Tag Archives: Hd

Everything You Can Do With the 4K Camera In Your Pocket Right Now

Everything You Can Do With the 4K Camera In Your Pocket Right Now

You may have a 4K camera in your pocket right now without even realizing it. Even if you don’t have a 4K TV to watch those videos on, you can use that camera to make even better 1080p videos right now.

You Probably Have a 4K-Capable Camera Already

4K displays may be scarce, but 4K cameras are everywhere. Most recent flagship smartphones have 4K-capable cameras built in. Here are some of the most popular models capable of recording in this ultra high resolution:

This list is not comprehensive, but it’s easy to see that you have no shortage of cameras that can record video in 4K. Even so, 4K is a resolution, not a measure of quality, so be sure to check out a few smartphone video comparisons before you buy something new.

There are also plenty of high quality point-and-shoots capable of shooting in 4K, like the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX100K, the Nikon DL24-85, DL18-50, and DL24-500 line, and the Sony RX100. If you don’t mind spending some cash for a quality camera, you have a few options without getting a second mortgage. While you may see professional YouTubers using the most expensive hardware to do the same work, you can get started with relatively inexpensive equipment until you have a real need to upgrade.

If you don’t have a 4K display, you might wonder why you’d even want to record in 4K at all. However, recording in 4K, even for viewing on a 1080p display, is generally better. Since you’re recording extra data, you have some flexibility editing that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Here are just a few ways it can help, and some cool things you can do with 4K source video. Note: all of my videos below were taken on a Nexus 6P recording in 4K mode.

Get Better 1080p Footage When You Downsize 4K

You might think scaling a 4K video down to 1080p, isn’t really any different than shooting in 1080p to begin with. However, since 4K cameras records much more detail, downsizing footage to 1080p can retains much finer details with less noise than shooting 1080p natively.

As the video above from videographer Dylan Lierz shows how stark this difference can be. In a side-by-side comparison, downsized 4K footage grabs fine details on distant objects or complex imagery like grass or trees much better. Sometimes the quality isn’t much better, but you have more to work with from the start.

Get High-Quality Cropped Footage After Shooting

Composing your frame properly is key to shooting video that looks good. When you’re shooting in 4K, you have some extra flexibility. You can crop in tighter on a shot to get a closer look at the subject, or recenter on a different part of the frame. Since you’re working with footage that has roughly four times the pixels, you can select a much smaller part of the frame and still crop it down to a 1080p video with no significant loss in overall quality.

In the video above, I filmed my drone flying in my backyard. In the original footage, I’m extremely far away from my drone (duh, it’s flying). However, I was able to decide how close I wanted to crop the video later. Since I’m working with 4K footage, I was able to get much closer without degrading my video quality. Despite cropping down to nearly a fourth the size, you can still make out a ton of detail in the tree branches in the background.

Stabilize Shaky Footage

When you stabilize digital footage normally, you lose a little quality. This occurs because the software zooms in slightly and crops each frame in a direction counter to the motion in the frame. If your camera shakes to the left, the frame is cropped to the right. The upside is your footage is less shaky. However, you lose a little resolution to get that effect.

As you can see in the first half of the video above, my hands shook while I was filming my cat on the back porch. However, I ran that same clip through After Effects’ Stabilize Motion tracker. In the second half of the video, you can see the result. The camera shake is almost entirely gone, yet the video has no less resolution.

It’s worth pointing out that stabilizing footage isn’t a magic bullet. Using After Effects took a ton of time to analyze the motion and there’s still a bit of camera drift. Your mileage will also vary depending on what method you use. However, having the extra pixels in your frame gives you a lot more wiggle room.

http://lifehacker.com/5786091/stabil…

Add Pans and Zooms On Stationary Shots

Since you have so much source data to work with, you can add effects to segments of your shot without having to retake them to get the effect. On a stationary shot of a subject, you can zoom in to add emphasis, or pan across a landscape to add movement, as if you shot a long pan when you’re really zooming in and across a single shot. This gives you the freedom to decide later what type of movement you need in your final video. You can also use a single camera to get multiple compositions of the same scene.

For example, in the video above, I filmed a wide shot of cosplayer Amber Alertt. Later, I altered the shot to add a pan. Once again, there’s no loss in quality, despite zooming in and cropping the frame. I could also choose to reverse that pan, crop in for a close-up, or spend the entire shot staring at the trees if I wanted.

Use Still Frames For Photography

A still frame of a 4K video is roughly equivalent to about 8.3 megapixels. That’s enough pixels to take great pictures for everything from social media to printing some sizes of photos. While you can take frames from 1080p video, the lower resolution isn’t as flexible for photography. Every individual frame of a 4K video can be used as a high quality photograph, without the troublesome need to snap the picture at exactly the right time. Simply hit record and grab the perfect shot later.

In the video above, I asked cosplayer Layla Antagonist to experiment with poses while I recorded. The clip lasted about twenty seconds. Afterwards, I was able to grab several still images that would fit right in at a regular photo shoot:

Everything You Can Do With the 4K Camera In Your Pocket Right Now
Everything You Can Do With the 4K Camera In Your Pocket Right Now

They’re no substitute for a proper photographer (and my phone is still not a substitute for a proper camera), but they’re still high quality photos that I could import into Photoshop to play with. By recording in 4K, I gave myself the option of turning a frame of a video into a usable photo later. If I’d tried this with normal 1080p video, I’d have much less to work with.


There are a ton of benefits to shooting 4K video, and odds are you already carry a device capable of it. In fact, recording a higher resolution than you need can give you a lot more flexibility to edit your videos and help take better pictures.

Harley-Davidson To Offer Free Rider Training To All U.S. Military

Harley-Davidson has always had a special relationship with the military, and they’re taking that one step farther by offering to teach every active-duty, retired, reservists, and veteran members for the entirety of 2016. Bravo.

Read more…

Most Popular Budget HDTV: VIZIO E50-C1 50” Smart LED HDTV

Most Popular Budget HDTV: VIZIO E50-C1 50” Smart LED HDTV

A great HDTV—large screen, great image quality, and solid features—doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. We put a $500 cap on price and asked you for your favorite budget HDTVs. Then we looked at the five best budget HDTVs and put them to a vote. Now we’re back to crown the winner.

Most Popular Budget HDTV: VIZIO E50-C1 50” Smart LED HDTV

The VIZIO E50-C1 50” Smart LED HDTV took the top spot in our poll with 35% of the overall vote. Its wallet-friendly price, smart TV features, beautiful design, and of course, VIZIO’s famous price-to-performance made it a popular pick in both the nominations and the final round of voting.

