OK, so you just forked over the cash for a brand new TV. You wrangled it out of the box, got it positioned in place, cabled up, plugged in, and Voila!, you've even got a picture! Pretty cool, eh? Time to kick back, relax, and enjoy?
Not so fast, Bunky!
One of the dirty little secrets of the Consumer Electronics biz is that the "out of box", Factory Default Settings on just about every TV ever sold are flat out WRONG for best quality viewing! There's no real mystery behind this. The default settings are deliberately chosen to make the TV stand out -- to catch your eye -- from a distance, when buried amidst a whole wall of competing TVs, under garish, store lighting conditions. THESE, my friend, are the so-called (and rightfully infamous) "Torch Mode" settings. And if you are reading this, know that your FIRST task, should you choose to accept it, is to douse all of them!
The process of setting up a TV for best quality viewing is called Video "calibration", and it can get pretty technical. But the steps I'm going to talk about here are PRELIMINARY steps you take BEFORE calibrating the TV -- just getting it READY for calibration.
EDITORIAL NOTE: To keep this post to a reasonable length, I'm going to focus on settings common to modern, digital, flat-panel TVs. I won't be getting into items specific to older, traditional, Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) TVs, nor to modern Video Projector setups. But most of the suggestions I have for you here will also apply to those to some degree.
As I mentioned in my post on Calibration Discs, the Torch Mode settings -- as chosen by the TV maker's Marketing guys -- invariably follow a set pattern. First the overall light output of the TV is cranked up as much as possible (even to the extent of clipping bright details). The shape of the response curve between Black and White is also flattened as this produces "False Pop" in the image (at the expense of clobbering near-Black details folks can't see anyway under store lighting). The overall color bias of the TV is shifted towards Blue, since the eye sees that as a "brighter" image. Sharpness "enhancement" is also cranked up as this produces "False Detail" which looks attractive at a casual glance.
One big problem with such settings is they make people look like corpses! So on top of everything else, Reds get "pushed" to try to counter that.
In addition, modern TVs come with a whole slew of optional, Video "enhancement" features. The best way to think of these is that they are designed -- more or less -- to make crappy content look less annoying. These rejoice in names like Flesh Tone Correction, Noise Reduction, Motion Smoothing, and Dynamic *anything*. And the Torch Mode settings also have THESE turned on -- and cranked up to the max. This is not so much related to the sales floor experience as to what happens once the buyer first uses the new TV. The maker is trying to avoid the dreaded "early returns" problem. I.e., if the TV is set up CORRECTLY, crappy content is going to LOOK crappy. As it should! The better your TV the less forgiving it SHOULD be about problems in poor quality content. It SHOULD reveal ALL the flaws. That's the picture quality you paid for! But buyers expecting better can be tempted to just take the TV back. So Makers crank up these settings to blur such stuff as much as possible!
OK, so that's what we are trying to get rid of. But where to begin?
The first step is to get the lay of the land -- discovering the settings you can adjust in your particular model of TV. And part of that is gaining an understanding of how your TV REMEMBERS such settings.
Modern, digital TVs typically remember settings SEPARATELY for EACH "Input". Now an "Input" would, of course, include each HDMI socket offered for connecting player devices to the TV. But the TV's built in TV channel tuner is likely ALSO an "Input" -- with separate settings memory. And if your TV offers Internet applications -- such as Netflix -- it is likely those, too, are treated as an "input", with separate settings memory. It may even be the case the TV offers the ability to play video files from storage devices you plug into the TV or streamed over your house network. And such playback may ALSO be treated as a unique "Input".
The point being, once you have explored, experimented, and found what appear to be the correct settings for any given Input, you need to now copy those settings to your OTHER Inputs as well. That likely won't happen automatically, but it is pretty common for TVs to include an Apply to All Inputs button which should do the trick.
But wait! There's more! Modern, digital TVs play a variety of different TYPES of video content. For example my LG OLED flat-panel TV plays "normal" video content, and 3D video content, and 4K video content -- both with and without HDR, and 4K video content with the special form of HDR known as Dolby Vision. And it is pretty common the TV will remember SEPARATE settings for EACH TYPE of content you play! So you can create your "best" settings for "normal" video without them messing up your "best" settings for 3D video, or for 4K/HDR video, etc. The TV will automatically switch to the appropriate set of remembered settings according to the type of content you happen to be playing at the moment.
