Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right
To make a TV as bright as possible - or, more accurately, to make it put out the maximum light - manufacturers set the contrast control (sometimes called the "picture" control) to maximum. But that's like constantly driving your car around near the red line: You can do it, but it will reduce your engine's life span. Also, in digital displays - plasma, DLP, LCD, and so on - it causes "clipping," where signal information is actually lost. (For instance, it can cause a snowy background to blend into a single white blur instead of showing subtle shades of white.) It can also cause the TV to produce gray instead of a true black.
Manufacturers also often set the color temperature (measured in kelvins) too high, making the picture too blue. To keep everyone from looking hypothermic, they adjust the color decoder. Juicing the red level a bit ("red push") brings a nice, healthy glow back to people.
Problem solved, right? Wrong, because now people can look sunburned and colors can be biased toward red. This is most noticeable in yellows, which will look orange. And objects that are red will look exaggerated.
Try This at Home
Now for the good news: A few minutes with a test disc can make a world of difference. The AVIA Guide to Home Theater, Digital Video Essentials, and Sound & Vision Home Theater Tune-Up DVDs will walk you through several adjustments you can make to produce a significantly better picture. (See "Step by Step: How to Calibrate Your HDTV".)
But even if you're too cheap or lazy to get a disc, there's still hope. Most sets made this millennium feature preset video modes with names like Movie, Cinema, Pro, or Pure that will lower the contrast, select a more appropriate color temperature, and disable lots of the "enhancements" (such as scan-velocity modulation or noise reduction) that actually rob your picture of fine detail.
Going All the Way
Unfortunately, engaging a preset or running through some test patterns can't fix everything. For your set to live up to its potential, it needs to have its grayscale adjusted - and for that you need Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) calibration. (See "Picture Perfect: TV Calibration Demystified".) If you consider yourself a videophile, you can't go on watching movies knowing that the colors are wrong. So do yourself and your TV a favor - get a test disc and adjust the user controls for now, and then contact an ISF calibrator (go to imagingscience.com/isf-trained.cfm or call 561-997-9073 to find one near you) to let your set be all that it can be!
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