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AV Tip: Choose the Right Picture Mode on Your TV

by December 16, 2012
Choose the Right Picture Mode

Choose the Right Picture Mode

Years ago we used to wax on endlessly about calibrating your television and getting the perfect calibration. While there are some of us who still love to pull out the calibration kit and dial in our settings for that perfect picture, it's not like it used to be. Manufacturers are starting to get pretty good at providing workable and truly helpful default picture modes on their flat screen television sets. While the generic or near-generic brands may not be nearly as good as some of the more widely-known manufacturers, televisions can deliver a pretty decent picture right out of the box these days. You just have to know what Picture Mode means and how to use it.

The first thing you want to do after setting up the channels on your television and ensuring your inputs are correctly configured is observe what picture mode you are using. It's not uncommon for the default picture mode to be set to Dynamic or Standard. While many "experts" will tell you to immediately switch to Movie mode—that may not always be best. It all depends on your environment. Here are our recommendations for setting the mode of your LCD or Plasma TV based on the room ambient light.

  • Dynamic/Vivid - This mode is for when your room is brightly lit or during the day. Dynamic mode gives you the most light output at the expense of color accuracy. We almost never recommend this mode, but if you can barely see the screen due to glare, and you cannot control the light with shades, Dynamic might be your best bet.
  • Standard - This mode offers a better color balance when used in an average lit room. This mode is perfect for when you can't really dim the room down too far, but you don't need the maximum light output as you might during the day.
  • Natural - When you have some light control, Standard offers the best color reproduction while still outputting a reasonable amount of light. This mode typically produces an excellent image and is often the default mode on many displays.
  • Movie/Cinema - If you can control the light in the room, Movie mode will be your best chance to achieve as close to D65 "reference" color as possible. It will also deliver the best black levels because it produces the least amount of light output. Remember, you can't produce or project black—it's simply the absence of light, so the darker a set can get, the better the blacks.

Now, each TV may have its own naming scheme for the color modes, and indeed some TVs also have other modes that aren't necessarily designed for accuracy, or even for color at all. Here are some of the more popular:

  • Sports - This mode often has more to do with deinterlacing (adding more frames of video so as to produce smoother motion) than color. Still, some Sports modes will accentuate common sports colors like green, for turf, and bump up the white level to produce a picture that is a tad brighter.
  • Game - This mode typically has more to do with deactivating all video processing in a television than anything else. With gaming there is a need for a fast display response, and Game mode disables things like frame interpolation and other video processing features in order to produce a faster picture.
  • THX - If you see this, use it in lieu of Movie mode when you have a light-controlled environment. The manufacturer paid a lot of money to bring you this calibrated mode and you'll get the best quality picture possible when you use it. 
  • Custom - This is the mode that you can use to really trick out your color and picture settings to achieve a particular desired look. You may find that the TV automatically switches to this mode when you change settings (rare), or it may be a mode that simply unlocks certain features or options. We do not recommend using this unless you are going to calibrate your TV with a colorimeter or spectrophotometer.

Hopefully this quick tip article was helpful. We want you to get the best picture possible, so it's important to know and learn how these modes work so you can quickly and easily set up your TV and get to the fun part—enjoying movies, sports and television programs!

There's more, of course, but this tip is just for Picture modes. We'll get into Brightness and Contrast in another article!

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About the author:

Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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