While the most recent VIZIO took the top spot, its predecessor took second place. The VIZIO e500i-A1 50” Smart LED HDTV took silver with 24% of the overall vote. Offering similar features to the more current flagship with a discounted price, many of you preferred the older version just to save a few bucks. Third place went to the TCL Roku TV 50” 50FS3800, a beautiful panel with a Roku baked inside and all of the controls and ports you could possibly want. In fourth place with about 12% of the votes cast was the Seiki SE39UY04 39” 4K Ultra HD LED TV, the only 4K set in the roundup, but definitely worth considering if you want a great set and 4K compatibility and you’re willing to give up a few inches of screen size to get it. Bringing up the rear in fourth place was the Sceptre E555BV-FMQR 55” LED HDTV, a budget-friendly but bare-bones set that was also the largest in our roundup.

For more on each of these and the honorable mentions not listed here, make sure to head back to the full Hive Five feature to read more.

The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at tips+hivefive@lifehacker.com!

Five Best Budget HDTVs

Five Best Budget HDTVs

A great HDTV doesn’t have to break the bank. Sure, you could spend thousands on a panel, but $500 can get you a sizable one with great picture quality, solid features, and all the connectivity options you need, while still being thin and trim. This week we’re looking at five of the best budget sets, based on your nominations.

Earlier in the week we asked you for your suggestions for budget-friendly HDTVs, and you responded with tons of great options, both affordable new, previous years’ versions, and even some refurbs. All told though, we only have room for the top five, and here they are, in no particular order.http://lifehacker.com/whats-the-best…

TCL Roku TV 50” 50FS3800

Five Best Budget HDTVs

If you’re looking for a well-sized, feature-packed smart TV without breaking the bank, TCL can deliver. The TCL Roku TV 50FS3800 is a 50” 1080p 120Hz panel that has a Roku set-top box baked inside, so you don’t need to buy another one. You even control it with an included Roku remote control, or you can control it with your smartphone or tablet using the Roku mobile apps. It’ll set you back $480 at Amazon, and if you don’t like the idea of spending that much (or want a smaller panel), there are smaller options to choose from as well. For your money, you get three HDMI ports, a USB port, all the other video connectivity you could possibly need, and control over all of your connected devices and Roku apps and channels from the TV’s home screen. You can switch between any of your connected devices easily, swap channels, search for programs or movies on any streaming service, and more with just a couple of button presses. You can even cast video from your phone to the TV without any added devices. It doesn’t hurt that the panel looks good too, with the twin-leg stand design and a super-thin bezel around the 50” screen to match.http://www.amazon.com/TCL-50FS3800-5…

Those of you who nominated the TCL Roku TV pointed out that it’s a smart TV for an incredible price, and it’s smart in the right way—as in, it includes the features you’d probably go out and buy in a set-top box without the bloat and cruft that come with a lot of manufacturer’s “smart” offerings. It’s an incredible value feature-wise, and you noted that image quality and color reproduction are spectacular for a panel at this price. More than a few of you chimed in to say you own one, and you love yours, which is a vote of confidence in our book. Read more in its nomination thread here.


VIZIO E50-C1 50” Smart LED HDTV

Five Best Budget HDTVs

A juggernaut in the nominations round, the VIZIO E50-C1 is just over our budget at $528 at Amazon, but it can easily be found for less than $500 elsewhere around the web, and many of you pointed out that you were able to score deep—like less than $400—discounts on this puppy, especially around the holidays. For your money, you get a 50” panel at 1080p and 120Hz with three HDMI ports, a USB port for music and video on external storage, all the other connectors you would expect (VGA, component, composite, etc), wall mount support, and a one year warranty. The panel even supports local dimming, which helps improve contrast and gives you darker blacks in parts of the screen where they’re needed, and the ability to auto-adjust based on room brightness. VIZIO’s suite of smart TV apps are also included, including baked-in apps to stream services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video, as well as social apps like Twitter and Facebook, streaming music from Pandora and Spotify, and more. The TV has Wi-Fi built in, so you don’t need to run an Ethernet cable to it, either. It’s the top of the VIZIO E-class series of HDTVs, and for the money you get the great image quality and color most people have come to associate with VIZIO’s budget-friendly-but-top-performing panels. Plus, VIZIO’s design gives you a super-thin panel with a tiny bezel, but also twin, minimal-looking legs instead of a usual stand.http://www.amazon.com/VIZIO-E50-C1-5…

Those of you who nominated the E50-C1 shared the various price points you picked up the panel for—one of you said you grabbed one for around $450, and a few others of you pointed to holiday sales and Super Bowl sales as great opportunities to save big here. Even if you wind up paying full price, you praised it for being a VA panel (instead of a traditional IPS), having incredible color accuracy, and for VIZIO’s customer support. You can read more in its nomination thread here.


Sceptre E555BV-FMQR 55” LED HDTV

Five Best Budget HDTVs

This Sceptre panel is about $500 exactly at Amazon, which puts it at the top end of our budget here, but for your money you get a full 55” 1080p 60Hz LED TV, three HDMI ports, a USB port for photos or videos on external storage, MHL support, a beautiful tempered glass stand and a thin bezel, and built-in surround sound speakers. It’s VESA-mountable, and all-around a solid, budget-friendly panel. Image quality and color reproduction are solid, and while you don’t get a ton of features in it, this panel does deliver on the things that matter most, especially if you’re watching how much you spend and still want a nice big screen for the living room. Overall, it’s a solid, well-rounded HDTV that won’t disappoint, and if it does, it comes with a one-year warranty.http://www.amazon.com/Sceptre-55-Cla…

Those of you who nominated the Sceptre pointed out that you have yours and love it, or have a similarly-sized model and love that one. It’s not brimming with features, but what you lose in features you get back in screen size—plus many of you mentioned that while the panel is $500 as of this writing, it’s frequently on sale at deep discounts. One of you said you picked yours up for $399, and this particular model is available online or in store at Costco, Best Buy, and a number of other retail locations. You can read more in its nomination thread here.


Seiki SE39UY04 39” 4K Ultra HD LED TV

Five Best Budget HDTVs

If you have to have a 4K panel and you’re willing to sacrifice a little screen real estate to get what you want, this Seiki 4K 39” 120Hz Ultra HD display will do the trick, and it’s only $369 at Amazon. Technically discontinued (as Seiki is ramping up production and rollout of newer, bigger 4K displays and models), it’s still widely available, and well loved for being one of the first really affordable 4K panels that you could use as a TV, or as a computer monitor. It even earned an honorable mention in our five best budget computer monitors Hive Five earlier this year. Keep in mind that the panel is 120Hz when viewing standard HD content—when bump up to 4K, you drop to 30Hz. You’ll skimp on a few features here, but you still get the basics, three HDMI ports, two USB ports (one for service use only, but the other for images—not other media however,) VGA and component and composite connections, and more. There’s no smart functionality here, and no apps or anything, but if you want an affordable 4K display that can do 4K when connected to a source that supports it (like a PC or laptop’s video out) and looks solid, but = still can handle 1080p pretty nicely, this is a great option—at least until some of the newer Seiki models come down in price.http://www.amazon.com/Seiki-SE39UY04…