Indeed it is possible even the settings Names and Choices will be different for each TYPE of content. Some TVs will let you view and change their entire, massive, list of settings across all types of content, all at once, on any given Input. Other TVs, such as my LG, will not let you either view or change the settings for a given TYPE of content (on any given Input) unless you are currently PLAYING that type of content on that Input.
And the Torch Mode settings you are trying to squelch will be found, again by Factory Default, on EVERY Input for EVERY Type of content.
It sounds pretty daunting! But if you go through things in logical order, it is not all that bad. For example, pick a type of content to start -- say "normal" video -- on a single Input. Adjust its settings as we are about to discuss. Then copy the results to the other Inputs.
Then pick the next type of content -- say "4K/HDR" video -- and repeat. Continue through the other types of content, and then you are done!
EDITORIAL NOTE: Part of the problem writing on this topic is that there is no agreement among TV makers on what to CALL the various TV settings, and their choices. Some TV makers are particularly notorious for their, umm, inventive naming. So I'll try to stick to generic, explanatory names, and hope you can map them to the names used in YOUR TV without too much difficulty.
The first, and possibly most important, choice when setting up for a given type of content on a given input is the selection of which "Picture Mode" to use. A Picture Mode is sort of a general collection of settings (each with their own default values). Your TV may even let you save different settings in different Picture Modes, which you can come back to simply by changing between Picture Modes.
Picture Modes typically have names suggesting the intended use. For example, you might have a picture mode named "Games". Or "Cinema". Sometimes the names suggest the type of result you will get, such as "Vivid". And typically -- for a given Type of content on a given Input -- the settings INSIDE each of the available Picture Modes will have identical names and choices -- with different default values. This tends to mislead people into thinking the ONLY DIFFERENCE between Picture Modes are the different default values for their settings. I.e., that you can make any Picture Mode act like any OTHER Picture Mode simply by matching their settings.
THIS IS NOT CORRECT!
Modern TVs impose various HIDDEN settings according to which Picture Mode you have selected. Settings you can neither see nor change. And this means it is vital to START with the Picture Mode which is closest to what you are trying to achieve!
Assuming your goal is to produce best quality viewing for movies and TV shows there is a pretty good Rule of Thumb for selecting the correct Picture Mode:
Choose the Picture Mode which produces the DARKEST and SOFTEST image!
The Picture Mode chosen this way has the highest chance of being correct (or nearly so) for proper Video calibration out of the box.
It used to be pretty common you could tell people to look for a picture mode named Cinema or Movies, and that would be the right one. Those were the days where many of the most technical adjustment settings in the TV were hidden away in special Service Menus -- not accessible without special knowledge.
As time has gone on, many TV makers have made such settings available in the normal, user menus. But to keep most folks from getting into trouble with them, they've limited such access to certain "expert" Picture Modes.
For example, my LG panel offers "ISF Expert" Picture Modes. This refers to the Imaging Science Foundation, which is a a technical organization serving professional Video calibrators -- known as ISF Techs.
My recommendation would be, if you have a choice like that in addition to a choice like "Cinema", use the "Expert" choice. You don't need to futz with the additional, confusing settings it offers, and it will, again, be more likely to be correctly calibrated out of the box.
The Picture Modes you want to *AVOID* will have names like BRIGHT, VIVID, DYNAMIC, GAMES, or anything else that suggests SCORCH YOUR EYEBALLS!
TECHNICAL NOTE: Due to the way our eyes work, whenever you are keen to get the BEST out of your TV you should view it in a darkly lit (not completely blacked out) room. Of course there's nothing wrong with doing casual viewing in a more brightly lit room. You just won't be able to see the full quality your TV can produce. But the best settings for a dimmed room will be quite a bit different than those for a bright room. And so you may find your TV offers TWO Picture Mode choices of the "best" variety. For example you might have both ISF Expert (Dark) and ISF Expert (Bright). Or the naming convention may be Night vs. Day. if you can arrange for your room to be dimly lit for critical viewing then use the darker choice. You can ALSO set up the brighter choice as an alternative for more casual viewing.
Having selected the correct Picture Mode, the next step is to correct the GEOMETRY of the image.
The default settings in your TV likely impose "overscan". This is the elimination of a portion of the image around all 4 sides. The purpose is to mask cruft that might be on the edges of poor quality content. But to keep from having to show a black strip all the way around the image, the TV will also SCALE what's left of the image to fill the screen again. Now, small percentage Scaling like this is a classic way to get image artifacts (visible defects in the image quality). So you want to eliminate the overscan not only so you can see the entire image presented in your content, but also to eliminate such artifacts.
