Why I Hate Sharing My Picture Settings

One of the most common requests I get by email, and in comments on reviews, is to share what picture settings I've used to achieve the best image.

To put it bluntly: no. This isn't because my settings are some big secret, it's because I honestly believe sharing them is a bad idea, and I'd be doing more harm than good.

And once I list the reasons why, you may even agree with me.

The proliferation of picture settings in modern televisions and projectors is unquestionably a good thing. When I first started reviewing TVs, most didn't even have adjustable color temperatures in the user menu. Some, you couldn't even calibrate.

Today, nearly every TV on the market has at least color temperature presets, and many give you the RGB controls to adjust them right there in the user menu. For most people, these are of little use. But for those wanting the ultimate in picture accuracy - or perhaps even getting the TV professionally calibrated - they're great.

With so many settings, it's easy to understand why some people feel lost. They bought an expensive television, and they want to make sure they're getting the best performance from it. Well, it ain't me, babe. No, no, no, it ain't me. Babe.

The most important reason is this: the settings I used may not be the best settings for your television. There is enough unit-to-unit variation that my exact settings aren't going to be the exact settings that are best for your TV. More to the point, your sources may require different settings (less so now in the age of HDMI, but it's still possible). Other considerations like the room (ambient light), personal preference (gamma, color temp) and so on further separate my settings from what's best for your TV.

I believe there are three types of people that want to know my (or any reviewer's) picture settings:

1) The enthusiast who wants to check that their settings are close to what the reviewer picked. Fair enough, but for the reasons I listed, yours are just as valid as mine.

2) A casual consumer looking for an easy way to get the best settings for their TV. This person, who perhaps knows little about our techy TV world, probably doesn't realize how easy it is to correctly set up their TV. More on this in a moment.

3) Someone who does know better, just obsessing or looking for an easy fix. For them, see #1 and #2.

Here's the hidden secret: Basic TV setup is spectacularly easy, made easier with the right setup disc. Disney's WOW is excellent, and $25 on Amazon. It's easy to follow, has some excellent test patterns, and even tutorials to help even the complete novice. I mean, this is what I use to set up TVs. Or you can get Digital Video Essentials, which isn't quite as pretty, and a little harder to follow, but available from Netflix.

I believe going through the tutorials and patterns on these discs will get a TV closer to correct setup than merely copying my settings. Will they be only one or two numbers off? Maybe, but that's not the point. Why is it unreasonable to spend an hour or so adjusting a television correctly instead of cheating off my test?

As far as color temperature settings go, that's a whole other issue. If someone is involved enough to want to adjust their RGB gain/bias controls for accurate color temperature, they should hire a calibrator. There's no guarantee my settings are going to be any closer than what you have now, or can get just by eyeballing it.

Hire a calibrator. They could use the money and provide a worthwhile service.

I'll gladly share the basic info, and have for years. Like, for example, what picture mode provides the most accurate place to start your adjustments, and what backlight/iris setting provides the best contrast ratio. Without expensive test gear, the best among these modes might be hard to choose.

But in reality, as long as you've switched to the Movie or Cinema mode, you're WAY closer to an accurate picture than if you stayed in the Vivid or Dynamic modes. So why not spend the extra $25 to ensure your multi-thousand dollar TV looks its best?

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