Those of you who nominated this panel pointed to its great price, and the fact that it’s a 4K panel that can serve as a monitor and an HDTV as great selling points. You noted that the price is great, and the design is solid too—it’s a thin display with a nice thin bezel. Support for some of the newer Seiki panels appeared in the nominations thread as well, with a few of you pointing to a 42” Seiki SE 1080p model (not 4K) that’s as low as $280 in some places. You can read the original nomination thread for the 4K panel here, and the additional nominations thread here.http://lifehacker.com/five-best-budg…


VIZIO e500i-A1 50” Smart LED HDTV

Five Best Budget HDTVs

Where the E50 is the current, 2015 line of smart HDTVs, the e500i-A1 is the 2013 line, and it picked up a bunch of nominations for bringing lots of features to the party at bargain-friendly prices. Available from third parties for around $399 at Amazon (check the Amazon Seller listings), you get a 50” 1080p, 120Hz LED panel with all the smart TV features you expect from VIZIO, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, streaming music from Pandora and Spotify, and tons more. The panel itself supports active LED zones that can be activated or deactivated depending on whether they’re needed, a screen that auto-adjusts to match room brightness, built-in Wi-Fi, a lovely app launcher to get you right where you want to be when you turn the TV on, four HDMI ports and all the standard video connectivity options, a USB port on the side for external media, wall mount support, and of course, VIZIO’s standard one year warranty. As usual, you may have to dig a little bit to find this set, since it’s an older version and has been replaced by the E50-C1 we mentioned above, but if you can get one, either new or refurb, you’ll find a great panel at a low price.

Those of you who nominated the e500i-A1 pointed out that this flagship panel was ahead of its time when it was new, so you’re not really missing anything by upgrading now. You get a great screen for less-than-flagship prices, and that it was one of the first to come with the full array LED lighting and local dimming that’s now become standard on VIZIO’s better panels. A few of you mentioned that you didn’t care for VIZIO’s smart TV apps and that you preferred your own set-top box instead, and you have plenty of connectivity options for that if you want to go that route. A few of you shared your calibration and setup tips, but most of all, you largely agreed that this panel—and VIZIO in general—offer a good balance of picture quality for the money you spend. Read more in its nomination thread here.


Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to a vote and determine the Lifehacker community favorite! Cast your vote below:


Honorable Mentions

This week’s honorable mention goes out to the LG 42LF5600 42” 1080p LCD HDTV, which will set you back around $360 at Amazon. For your money you get a 42” 60Hz panel with two HDMI ports, but you get great image quality at a modest price. You don’t get the same features as some of the others in the roundup, and a few of you pointed to the lack of video connectors as a drawback, but overall it’s a solid panel at a decent price. Some of you said you specifically liked yours for gaming. You can read all about it in its nomination thread here.http://www.amazon.com/LG-42LF5600-42…

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.

The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at tips+hivefive@lifehacker.com!

Title photo by Maurizio Pesce.

Five Best Budget HDTVs

Five Best Budget HDTVs

A great HDTV doesn’t have to break the bank. Sure, you could spend thousands on a panel, but $500 can get you a sizable one with great picture quality, solid features, and all the connectivity options you need, while still being thin and trim. This week we’re looking at five of the best budget sets, based on your nominations.

Earlier in the week we asked you for your suggestions for budget-friendly HDTVs, and you responded with tons of great options, both affordable new, previous years’ versions, and even some refurbs. All told though, we only have room for the top five, and here they are, in no particular order.http://lifehacker.com/whats-the-best…

TCL Roku TV 50” 50FS3800

Five Best Budget HDTVs

If you’re looking for a well-sized, feature-packed smart TV without breaking the bank, TCL can deliver. The TCL Roku TV 50FS3800 is a 50” 1080p 120Hz panel that has a Roku set-top box baked inside, so you don’t need to buy another one. You even control it with an included Roku remote control, or you can control it with your smartphone or tablet using the Roku mobile apps. It’ll set you back $480 at Amazon, and if you don’t like the idea of spending that much (or want a smaller panel), there are smaller options to choose from as well. For your money, you get three HDMI ports, a USB port, all the other video connectivity you could possibly need, and control over all of your connected devices and Roku apps and channels from the TV’s home screen. You can switch between any of your connected devices easily, swap channels, search for programs or movies on any streaming service, and more with just a couple of button presses. You can even cast video from your phone to the TV without any added devices. It doesn’t hurt that the panel looks good too, with the twin-leg stand design and a super-thin bezel around the 50” screen to match.http://www.amazon.com/TCL-50FS3800-5…

Those of you who nominated the TCL Roku TV pointed out that it’s a smart TV for an incredible price, and it’s smart in the right way—as in, it includes the features you’d probably go out and buy in a set-top box without the bloat and cruft that come with a lot of manufacturer’s “smart” offerings. It’s an incredible value feature-wise, and you noted that image quality and color reproduction are spectacular for a panel at this price. More than a few of you chimed in to say you own one, and you love yours, which is a vote of confidence in our book. Read more in its nomination thread here.


VIZIO E50-C1 50” Smart LED HDTV

Five Best Budget HDTVs

A juggernaut in the nominations round, the VIZIO E50-C1 is just over our budget at $528 at Amazon, but it can easily be found for less than $500 elsewhere around the web, and many of you pointed out that you were able to score deep—like less than $400—discounts on this puppy, especially around the holidays. For your money, you get a 50” panel at 1080p and 120Hz with three HDMI ports, a USB port for music and video on external storage, all the other connectors you would expect (VGA, component, composite, etc), wall mount support, and a one year warranty. The panel even supports local dimming, which helps improve contrast and gives you darker blacks in parts of the screen where they’re needed, and the ability to auto-adjust based on room brightness. VIZIO’s suite of smart TV apps are also included, including baked-in apps to stream services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video, as well as social apps like Twitter and Facebook, streaming music from Pandora and Spotify, and more. The TV has Wi-Fi built in, so you don’t need to run an Ethernet cable to it, either. It’s the top of the VIZIO E-class series of HDTVs, and for the money you get the great image quality and color most people have come to associate with VIZIO’s budget-friendly-but-top-performing panels. Plus, VIZIO’s design gives you a super-thin panel with a tiny bezel, but also twin, minimal-looking legs instead of a usual stand.http://www.amazon.com/VIZIO-E50-C1-5…

Those of you who nominated the E50-C1 shared the various price points you picked up the panel for—one of you said you grabbed one for around $450, and a few others of you pointed to holiday sales and Super Bowl sales as great opportunities to save big here. Even if you wind up paying full price, you praised it for being a VA panel (instead of a traditional IPS), having incredible color accuracy, and for VIZIO’s customer support. You can read more in its nomination thread here.