Typical settings names for this will be things like Just Scan and Dot For Dot.
Some TVs will also have a "screen orbiter" enabled by default. This is a feature which slowly shifts the image around on the screen. The idea is to minimize visible "Image Retention" for things you make the mistake of leaving on screen way too long in one location. Things like news tickers across the bottom of the screen, or the small logos sometimes imposed by cable TV channels. Hopefully you are not watching content like that for hours at a time, which means you can turn off this feature. And again, the reason you want to do that is that the screen orbiter also works by masking a chunk of the image on all 4 sides -- to give it room in which to shift around the rest of the image. The same Scaling issue applies as with overscan.
Now, when playing normal content, odds are you won't really be able to confirm whether you are seeing the whole image or not -- edge to edge for all 4 sides. To check that you need to use a Pixel Cropping chart from a calibration disc -- such as the "Spears & Munsil Version 2", Blu-ray, disc I discussed in my post on Calibration Discs. When you have the Geometry settings correct, you will be able to see the entirety of that chart, with no pixels lost on any of the sides.
The next step is to check the image bias settings: Color Temperature and Gamma.
This is where picking the correct Picture Mode to begin with will really help you, because the Picture Mode you selected with my advice above is likely to ALREADY have the correct choices for these.
Color Temperature, simply put, is the bias of White towards reddish or blueish. As I mentioned above, the Torch Mode settings typically crank this way towards blueish as that fools the eye into thinking the TV is putting out a brighter image. But all the best quality content you play -- both movies and TV shows -- will have been authored assuming a redder Color Temperature on your TV. And getting the Color Temperature setting correct goes a LONG way towards making the picture look good!
Some TVs will actually document that a particular Color Temperature setting is for the "Standard" choice of 6,500 degrees Kelvin. Others will likely use ill-defined choice names such as "Warm-1". A quick comment on the confusion caused by that: A HIGHER Color Temperature (in degrees Kelvin) produces a BLUER image, but the naming in such TVs will typically call that Cooler instead. i.e., in this naming a "Cool" image is bluer, and a "Warm" image is redder, even though that's the exact opposite of what's happening with the technical value in degrees Kelvin.
As I said, the odds are the correct choice of Picture Mode will have automatically produced the correct default value of Color Temperature. But if you have to pick one on your own, pick one which is redder than neutral but NOT the choice which is MOST red. You will likely have to read up on your TV to confirm this is the correct choice.
Gamma (or Gamma Correction) refers to the shape of the response curve between Black and White. I.e., how much brighter does the image get for each step of pixel Luminance value. For historical, technical reasons, this response is *NOT* linear. It is, more or less exponential. So that it takes more change near Black before you see an increase and less change near White before you see an increase. This is described as coming out of Black slowly and approaching White quickly.
Getting Gamma right has a MAJOR impact on how good the imaging looks.
The Gamma setting is often presented as a number (the exponent of the curve). So a higher number means the curve slopes up faster. The typical, target, numeric value for Gamma is 2.4. The Torch Mode settings will have used a much lower number.
But sometimes the Gamma setting will be presented in ill-defined words. Like Low or High. Again, if you've selected the correct Picture Mode to begin with, odds are good it will come with the correct, default value for Gamma.
TECHNICAL NOTE: The first TVs were not capable of a linear response between Black and White, or to be more precise, it would have added too much cost to the TVs to make them so -- which would have reduced the number of buyers! So instead the industry decided to make content that MATCHED the natural response curve of these TVs -- that exponential response I just mentioned. Modern, digital TVs are perfectly capable of producing a linear response, but that wouldn't work for all that existing content! So instead, modern TVs are set to duplicate the exponential response of the original TVs. And that is Gamma Correction.
The next step is to turn OFF all the various Video "enhancement" features in your selected Picture Mode. There could be many of these, and they could be called just about anything. The Marketing guys get PARTICULARLY creative when it comes to this.
It doesn't matter. Turn them *ALL* OFF!
Over time you may decide, after judicious experimentation, that you actually LIKE one or more of these "enhancement" features. But START with them all OFF and give yourself time to get used to the resulting picture -- a picture which has not been muddled by such stuff.
Some of these "enhancement" choices may be presented up front in your chosen Picture Mode. Others may be buried in secondary menus inside the Picture Mode. Be relentless. Find them all and turn them all OFF.
