If you change a TV picture setting this year, make it this one

This story is part 12 days of advicehelping you get the most out of your tech, your home and your health this holiday season.

It’s the end of the year and if you want an easy win to improve your life, think about your TV’s picture settings. Seriously. Modern televisions have countless confusing settings. They are often misnamed and fix an aspect of the image that looks totally alien. Brightness control does not make the TV brighter. Contrast control doesn’t really improve contrast. The results, however, are at least easy to see. Turn one of them up or down, and you’ll get an idea of ​​what it’s doing. There is one setting that may seem to improve the image, but does the opposite: sharpness.

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You might think, “but the sharpness is awesome!” This is quite understandable. After all, you have a 4K TV and want to see all that fine detail, right? Yes, that’s why you want to enable sharpness control down. This is because the sharpness control usually adds something called “edge enhancement”. It’s not a real detail, it’s an artificial glowing edge around objects. At first glance, this may seem “sharper”, but this enhancement actually removes fine detail from the image.

This means that when your sharpness is too high, you may lose some of the crisp detail of this fantasy. 4K TV. In some cases the best setting is actually zero, while on most TVs the setting is best in the lower 20% or so.

But what exactly is sharpness? A picture that is too bright or garish is easy to understand, but sharpness requires some explaining. Buckle up.

Oh, and if you want to dive deeper into what settings work best for your specific TV, check out best picture mode and try changing these settings.

Sharpness means edge enhancement

On almost all televisions, the sharpness control adds something called “edge enhancement”. It is exactly what it sounds like. The edges of the image are enhanced, essentially by adding a thin outline or a halo to them. This makes them more visible.

Left: the original image. Right: the “sharper” version with improved edges. The “halo effect” is what the sharpness control adds.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Take a look at the side-by-side images above. The image on the left is the Natural version. The right has significant amounts of edge enhancement added. Note the outline around the buildings. Although the image on the left may seem, at first glance, “sweet”, it is actually not.

The image below is a close-up of the edge-enhanced “thinned” version. As you will see, a kind of white halo appears around distinct edges.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The problem is that the halo shouldn’t be there — and it replaces what should be. It might not seem like a big deal in this image, but with most content that halo covers the actual detail. Additionally, it often brings out grainy noise in other parts of the image. See how much cleaner the left image is compared to the enhanced image.

Edge enhancement definitely gives the image a certain look: it can provide the appearance more details. Most TVs have their sharpness controls turned on in the default picture modes, so we’re used to that look of faux detail.

While unenhanced images may look soft in comparison, especially at first, they’re actually more detailed as they show fine textures in walls, pores in faces, and tiny hairs – all of which can be masked by enhancement. excessive edges.

What is the best sharpness setting for my TV?

The easiest way to check is to switch your TV to the Movie or Cinema picture preset and see where the sharpness control is in that mode. Whatever that number is, it’s a good starting point.

Read more: How to set up your TV

Want to tweak it? When watching a variety of content, especially 4K if you have a 4K TV, lower the control from that starting point and see what happens. Are the small details disappearing? If so, that’s too low. Ideally, you’ll be able to find the spot that offers the most real detail and the least amount of extra noise. Don’t be surprised if this number is 0.

Some TVs actively soften the image when you set the sharpness control to zero (or even below 50 in some cases). This could be done to offer a way to reduce noise in lower quality sources, but I’d be shocked if it were ever used for this purpose. Just something to keep in mind. If the image suddenly appears vague, that’s definitely too low. There’s a sweet spot with any TV, it’s just a matter of finding it.

A setup disk, like the Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark, has templates that will make it easier to find the exact level of sharpness for your specific TV.

It is possible, though rare, that you have a TV with permanent edge enhancement. Even turning the sharpness control to zero and going through all the settings (and picture presets) on your TV, you may still see edge enhancement or other processing. This was, however, more common with older TVs. These days it is quite rare.

Read more: When to get a professional to change your TV settings

What about other visual commands?

Many televisions and some high end projectors have processing functions separate from sharpness control. These are usually deeper in the settings menus or in separate “advanced” sections. Some of them can improve apparent detail without adding excessive amounts of edge enhancement. Others, of course, do more harm than good.

AI scaling

The different stages of Samsung’s AI scaling process.

Samsung

This is partly due to the increase in overall processing power available on mid-range and high-end TVs. For example, Samsung, LG and Sony discussed using AI for their upscalingthat’s how you get a decent-looking low-res picture on a high-res TV.

There is no general advice here. If your TV has these resolution/detail enhancement features, try them out to see what they do. Sit close and see if it adds noise, edge enhancement, or sharpens the image. Purists will probably want to keep these features disabled, especially with high-quality content like 4K Blu-ray, but with some content it might help.

If you have a Blu-ray player, you can get a special disc to help you set up the picture correctly. One of the most comprehensive is the Spears & Munsil UHD benchmark, a drive used by CNET in our TV lab. Note that it requires a 4K Blu-ray player.

Why you sometimes can’t lower the sharpness

Sometimes the edge enhancement is in the source. This was common on early DVDs, where edge enhancement was added to make them “pop”. If it’s in the source, there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just something to keep in mind if you’re trying different settings, don’t use a single source or program.

TV makers love edge enhancement, largely because it makes their TVs look highly detailed when viewed in a store.

There are also some sources, usually low quality video like standard definition TV channels or even VHS tapes, that can benefit from a TV’s detail enhancement circuitry. These sources are so soft and low resolution to begin with, that when scaled up to the size of today’s large TVs, they can look better enhanced.

Does the sharpness seem weird to you? give it a few days

If you go to your TV right now and turn the sharpness control all the way up, the picture is going to look absolutely sweet. Kind of like with high color temperatures, anyone who isn’t used to making fine adjustments to their TV’s controls has become accustomed to a certain “look” of their TV’s picture. So, at first, even the correct sharpness setting may seem weak, especially if your TV was in Vivid or Dynamic picture mode.

Try the new lower sharpness setting for a few days. If you don’t like the look of the unenhanced image, that’s fine. Turn it up. But I bet when you do the “original” setting you will look weird.

Editor’s note: This story was first published in 2015, but has been made cleaner with updated information, links, etc.


As well as covering television and other display technology, Geoff takes photographic tours of museums and cool locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all of its tours and adventures.

He wrote a bestselling science fiction novel about city-sized submarines and a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.

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