Sceptre E555BV-FMQR 55” LED HDTV

Five Best Budget HDTVs

This Sceptre panel is about $500 exactly at Amazon, which puts it at the top end of our budget here, but for your money you get a full 55” 1080p 60Hz LED TV, three HDMI ports, a USB port for photos or videos on external storage, MHL support, a beautiful tempered glass stand and a thin bezel, and built-in surround sound speakers. It’s VESA-mountable, and all-around a solid, budget-friendly panel. Image quality and color reproduction are solid, and while you don’t get a ton of features in it, this panel does deliver on the things that matter most, especially if you’re watching how much you spend and still want a nice big screen for the living room. Overall, it’s a solid, well-rounded HDTV that won’t disappoint, and if it does, it comes with a one-year warranty.http://www.amazon.com/Sceptre-55-Cla…

Those of you who nominated the Sceptre pointed out that you have yours and love it, or have a similarly-sized model and love that one. It’s not brimming with features, but what you lose in features you get back in screen size—plus many of you mentioned that while the panel is $500 as of this writing, it’s frequently on sale at deep discounts. One of you said you picked yours up for $399, and this particular model is available online or in store at Costco, Best Buy, and a number of other retail locations. You can read more in its nomination thread here.


Seiki SE39UY04 39” 4K Ultra HD LED TV

Five Best Budget HDTVs

If you have to have a 4K panel and you’re willing to sacrifice a little screen real estate to get what you want, this Seiki 4K 39” 120Hz Ultra HD display will do the trick, and it’s only $369 at Amazon. Technically discontinued (as Seiki is ramping up production and rollout of newer, bigger 4K displays and models), it’s still widely available, and well loved for being one of the first really affordable 4K panels that you could use as a TV, or as a computer monitor. It even earned an honorable mention in our five best budget computer monitors Hive Five earlier this year. Keep in mind that the panel is 120Hz when viewing standard HD content—when bump up to 4K, you drop to 30Hz. You’ll skimp on a few features here, but you still get the basics, three HDMI ports, two USB ports (one for service use only, but the other for images—not other media however,) VGA and component and composite connections, and more. There’s no smart functionality here, and no apps or anything, but if you want an affordable 4K display that can do 4K when connected to a source that supports it (like a PC or laptop’s video out) and looks solid, but = still can handle 1080p pretty nicely, this is a great option—at least until some of the newer Seiki models come down in price.http://www.amazon.com/Seiki-SE39UY04…

Those of you who nominated this panel pointed to its great price, and the fact that it’s a 4K panel that can serve as a monitor and an HDTV as great selling points. You noted that the price is great, and the design is solid too—it’s a thin display with a nice thin bezel. Support for some of the newer Seiki panels appeared in the nominations thread as well, with a few of you pointing to a 42” Seiki SE 1080p model (not 4K) that’s as low as $280 in some places. You can read the original nomination thread for the 4K panel here, and the additional nominations thread here.http://lifehacker.com/five-best-budg…


VIZIO e500i-A1 50” Smart LED HDTV

Five Best Budget HDTVs

Where the E50 is the current, 2015 line of smart HDTVs, the e500i-A1 is the 2013 line, and it picked up a bunch of nominations for bringing lots of features to the party at bargain-friendly prices. Available from third parties for around $399 at Amazon (check the Amazon Seller listings), you get a 50” 1080p, 120Hz LED panel with all the smart TV features you expect from VIZIO, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, streaming music from Pandora and Spotify, and tons more. The panel itself supports active LED zones that can be activated or deactivated depending on whether they’re needed, a screen that auto-adjusts to match room brightness, built-in Wi-Fi, a lovely app launcher to get you right where you want to be when you turn the TV on, four HDMI ports and all the standard video connectivity options, a USB port on the side for external media, wall mount support, and of course, VIZIO’s standard one year warranty. As usual, you may have to dig a little bit to find this set, since it’s an older version and has been replaced by the E50-C1 we mentioned above, but if you can get one, either new or refurb, you’ll find a great panel at a low price.

Those of you who nominated the e500i-A1 pointed out that this flagship panel was ahead of its time when it was new, so you’re not really missing anything by upgrading now. You get a great screen for less-than-flagship prices, and that it was one of the first to come with the full array LED lighting and local dimming that’s now become standard on VIZIO’s better panels. A few of you mentioned that you didn’t care for VIZIO’s smart TV apps and that you preferred your own set-top box instead, and you have plenty of connectivity options for that if you want to go that route. A few of you shared your calibration and setup tips, but most of all, you largely agreed that this panel—and VIZIO in general—offer a good balance of picture quality for the money you spend. Read more in its nomination thread here.


Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to a vote and determine the Lifehacker community favorite! Cast your vote below:


Honorable Mentions

This week’s honorable mention goes out to the LG 42LF5600 42” 1080p LCD HDTV, which will set you back around $360 at Amazon. For your money you get a 42” 60Hz panel with two HDMI ports, but you get great image quality at a modest price. You don’t get the same features as some of the others in the roundup, and a few of you pointed to the lack of video connectors as a drawback, but overall it’s a solid panel at a decent price. Some of you said you specifically liked yours for gaming. You can read all about it in its nomination thread here.http://www.amazon.com/LG-42LF5600-42…

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.

The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at tips+hivefive@lifehacker.com!

Title photo by Maurizio Pesce.

Five Best Budget HDTVs

Five Best Budget HDTVs

A great HDTV doesn’t have to break the bank. Sure, you could spend thousands on a panel, but $500 can get you a sizable one with great picture quality, solid features, and all the connectivity options you need, while still being thin and trim. This week we’re looking at five of the best budget sets, based on your nominations.

Earlier in the week we asked you for your suggestions for budget-friendly HDTVs, and you responded with tons of great options, both affordable new, previous years’ versions, and even some refurbs. All told though, we only have room for the top five, and here they are, in no particular order.http://lifehacker.com/whats-the-best…

TCL Roku TV 50” 50FS3800

Five Best Budget HDTVs

If you’re looking for a well-sized, feature-packed smart TV without breaking the bank, TCL can deliver. The TCL Roku TV 50FS3800 is a 50” 1080p 120Hz panel that has a Roku set-top box baked inside, so you don’t need to buy another one. You even control it with an included Roku remote control, or you can control it with your smartphone or tablet using the Roku mobile apps. It’ll set you back $480 at Amazon, and if you don’t like the idea of spending that much (or want a smaller panel), there are smaller options to choose from as well. For your money, you get three HDMI ports, a USB port, all the other video connectivity you could possibly need, and control over all of your connected devices and Roku apps and channels from the TV’s home screen. You can switch between any of your connected devices easily, swap channels, search for programs or movies on any streaming service, and more with just a couple of button presses. You can even cast video from your phone to the TV without any added devices. It doesn’t hurt that the panel looks good too, with the twin-leg stand design and a super-thin bezel around the 50” screen to match.http://www.amazon.com/TCL-50FS3800-5…

Those of you who nominated the TCL Roku TV pointed out that it’s a smart TV for an incredible price, and it’s smart in the right way—as in, it includes the features you’d probably go out and buy in a set-top box without the bloat and cruft that come with a lot of manufacturer’s “smart” offerings. It’s an incredible value feature-wise, and you noted that image quality and color reproduction are spectacular for a panel at this price. More than a few of you chimed in to say you own one, and you love yours, which is a vote of confidence in our book. Read more in its nomination thread here.


