If past experience is any indication, literally millions of consumers over the next few weeks and months will be looking to buy a brand new TV – the FIFA World Cup, Black Friday and Christmas are all fast approaching, after all. These people should at the very least have a general idea of the basics of the three different display technologies available in the market today – as well as understand how their viewing habits and the lighting conditions of the room that TV will be placed in affect image quality – before looking at specific models of any kind. Consumers who are after “the cinematic experience at home” should also decide how big a TV they actually need and how close to it they’ll be sitting, while choosing between a 4K TV and an 8K TV would save them a lot of money, as the latter still command a price premium.
After settling on all of the above, discussing specific use cases is in order, as different types of TVs can do a better job than others when it comes to sports viewing, to film watching or playing video games. What makes for a sports-friendly TV is quite simple to describe, “cinematic TVs” come with their own checklists while “gaming TVs” are clearly defined by specific features. Only after taking these are taken into account – as well as the differences between the software platforms powering most modern Smart TVs – one can spend some time deciding what extra functions that shiny new TV should offer.
And… you’ve finally decided about everything. You have settled on the specific TV set you’d like to buy or you may have just got it. Great, either way! Now there are a few things you probably want to do right after you unbox and place your new TV, as well as some things you might want to consider doing at some point (or while waiting for your new TV set to arrive). Let’s break it all down, then.
Update the software, tweak some settings
The first thing to do after your new Smart TV has been through the initial setup process is to let it access the Internet and look for the latest software update available for it. Some models even allow you to do that as part of the said process (although most complete it without this step). Make sure that you do it afterward, though, as there’s always a chance that the first update addresses minor or even major issues with the device.
Then there are a few settings that can easily be tweaked on any modern TV for a much better, more natural picture. Almost all new models are preset to display colors as wildly impressive as possible (they end up being garish and unrealistic) and motion that’s too smoothed out (not correct in cinematic terms or ideal for “normal” TV viewing). There are a number of different ways that different TVs call these picture settings but, generally speaking, you should be selecting a display mode called “Movie” or “Cinema” or something similar, while terms such as “MotionFlow” or “AutoMotion” or “TruMotion” refer to motion smoothing which is to be either turned off or adjusted to its lowest value.
Other settings you might want to tinker with on a basic level are those related to Sharpness (set it to either zero or the next couple of steps after that) and Color Temperature (many viewers prefer Warm to Standard). People who like consistency in the TV picture they’re watching should also turn settings such as Dynamic Contrast off, as well as options that change settings based on ambient light (deactivate the sensors) or power consumption (e.g. Eco Mode).
Consider getting a calibration disc or maybe… have a pro do the calibration?
Many people will be able to enjoy the kind of picture that is good enough for general use by tinkering with the aforementioned settings. But many others – especially people that have picked TV sets worth thousands of dollars – would probably, and rightly, like to get more out of their new purchase. Since every TV is slightly different (variations in screen panels) and every room is different (variations in lighting conditions), to get to the next level of picture accuracy a process called TV calibration is needed.
Proper TV calibration requires tools and knowledge few people have (it is a certifiable profession after all) but consumers can have the next best thing by using special Blu-ray discs such as the Spears & Munsil HD Benchmark and Calibration Disc or the Digital Video Essentials HD Basics disc. These will walk them through a user-friendly calibration procedure, using no equipment other than the remote control, helping even complete amateurs achieve good levels of brightness, contrast and gamma, as well as better color balance.
For those consumers, though, that care about picture quality above everything else – and have probably paid dearly for it by selecting a really expensive new TV set – the obvious question is inevitable: is professional calibration worth it? Speaking from personal experience, the answer is a resounding yes. Oh, yes. Not only will a pro calibrator bring the absolute best out of any modern television, but he/she will also create different sets of settings for SDR and HDR movies and series (day and night sets separately), as well as different settings for HDR and SDR gaming, ensuring that the customer will enjoy the best possible picture every time, regardless of content. Pro calibrators will then send the TV owners these settings to keep in the event of the TV’s reset to factory settings (so calibration isn’t needed again).
Get a media player or a disc player (or both)
Last but not least: the quality of content that a TV is tasked to display matters. Sure, we all watch over-the-air programming or streaming content, but for people interested in seeing how far their new TV can really go in terms of picture quality, physical media is still the best available option. Blu-ray players and UltraHD Blu-ray players — for 1080p and 4K resolution content respectively — are rather affordable these days. Even the cheapest among them offer the kind of pristine picture that Netflix streams can only dream of, so for people who invested in good televisions, it makes sense to buy a disc-based player and get a few of their favorite films to enjoy in disc form.
Also: many Smart TVs have a good operating system and a decent selection of content apps, but they cannot compete with dedicated media players. These devices are usually faster, more powerful and much better at multimedia file playback, via external storage or over a local network. They can even make up for weaknesses of the TVs themselves (such as Gigabit Ethernet ports). Premium media players, such as an Apple TV or nVidia Shield, can even offer access to quality gaming content through services such as Apple Arcade or GeForce Now. For people who only need the Netflix, Disney Plus and YouTube apps, a dedicated media player is not needed. But for people planning to use more demanding sources, such as Plex or Kodi or VLC, it’s a good idea to get one.
Getting a quality Smart TV does seem to invite a few more purchases along the way, yes, but these devices (especially when working together) open more possibilities than ever before for home entertainment. The beauty of it is that everything is optional and can be added over time: a disc/media player, a soundbar, a gaming system such as a PlayStation or an Xbox, a PC, they can all work together through HDMI connections and provide countless hours of fun with movies, shows, music and video games.
The opposite is obviously also true: a better new TV will make everything the other devices offer even more enjoyable. It will be the cornerstone of a home entertainment system for years, so it pays to get the best model one can possibly afford. Better stretch that budget now than regret it later, that’s for sure!
This article is included in our ten-part 2022 TV Buying Guide. Here is a list of them in full:
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which display tech to go for?
There may be only three available options but it’s still complicated. Here’s some help.
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Pick a spot and a time of day, you say?
Taking viewing habits and lighting conditions into account can help avoid an expensive mistake. Here’s how.
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: How big, how far?
Viewing distance and ideal screen size go hand in hand, here’s how they should be matched for maximum effect
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Stay at 4K or go 8K?
The extra millions of pixels may or may not be worth the extra money, here’s how to decide
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, sports fans
Not all TVs can display sports content in the same clear, smooth manner – here’s what makes all the difference
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, movie fans
What the experts call “a cinematic picture” is defined in specific ways, here’s the full rundown
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, gamers
All TVs can display video games just fine, but gaming TVs do modern titles justice by offering these specific features
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which Smart TV platform to choose?
Four main options and a number of differences between them, here’s what’s worth keeping in mind
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: All the extras that matter
Modern televisions feature various supplementary functions these days, here are the most helpful ones
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: So, you just got it! Now what?
A few things to do right away, a couple of things to consider doing at some point down the line