After my last post about calibrating an HDTV for the best possible picture I did some more monkeying around with my own HDTV at home. After making a few tweaks and changing some options I have to say I am very pleased with my new picture. It was bittersweet victory knowing I've been viewing a sub-par picture for so long, but now I've rectified the situation.
The THX Optimization setup on the Monster's Inc. DVD was a great starting point, but it wasn't perfect. I decided to try changing the settings with still images. The first one I used was an outdoor scene at night in season 1 of Weeds. This scene was what originally brought the poor picture to my attention, so it seemed like a perfect starting point.
Originally, the whole scene looked washed out because the Contrast and Brightness were way too high. With so much black it became very, very noticeable. First, I tried the autoset feature on my TV and tried "Natural". It looked awful, it was still washed out and it was still fuzzy. Then I tried "Movie" and there was a clear improvement.
The difference was "Natural" set Contrast and Brightness to 100 and "Movie" set it to 85 and 50 respectively. It seemed clear that the problem with my blacks was the Brightness setting. Now I had to verify my whites by switching to a bright white/blue picture to check detail.
If Contrast is too high your fine details in white areas will vanish into the fuzzy brightness of the image, but if it's too low your whites will look grey/brown. So I loaded up Mass Effect, a video game for the Xbox 360. In the game I visited a snowy planet covered in ice and stood still.
The graphics looked great, but everything was very bright. I had always written it off as intentional, but the game's graphics are so carefully detailed I had a feeling that I would see some major differences once I finished tweaking my TV.
Sure enough, I lowered the Contrast down and started seeing fine details in tan-ish rocks and dirt showing through the snow. I continued to turn it down more and more until I hit 50 and I was amazed. The snow was covered in fine detailing. There were areas covered in ice that showed reflections and ripples, the snow was textured and the sun light effects were scaled back and looked fantastic.
My Contrast was so high that what had been intended to be small lighting effects had turned into vast areas of glare. The picture looked so much better I'm actually playing through the game again and it feels like I'm seeing it for the first time.
It is suggested Contrast never go above 50, but some LCD and plasmas can handle up to 100 without really hurting the picture too much. My picture was OK at 100, but that was definitely a brightly lit showroom setting not suited for my living room.
Color was another change I made. Previously I had kept it set to "Natural", but my research indicated "Natural" or "Default" was usually a poor setting because it washed out flesh tones in exchange for making colors pop more and appear more vivid to grab your eye in the showroom at the store. I changed my setting to "Warm" because, by default, "Warm" is usually the closest setting to 6,500K (the natural temperature for flesh tones).
The change was a great improvement over the old default setting. All of the actors and actresses in Weeds looked much more natural.
Finally, I read my TV manual and it actually had some advice tucked away in some footnote FAQs. My TV lets you "install" input connections as certain devices (i.e. my PS3 and Xbox 360 are "installed" as Game and my DVR is "installed" as HDDVR). I always thought this was for remembering what input was what, but the manual mentioned that the TV makes slight changes to the signal to optimize the picture.
My Xbox had been accidentally setup as a PC, so the TV was altering the picture as if it were receiving the signal from my desktop. By changing the it back to Game I actually saw a slight improvement.
The manual also suggested disabling "Noise Reduction" which seemed strange, but disabling it improved my picture even further. Since all of my equipment was connected to my TV with fairly short cables and I wasn't receiving any signals over the air I didn't have any need for Noise Reduction because I wasn't receiving any weak signals. However, it was set to Maximum and actually added some fuzz to the picture, but not anymore.
The setting assistant had originally set Dynamic Contrast to Maximum as well, but the manual suggested either be disabled or never raised above Medium for the best picture unless the enviorment calls for it (i.e. a very bright or dimly lit room). Of course, mine was set to Maximum, so I set it to Low.
I kept MPEG Artifact Reduction and HD Perfect Pixel Engine turned on. I steered clear of Vivid Color (and so should you). Now my TV is sporting an awesome picture and looks fantastic.
So, in short, know your TV's menus and features and do some testing with them. You might be surprised how much better your TV can be.