VIZIO E50-C1 50” Smart LED HDTV

Five Best Budget HDTVs

A juggernaut in the nominations round, the VIZIO E50-C1 is just over our budget at $528 at Amazon, but it can easily be found for less than $500 elsewhere around the web, and many of you pointed out that you were able to score deep—like less than $400—discounts on this puppy, especially around the holidays. For your money, you get a 50” panel at 1080p and 120Hz with three HDMI ports, a USB port for music and video on external storage, all the other connectors you would expect (VGA, component, composite, etc), wall mount support, and a one year warranty. The panel even supports local dimming, which helps improve contrast and gives you darker blacks in parts of the screen where they’re needed, and the ability to auto-adjust based on room brightness. VIZIO’s suite of smart TV apps are also included, including baked-in apps to stream services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video, as well as social apps like Twitter and Facebook, streaming music from Pandora and Spotify, and more. The TV has Wi-Fi built in, so you don’t need to run an Ethernet cable to it, either. It’s the top of the VIZIO E-class series of HDTVs, and for the money you get the great image quality and color most people have come to associate with VIZIO’s budget-friendly-but-top-performing panels. Plus, VIZIO’s design gives you a super-thin panel with a tiny bezel, but also twin, minimal-looking legs instead of a usual stand.http://www.amazon.com/VIZIO-E50-C1-5…

Those of you who nominated the E50-C1 shared the various price points you picked up the panel for—one of you said you grabbed one for around $450, and a few others of you pointed to holiday sales and Super Bowl sales as great opportunities to save big here. Even if you wind up paying full price, you praised it for being a VA panel (instead of a traditional IPS), having incredible color accuracy, and for VIZIO’s customer support. You can read more in its nomination thread here.


Sceptre E555BV-FMQR 55” LED HDTV

Five Best Budget HDTVs

This Sceptre panel is about $500 exactly at Amazon, which puts it at the top end of our budget here, but for your money you get a full 55” 1080p 60Hz LED TV, three HDMI ports, a USB port for photos or videos on external storage, MHL support, a beautiful tempered glass stand and a thin bezel, and built-in surround sound speakers. It’s VESA-mountable, and all-around a solid, budget-friendly panel. Image quality and color reproduction are solid, and while you don’t get a ton of features in it, this panel does deliver on the things that matter most, especially if you’re watching how much you spend and still want a nice big screen for the living room. Overall, it’s a solid, well-rounded HDTV that won’t disappoint, and if it does, it comes with a one-year warranty.http://www.amazon.com/Sceptre-55-Cla…

Those of you who nominated the Sceptre pointed out that you have yours and love it, or have a similarly-sized model and love that one. It’s not brimming with features, but what you lose in features you get back in screen size—plus many of you mentioned that while the panel is $500 as of this writing, it’s frequently on sale at deep discounts. One of you said you picked yours up for $399, and this particular model is available online or in store at Costco, Best Buy, and a number of other retail locations. You can read more in its nomination thread here.


Seiki SE39UY04 39” 4K Ultra HD LED TV

Five Best Budget HDTVs

If you have to have a 4K panel and you’re willing to sacrifice a little screen real estate to get what you want, this Seiki 4K 39” 120Hz Ultra HD display will do the trick, and it’s only $369 at Amazon. Technically discontinued (as Seiki is ramping up production and rollout of newer, bigger 4K displays and models), it’s still widely available, and well loved for being one of the first really affordable 4K panels that you could use as a TV, or as a computer monitor. It even earned an honorable mention in our five best budget computer monitors Hive Five earlier this year. Keep in mind that the panel is 120Hz when viewing standard HD content—when bump up to 4K, you drop to 30Hz. You’ll skimp on a few features here, but you still get the basics, three HDMI ports, two USB ports (one for service use only, but the other for images—not other media however,) VGA and component and composite connections, and more. There’s no smart functionality here, and no apps or anything, but if you want an affordable 4K display that can do 4K when connected to a source that supports it (like a PC or laptop’s video out) and looks solid, but = still can handle 1080p pretty nicely, this is a great option—at least until some of the newer Seiki models come down in price.http://www.amazon.com/Seiki-SE39UY04…

Those of you who nominated this panel pointed to its great price, and the fact that it’s a 4K panel that can serve as a monitor and an HDTV as great selling points. You noted that the price is great, and the design is solid too—it’s a thin display with a nice thin bezel. Support for some of the newer Seiki panels appeared in the nominations thread as well, with a few of you pointing to a 42” Seiki SE 1080p model (not 4K) that’s as low as $280 in some places. You can read the original nomination thread for the 4K panel here, and the additional nominations thread here.http://lifehacker.com/five-best-budg…


VIZIO e500i-A1 50” Smart LED HDTV

Five Best Budget HDTVs

Where the E50 is the current, 2015 line of smart HDTVs, the e500i-A1 is the 2013 line, and it picked up a bunch of nominations for bringing lots of features to the party at bargain-friendly prices. Available from third parties for around $399 at Amazon (check the Amazon Seller listings), you get a 50” 1080p, 120Hz LED panel with all the smart TV features you expect from VIZIO, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, streaming music from Pandora and Spotify, and tons more. The panel itself supports active LED zones that can be activated or deactivated depending on whether they’re needed, a screen that auto-adjusts to match room brightness, built-in Wi-Fi, a lovely app launcher to get you right where you want to be when you turn the TV on, four HDMI ports and all the standard video connectivity options, a USB port on the side for external media, wall mount support, and of course, VIZIO’s standard one year warranty. As usual, you may have to dig a little bit to find this set, since it’s an older version and has been replaced by the E50-C1 we mentioned above, but if you can get one, either new or refurb, you’ll find a great panel at a low price.

Those of you who nominated the e500i-A1 pointed out that this flagship panel was ahead of its time when it was new, so you’re not really missing anything by upgrading now. You get a great screen for less-than-flagship prices, and that it was one of the first to come with the full array LED lighting and local dimming that’s now become standard on VIZIO’s better panels. A few of you mentioned that you didn’t care for VIZIO’s smart TV apps and that you preferred your own set-top box instead, and you have plenty of connectivity options for that if you want to go that route. A few of you shared your calibration and setup tips, but most of all, you largely agreed that this panel—and VIZIO in general—offer a good balance of picture quality for the money you spend. Read more in its nomination thread here.


Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to a vote and determine the Lifehacker community favorite! Cast your vote below:


Honorable Mentions

This week’s honorable mention goes out to the LG 42LF5600 42” 1080p LCD HDTV, which will set you back around $360 at Amazon. For your money you get a 42” 60Hz panel with two HDMI ports, but you get great image quality at a modest price. You don’t get the same features as some of the others in the roundup, and a few of you pointed to the lack of video connectors as a drawback, but overall it’s a solid panel at a decent price. Some of you said you specifically liked yours for gaming. You can read all about it in its nomination thread here.http://www.amazon.com/LG-42LF5600-42…

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.

