I have a keen interest in TV technology, as anyone who knows me personally will no doubt back up. I suspect that this stems from the work I do, having a hand in the process that creates the images that TVs display, and as such I thought I would share some of my thoughts and opinions on what makes a good TV image.
This kind of information is widely available elsewhere online, from sources who are probably much more experienced and qualified to hand out such advice. This post is simply a presentation of my own findings over the years, and I hope that should you choose to follow it you'll find it helpful.
When you buy a TV from your retailer of choice, it's default picture settings are often over-bright, over-saturated and designed to give the maximum pop in a sea of other televisions. The human eye is always drawn to the brightest part of an image, so the theory is that if 'TV A' is brighter and more colourful than 'TV B', it'll sell more. Most people definitely buy on the strength of the brightness of the image, and not much else (although recent Smart TV features are becoming a more valid selling point too).
The reality is that while a bright image may be good enough for most people, they are likely not seeing a true representation of the image that so many people, from the camera department on set to the colourists in post-production, have spent so many hours perfecting. All their work is subjected to aggressive TV presets, usually brightening their images to unrealistic levels, over-saturating the colours and almost completely removing the subtle details contained within the shadow and near-white areas.
So, how can you rectify this? First and foremost, check your TV's current settings. If you're running in either the 'Dynamic' or 'Normal/Standard' modes, you're likely looking at the worst possible images of all. Most TVs from most brands will have a 'Cinema/Movie/True Cinema' preset, which in all but a few cases completely removes any kind of extravagant over-processing mentioned earlier. Switching from Dynamic to Cinema mode is perhaps the easiest way to get more accurate images without any more labour.
If you want to take things further, all TVs offer basic contrast, brightness and colour settings. These are the basic controls that set you on the path to getting more accurate images. Got Star Wars on DVD? Of course you do. Pop it into your player, navigate to the 'Language Setup' menu and look for the THX logo. Guess what? It's click-able, so go down to it and select it. It will now walk you through a series of test patterns for contrast and brightness, so just click through the instructions on the screen and there you have it. Watching a lot of HD material? Hunt through your TV's settings menu for '16:9 Overscan' and turn it off to see the full picture (sometimes called Full Pixel mode).
Following those basic steps will get you a far more detailed image that more accurately represents not just the creator's work, but real life as well. Not everyone on TV has orange skin like in Dynamic mode. If you think it's less colourful or less to your tastes, just turn it back. My advice would be just let your eyes and preferences adjust, and look out for that extra detail and realism. If you want to take things further, you can go much, much deeper into the many other controls such as 2 or 10-point white balance, gamma, fine colour management etc, but unless you're really into it (like me!), I think working with the basics will provide you with perfectly acceptable images.
I hope that might be of some use to a few people. If you'd like a more in-depth guide, let me recommend the excellent AVForums PicturePerfect campaign that can be found on their website here.