TECHNICAL NOTE: There's one setting you may NEED to enable. If you have a 4K-capable TV which also accepts HDR (High Dynamic Range) content, you may have discovered you can't get it to switch into HDR mode when you try to play such content. The reason is, you need to enable a special setting in the TV which configures the HDMI Input to allow the new, higher bandwidth Video formats used for 4K/HDR video. 4K video initially rolled out WITHOUT such formats, and the TV makers are rightfully concerned folks will discover some of their older source devices simply don't work with the TV when those formats are enabled. Simply put, these older source devices are not EXPECTING such new, additional choices to be offered! So by default, most new, 4K TVs have this setting turned OFF for each of their HDMI Inputs. You need to turn it ON for any HDMI Input you want to use with a source device which can send 4K/HDR Video content -- such as a UHD Blu-ray player. Again, the Marketing guys have gotten creative with naming here. For example, my LG panel calls this setting "HDMI Ultra HD Deep Color" -- which cleverly makes no reference whatsoever to its importance for enabling HDR Video Input! They've also hidden it in an entirely different part of their Settings menu from all their other Video related settings. Deep sigh....
OK, we're almost done. All that's left are the "Basic Level" settings for Video, which actually are part and parcel of real Video Calibration.
I'm not going to go into details on that in this post, but I want to touch on the Torch Mode default settings you may find, and need to correct, even in your "best" choice of Picture Mode.
First and foremost of these is Vertical Edge Enhancement -- typically named Sharpness.
TV Makers just LOVE to crank up the Sharpness setting! This produces "False Detail", which looks pretty good on a casual glance, but actually results in masking REAL details in the content you are watching. The reason is "Haloing": Dark edges get bright haloes added on either side.
Most TVs will have a slider -- a range of values -- for their Sharpness setting. And the reality is that the CORRECT Sharpness value for most TVs is to set that all the way down to the lowest possible setting. Some TVs will "fuzz" the image a bit if you do that, so a value somewhat above the lowest value is best. But if you find your Picture Mode comes with a Sharpness setting that's mid-range or higher, that is DEFINITELY too much. You can confirm the correct choice using a Sharpness calibration chart on a Calibration Disc.
Next is the limits for gray scale -- the two settings controlling the levels for Black and White.
The Brightness setting controls Black levels. You can remember this because both begin with "B". The Contrast setting controls White levels.
In older TVs these settings were intimately related -- changing one also significantly altered the effect of the other. The Brightness setting controlled the starting point (Black), and the Contrast setting controlled the size of the range above that. So moving Brightness also moved the White endpoint of Contrast, and increasing Contrast pushed BOTH ends of the range, thus shifting the effect of Brightness.
In modern, digital TVs that interaction between Brightness and Contrast has been largely removed, but you still need to go back and forth a few times to find the sweet spot pair of settings which produces the best result at both the Black and White end of the scale.
You check this using the gray scale calibration charts on your Calibration Disc. There will be a chart specific to checking near-Blacks, for example, to make sure you are seeing the pixel values you are SUPPOSED to see, and none of the ones (below Black) you are NOT supposed to see. Similarly there will be a calibration chart for Whites and Peak Whites which lets you confirm you are getting the best light output up there without clipping details you are supposed to be able to see.
The thing to keep in mind is that the Torch Mode settings typically include cranking Contrast too high. This produces more light output at the expense of clobbering bright details. So do not be surprised if you find you need to lower Contrast -- perhaps a bunch -- when you check your White levels.
The last pair of Video Basic Level settings has to do with colors. These are Saturation (sometimes just called Color) and Tint. Saturation has to do with the amount of color. Tint has to do with its bias towards Red or Green. Again, you can check these with your Calibration Disc. These two settings also interact. So again you'll need to go back and forth between them a few times to find the sweet spot pair of settings which works best for each.
Odds are, if you have picked the correct Picture Mode to begin with, its default Saturation and Tint settings will be correct out of the box.
And there you have it!
Note that we have NOT done a full Video calibration yet for your TV. But what we HAVE done is removed the most egregious Factory Default settings -- the Torch Mode settings -- which would negatively impact your picture quality. And we've picked a Picture Mode which has the highest odds of being correctly calibrated (or CLOSE to correctly calibrated) out of the box.
At which point you definitely HAVE earned the right to kick back, relax, and start enjoying the full quality of your new TV!