The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at tips+hivefive@lifehacker.com!

Title photo by Maurizio Pesce.

High-resolution photos from Miller Motorcars

High-resolution photos from Miller Motorcars in Greenwich, CT.

Read more…

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Most HDTVs ship with default settings that are meant to look good in store showrooms, but they’re not ideal in your home. Thankfully, with the right tools, calibrating an HDTV to your viewing style is easy, and you can do it in less than a half-hour.

Blast from the past is a new weekly feature at Lifehacker, in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This week, we’re talking about the easiest upgrade you can make to your home theater: proper TV calibration.

Before You Get Started

All of the calibrations and settings we’re going to work with here are easily accessible on most HDTVs. We won’t dive into the service menu to make minute or precision changes just yet, and nothing we’re about to do here is any substitute for the work of a professional calibration service. The goal here is to optimize the picture for your viewing environment and your preferences, and save you from spending money on an entry-level calibration service like Best Buy’s when you could do the same yourself.

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

What You’ll Need

  • An LCD or Plasma HDTV that needs calibrating
  • A Blu-Ray Player compatible with AVCHD, or Advanced Video Coding High Definition, a file format and video compression standard for high definition video. Most Blu-Ray players already support it, butScroll to Blu-Ray Players List to double-check that yours is. Alternatively, an XBox 360 capable of full HD playback will do.
  • The original remote controls for your DVD player and your HDTV (or a Logitech Harmony Remote, which can emulate the buttons on the original remotes). Generic universal remotes won’t work because they’re frequently missing buttons or commands required to tweak your TV’s setup menus.
  • A calibration disc. The AVS HD 709 Calibration Disc is the one we’re using. It’s free, easy to use, has all of the calibration patterns we’ll need, and can be downloaded and burned to a DVD or Blu-ray Disc.

The AVS HD 709 isn’t the only calibration disc available, there are others like the Spears and Munsil calibration disc or Digital Video Essentials that have their own tutorials. We’re sticking with the AVS HD 709 because it’s free, can be downloaded and burned to a standard DVD or a Blu-ray disc and played in just about any player (even in an HTPC or Xbox 360), and its easy to get started with. Combined with this guide, you’ll get great results.

Step 1: Find Your Contrast, Brightness, and Other Basic Picture Settings

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Before you do anything, the first thing to do is make yourself familiar with your TV’s controls and their current settings. If you unboxed your television, put it on your entertainment center, turned it on, and never looked back, now’s the time to grab your remote, grab the manual (or visit the manufacturer’s web site to download a copy) and take a look at the settings. You’re going to need to know how to get to the contrast, brightness, overscan (sometimes labeled "picture size" or "HD size"), and other basic settings to calibrate your television.

If you’ve never spent quality time with the settings, it’s also possible you have your set dialed in to the "vivid" or "cinema" modes that the manufacturer configured to make their set pop on store shelves. That’s fine if your TV is one among a wall of dozens, but it’s horrible for watching movies, sports, or Blu-ray discs. Once you’ve figured out how to get into your TV’s settings, the first thing you should do is set everything back to their defaults, just in case. It’s always better to start from a clean slate.

Now drop the AVS HD 709 into your Blu-ray player (which may also need to be set to its default video output settings, if you’ve changed them) and let’s get started.

Step 2: Eliminate Overscan for Full, Pixel-to-Pixel Viewing

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

The first and easiest change you can make to your TV to improve your viewing experience is to eliminate overscan. Overscan is the over-projection of an image beyond the borders of your HDTV or display. It’s a holdover from rear-projection and CRT televisions where the actual image is blown up to actually be larger than the edges of the screen so you wouldn’t see any artifacts or compression errors on the edges of the picture. With today’s LCD and Plasma displays, all overscan does rob you of a 1-to-1 pixel mapping for your HD video, making your video look stretched out. Plus, overscan eliminates the area around the edges of the screen, so you’re missing detail you may want to see. Here’s how to fix it.

  • After loading the AVD HD 709 calibration disc, start the "Basic Settings" program from the DVD menu.
  • Forward to the 5th chapter to see the overscan and calibration image shown here.
  • If you can see the entire image, including the outside white line, overscan on your set is disabled. If all you see at the edges of your screen are one of the blue borders, overscan is turned on, and it’s time to turn it off.
  • Put the DVD remote down, pick up the TV remote, and go to your TV’s "picture size" or "screen size" settings. (On my Panasonic plasma, this setting is buried under "HD size," so look around for any option you get to select the size and shape of the display area.)
  • Change the settings until you can see the white line on the outside. There’s almost always an option that disables overscan entirely.

With overscan disabled, you can rest knowing that you’re actually seeing everything that was intended to be seen on your Blu-ray discs or HD programs, and none of the outside detail is being clipped away thanks to an holdover from the days of old television sets. Plus, when you’re watching true HD programming in 1080p/i you’ll know you’re getting the whole picture, pixel-for-pixel, as clear as possible.

Step 3: Tweak the Brightness for Deep, Dark Black Levels

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Brightness on a television, or "black level," on some sets, actually has little to do with how much "pop" the screen has, and instead defines at what level the darkest areas of the screen stop. In other words, it’s the setting where your TV stops reducing power to the pixels and says "okay, that’s dark enough to be black." Turn it up too high, and black areas in your picture are washed out and grainy. Turn it down too low and you lose all detail in dark areas of a scene, and everything looks like it was shot in a basement.

Brightness should be configured when the TV is nice and warmed up and the lighting in your living room or bedroom is set to its normal level for when you watch television. This is important—the degree to which the human eye can interpret detail in dark areas is directly related to the amount of ambient light in the room, so make sure the lighting in the room is normal for when you most often watch your television. Here’s how you configure brightness using the AVS HD 709 disc:

  • From the DVD menu, select "Basic Settings" and start the first chapter. You’ll see the test pattern here. In motion, there are flashing white bars behind each number, so don’t be surprised.
  • Line 16 is your "reference black," or the area that should always be black, even though there are subtle white bars flashing behind the others.
  • Pick up your TV remote, and in the display settings, change the brightness so line 16 is always black and you can no longer see the flashing white bar behind it, but you can see the flashing white bar behind line 17.
  • If you’re properly dialed in for your room and your set, you should barely be able to make out the flashing bars behind line 17 and up, and the higher you go, the more obvious the flashing bars should be. Line 16 and below should remain black, no matter what. If you’re borderline between a little higher or a little darker, go darker.

Most televisions have the brightness set entirely too high by default, so it’s just a matter of bringing it down until it’s configured just right. Keep in mind though that if you’re calibrating your TV in a room that’s brighter than usual, your ability to see dark detail will be reduced. If you add a lamp to your living room or start watching more movies with the lights on, you should come back here and tweak the brightness again so you’re not missing anything.

