If salespeople at your local retailer set up a TV to display "Inception" the way Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister intended you to see it, the picture would seem disappointingly drab in comparison with other TVs.
You might even be persuaded to buy a TV based on its deceptively vibrant picture. But don't do it, especially if you are a movie lover.
Floor models are adjusted to display the brightest images, sharpest contrast, and smoothest motion. TV settings are optimized for live sports and cartoons, not the stuff of great movies.
Plucked from the store and installed in your living room, you will once again be in a position to see a "correct picture" -- as close as you can get to the director's intention outside the cineplex. You can also use these tips to inject new life into the TV you already have. Here's how:
The multipurpose mode on most TVs is called "Standard," and while it's less extreme than a made-for-the-showroom "Vivid" setting, the pre-programmed increases in contrast, brightness and sharpness are inappropriate for movies. Standard is good for just that: standard definition broadcasts via your TV's input signal. Use your TV remote to access the modes and choose "Cinema" or "Movie" when you're ready to watch a movie.
If you've been watching standard fare, the cinema setting may appear too yellow and dull. The effect is temporary and you will soon settle in to the theater-like experience.
Turn off motion smoothing
Today's TVs are made for sports enthusiasts. In 2010, there were 40,500 hours of live sporting events on broadcast and cable âï that's more than four years worth of 24-hour programming, according to Nielsen. Most sports are characterized by fast action and that's why we're seeing TVs with higher refresh rates -- increasing from 60Hz to 120Hz and on up to 240Hz.
Refresh rate refers to how many frames are shown each second. Early LCD TVs suffered from motion blur and struggled against their plasma competitors. LCD manufacturers overcame this by increasing the number of frames that were displayed each second and adding "smoothing technologies" that together eliminated the jerkiness or judder in fast action scenes.
However, this same process destroys the ethereal quality of motion picture film, which is achieved through a lower frame rate. The vast majority of movies are filmed at 24 individual frames per second, while TV is typically shot at 60 frames per second.
When you play a movie on a TV with motion smoothing, extra frames are inserted between the film's original images to smooth out the action. The result? The dreamlike quality of "Inception" turns into what looks like amateur video.
Once you've set your TV to its movie setting, turn off motion smoothing via your remote. Different manufacturers refer to the technology by different names: Samsung calls it "Auto Motion Plus," LG uses "TruMotion" and Sony refers to it as "MotionFlow." Usually the setting is found under Picture Options, but refer to your owner's manual for specific information for your television. In all cases, turn it off.
If you have a plasma TV, pat yourself on the back. Because plasma technology is different than intermittent-light-based LCD technology, plasma TVs do not suffer from motion blur. Plasma TVs appropriately display fast action sports as well as Hollywood movies. And, plasma TVs continue be a better deal than comparable LCD TVs.
You can also make a few minor adjustments to your picture to get even closer to the "correct" display. You may have to access "Advanced settings" under "Picture Options."
Brightness is officially known as black level. The goal is to adjust Brightness so that black looks truly black without losing the details in darker scenes. Experiment.
Contrast is referred to as white level by TV experts. Try reducing Contrast by about 50 percent of the TV's maximum setting. Aim to make bright white objects as crisp as possible.
Sharpness is really artificial edge enhancement and is designed to make lower definition pictures clearer. When Sharpness is set too high, you may see a halo effect around objects. Turn this down to zero on an HDTV.
Color adjustment will help make people look more natural. When Color is set too high, you risk a cartoon-like effect and people may look sunburned.
Advanced and still easy: calibration
Like a professional photographer prefers to manually set his camera for the conditions at hand, a true cinephile may do the same for his TV. But you won't need years of experience; all you need is a calibration disc. And, you probably already have one.
Every THX certified DVD and Blu-ray movie disc includes a free calibration tool. The tool can also be used to fine tune your home theater sound system. Slip the disc into your DVD or Blu-ray player and follow the directions to properly calibrate your TV, especially the cinema setting. You will notice the difference.
Ogden-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question for TopTenREVIEWS? E-mail Leslie Meredith at email@example.com.