness Brightness Brightness
Contrast Contrast Contrast Contrast Contrast Contrast
Sharpness Sharpness Sharpness Sharpness H & V Sharpness Sharpness
Color Color Color Color Color Color
Tint Tint Tint Tint Tint Tint
White balance & color space White balance; Color space Adv. color temperature 11 point white balance; Color tuner White balance; Color management Advanced color temp. ; C.M.S.
Color temperature Color tone Color temperature Color temperature Color temperature Color temp.
Full/limited RGB HDMI black level Dynamic range (Automatic) Black level Black level
Dynamic contrast Dynamic contrast Adv. contrast enhancer Black detail Dynamic contrast AquoDimming
Local dimming Smart LED Auto local dimming Active LED zones LED local dimming -
Motion interpolation Auto motion plus Motionflow Reduce judder/Reduce motion blur TruMotion Motion enhancement
Noise removal Digital clean view & MPEG noise filter Random noise reduction & Digital noise reduction Reduce noise Noise reduction & MPEG noise reduction Digital noise reduction

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