Step 4: Adjust the Contrast for Pure, Bright White

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Contrast (not Contrast Ratio, which is not something you can change) represents the total light output of the picture. Unfortunately, in order to make the image on the screen "pop," most manufacturers turn the contrast entirely too high before they ship their sets. Contrast settings define the overall light output of the set, and this time your goal is to keep the light output as high as possible without sacrificing image quality or detail. Here’s what to do:

  • Again, select "Basic Settings." Fast forward to the third chapter. You’ll see the test pattern shown here. There should be subtle black lines flashing behind each number.
  • Pick up the TV remote. Adjust the contrast so you can clearly see the flashing bars behind lines 230-234.
  • Line 235 is "reference white," or the limit above which there’s supposedly no additional detail in HD video, so if you can’t see the flashing bars beyond it, you’re in good shape. If you can, don’t worry – that just means you’ll get the detail if there is any, but don’t go crazy trying to get the contrast set so you can see it. You’ll know it’s too high if the flashing bars start to take on a reddish color—they should be grey at all times.
  • Now that your contrast is dialed in, grab the DVD remote, and back up to the 2nd chapter. You’ll see the test pattern below.
  • This test pattern, with a white outer border and a black bar across the horizontal center, lets you calibrate brightness and contrast simultaneously. Changing contrast affects brightness, and vice versa, so you want to make sure that after changing one, you haven’t adversely changed the other.
  • On this test screen, you’ll see flashing grey bars behind the white numbers at the top, and flashing white bars behind the black bars in the center. Again, reference white and reference black are noted.
  • Make sure that anything below reference black is truly black and you don’t see flashing bars. Make sure anything above reference white is either pure white and not flashing, or that the grey bars are faint and grey without any color or hue. Make very fine adjustments here, nothing big.

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

If you set the TV settings to the default like we suggested, your TV’s "color temperature" should be set to its default, or "normal" setting. If not, make sure you do this when you’re tweaking the brightness and the contrast—it will make sure that your whites are pure white and don’t take on some a blueish tone (if your color temperature is set to "cool") or a reddish hue (if your color temperature is set to "warm"). If you’re set to normal and your whites are still too blue, go ahead and switch to the warm color temperature. Ideally, you want your color temperature as close as possible to 6500 Kelvin (6500K), or the reference temperature used by directors and producers when they shoot and edit video. Often this is accomplished by switching to the "warm" setting, but only do so if it looks realistic—don’t do it because you feel like you "have to."

Once you’re finished here, your brightness and contrast are all dialed in. It’s time to move on to sharpness.

Step 5: Adjust the Sharpness for a Clearer Picture

Sharpness creates the illusion of clearer, crisper images by artificially inflating the peak white in your display. You’re adding information to the image you see on-screen, and by increasing the sharpness you’re trying to walk the line between making sure black lines and borders aren’t fuzzy and everything is as crisp as it can be without making compression artifacts in your HD television streams or Blu-ray discs really obvious on-screen. Some enthusiasts insist that because turning up the sharpness introduces information to the picture that was never intended to be there, you should set it to zero and move on—I can respect that, but give it a try first and see if you like it before you turn it off completely. Here’s how you do it:

  • From the DVD menu on the AVS HD 709, go back to "basic settings" and forward to the fifth chapter—that’s right, the same one we used for overscan. (If you’re curious why we didn’t do this first, it’s because it’s important to have brightness and contrast properly set before working with sharpness.)
  • The pattern in the center of the screen will be your guide here. Grab the TV remote, and turn the sharpness all the way up. You should notice that around the edges of the black lines you’ll start to see a Moire Pattern, or lines where there really shouldn’t be any. They may look like a curved line pattern, radially stretching across the black lines.
  • That’s your cue that the sharpness is up entirely too high. Back it down from there until you can no longer see the radial patterns across the black lines, but the black lines themselves stand out full and clear from the white space between them. It’ll be difficult, and it’ll take a good eye.
  • Be careful not to turn the sharpness down too far (unless you hate it anyway) because you may wind up softening the detail in the image and the black lines will appear a little fuzzy. Experiment, and see what makes you most comfortable.

Sharpness is a contentious feature. The only way to decide whether you want to turn it off entirely or leave it on is to give it a try. The important thing to do is to set it somewhere that enhances the viewing experience for you. If you’re having trouble, start in the center instead of the extremes and work your way around the scale from there.

Step 6: Make Sure You’re Not Bleeding Colors

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Finally, it’s time to check and make sure that you can clearly see the difference between each color in a broad gradient, that you can clearly see the difference between green and red, and the difference between shades of green and red. To check, you’ll need a color pattern that steps through color gradients evenly. Thankfully, our calibration disc has a pair of color patterns to help.

  • At the DVD menu, select "Misc Patterns."
  • Select "A – Additional," and forward to the third chapter. You should see the stepping pattern here.
  • Look closely and make sure that you can see the steps between each color, from brightest to darkest, and even to black, even if they’re subtle.
  • If you can’t make out the color stepping, there’s no simple fix by tweaking one setting, but you can try backing off of the brightness or lowering the sharpness a little bit to make sure the colors aren’t too washed out.
  • Once you’re satisfied that you can see the color stepping, move forward to the next chapter to test for color clipping.
  • How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 MinutesThe pattern you’ll see is similar to the contrast and brightness patterns. Make sure you can see the flashing lines up to the Green, Red, and Blue markers in each column (number 235) and afterward the colors should be solid.
  • Again, there’s no quick fix if it’s not configured properly, but tweaking the brightness or sharpness can help a bit.

If everything is set up correctly, these steps should just be to test the colors after everything else is tweaked to be just the way you like. You can adjust the tint to try and adjust clipping or bleeding, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Remember, every time you adjust brightness or contrast, you should go back to the combined test pattern to make sure they’re aligned well, so don’t change one without checking the other afterward.

Extra Credit: Get a Blue Filter and Adjust the Tint

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

If you’re up for some extra credit, adjusting the Tint on your HDTV will make sure that skin tones look realistic and lifelike, and people with pale skin don’t take on a green or reddish tone, and people with dark skin don’t look brownish-green.

The key to adjusting the tint properly is to get a blue filter or a pair of blue glasses first. Blue glasses are available from THX for less than $2, and if you pick up the Digital Video Essentials calibration disc we mentioned earlier, it’ll ship with one. If your HDTV has a built-in "blue mode," that you can turn on and off in the settings, use that instead! Using your set’s built-in blue filter will give you the best results, but fair warning, it’s not common and only some of the newest sets released in the past two years have them. Once your blue filter is on-screen or in front of your eyes, here’s how you adjust the tint:

  • From the "Basic Settings" program, skip forward to chapter 4, the flashing color test. You should see the test pattern shown here, with the small boxes inside the broad lines flashing periodically. Under blue filter, those vertical lines should be blue and black.
  • Adjust the tint up or down (most sets leave it in the middle by default) until the flashing box inside the blue lines fades away completely, and you can no longer see it flashing.

That’s all there is to configuring tint. When you take off the blue filter, you may not notice too much of a difference, but it’ll be there when you watch a Blu-ray disc when people’s skin tones look more natural. As always, you may need to go back and check brightness and contrast to make sure those settings still look good to you now that you’ve adjusted another setting.

Check Your Work: Watch a Blu-Ray Movie or Full-HD Video

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Once you’ve finished adjusting your TV’s settings, it’s time to put it to the test. Fire up your favorite Blu-ray movie or stream something from the web (as long as it’s full 1080p/i HD)—preferably something colorful—and take a good look to make sure you’re happy with the way everything turned out. If you’re not, tweak the individual settings or repeat the process above to dial in your settings just right.

If you’re looking for good films with vibrant color that you can use to test your calibration, I recommend a movie that’s translated well to Blu-ray, like The Fifth Element, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or just about any Disney film. The point isn’t to enjoy the film (unless you like it, of course) but to test your tint settings to make sure flesh tones look natural, contrast and brightness to make sure you can see details in dark corners and spaces, overscan to make sure you’re not losing any of the picture off the sides of the screen, and color to make sure bright colors don’t glow unless they’re supposed to, and aren’t washed out and dull.

You may need to watch a few movies, football games, and TV shows to really make sure you’re happy with the settings, so don’t hesitate to try something else, watch it, and change the settings some more even if you’ve settled on something. The goal is to calibrate your TV to your viewing environment and your eye. Don’t be shy!

Graduate School: Get Into the Service Menu for More Precise Tweaks

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Now that your TV is calibrated, you can trust that you’re seeing the Blu-ray movies and streaming video you own the way they were intended to be viewed, and the best your HDTV can display given your living room. However, HDTV calibration doesn’t stop here. In fact, we’ve only scratched the surface of what you could do.

Many professional HDTV calibration services will access your TV’s service menu using a special code or combination of button-presses on the remote control or the side of the TV, and fine-tune the picture with the more granular and precise controls available there. However, there’s a reason your owner’s manual won’t tell you how to get into the service menu and what all of the options are—most manufacturers will tell you that only certified and qualified professionals should work in there, warn you that you’d void your warranty by doing so, and advise you that mistakes and errors in the service menu can render your HDTV inoperable. That’s right—it can brick your HDTV.

That’s no excuse to learn more. If you’re interested in getting under the hood to do some serious fine tuning and additional calibration, a good place to start reading is the AVS Forum. Most manufacturers and HDTV models have a thread or sub-board there that you can lurk in and read to learn as much as you can about your set before you dive in. The community at the AVS Forum is helpful and willing to answer informed questions. When you’re ready to take the plunge, you’ll also likely find your service code and some calibration settings to try posted by a fellow user who’s been where you are with the set you already own.


A few basic tweaks to your HDTV’s picture settings will yield big benefits the next time you sit down to watch the big game or fire up your copy of Planet Earth on Blu-ray, and they don’t take much time to make. Just make sure you keep your calibration disc handy in case you want to refine your settings or calibrate another TV, and don’t be afraid to tinker with the settings if something doesn’t look right. After all, it’s your viewing experience that matters.


You can reach Alan Henry, the author of this post, at alan@lifehacker.com, or better yet, follow him on Twitter or Google+.

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Most HDTVs ship with default settings that are meant to look good in store showrooms, but they’re not ideal in your home. Thankfully, with the right tools, calibrating an HDTV to your viewing style is easy, and you can do it in less than a half-hour.

Blast from the past is a new weekly feature at Lifehacker, in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This week, we’re talking about the easiest upgrade you can make to your home theater: proper TV calibration.

Before You Get Started

All of the calibrations and settings we’re going to work with here are easily accessible on most HDTVs. We won’t dive into the service menu to make minute or precision changes just yet, and nothing we’re about to do here is any substitute for the work of a professional calibration service. The goal here is to optimize the picture for your viewing environment and your preferences, and save you from spending money on an entry-level calibration service like Best Buy’s when you could do the same yourself.

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

What You’ll Need

  • An LCD or Plasma HDTV that needs calibrating
  • A Blu-Ray Player compatible with AVCHD, or Advanced Video Coding High Definition, a file format and video compression standard for high definition video. Most Blu-Ray players already support it, butScroll to Blu-Ray Players List to double-check that yours is. Alternatively, an XBox 360 capable of full HD playback will do.
  • The original remote controls for your DVD player and your HDTV (or a Logitech Harmony Remote, which can emulate the buttons on the original remotes). Generic universal remotes won’t work because they’re frequently missing buttons or commands required to tweak your TV’s setup menus.
  • A calibration disc. The AVS HD 709 Calibration Disc is the one we’re using. It’s free, easy to use, has all of the calibration patterns we’ll need, and can be downloaded and burned to a DVD or Blu-ray Disc.

The AVS HD 709 isn’t the only calibration disc available, there are others like the Spears and Munsil calibration disc or Digital Video Essentials that have their own tutorials. We’re sticking with the AVS HD 709 because it’s free, can be downloaded and burned to a standard DVD or a Blu-ray disc and played in just about any player (even in an HTPC or Xbox 360), and its easy to get started with. Combined with this guide, you’ll get great results.

Step 1: Find Your Contrast, Brightness, and Other Basic Picture Settings

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Before you do anything, the first thing to do is make yourself familiar with your TV’s controls and their current settings. If you unboxed your television, put it on your entertainment center, turned it on, and never looked back, now’s the time to grab your remote, grab the manual (or visit the manufacturer’s web site to download a copy) and take a look at the settings. You’re going to need to know how to get to the contrast, brightness, overscan (sometimes labeled "picture size" or "HD size"), and other basic settings to calibrate your television.

If you’ve never spent quality time with the settings, it’s also possible you have your set dialed in to the "vivid" or "cinema" modes that the manufacturer configured to make their set pop on store shelves. That’s fine if your TV is one among a wall of dozens, but it’s horrible for watching movies, sports, or Blu-ray discs. Once you’ve figured out how to get into your TV’s settings, the first thing you should do is set everything back to their defaults, just in case. It’s always better to start from a clean slate.

Now drop the AVS HD 709 into your Blu-ray player (which may also need to be set to its default video output settings, if you’ve changed them) and let’s get started.

Step 2: Eliminate Overscan for Full, Pixel-to-Pixel Viewing

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

The first and easiest change you can make to your TV to improve your viewing experience is to eliminate overscan. Overscan is the over-projection of an image beyond the borders of your HDTV or display. It’s a holdover from rear-projection and CRT televisions where the actual image is blown up to actually be larger than the edges of the screen so you wouldn’t see any artifacts or compression errors on the edges of the picture. With today’s LCD and Plasma displays, all overscan does rob you of a 1-to-1 pixel mapping for your HD video, making your video look stretched out. Plus, overscan eliminates the area around the edges of the screen, so you’re missing detail you may want to see. Here’s how to fix it.

  • After loading the AVD HD 709 calibration disc, start the "Basic Settings" program from the DVD menu.
  • Forward to the 5th chapter to see the overscan and calibration image shown here.
  • If you can see the entire image, including the outside white line, overscan on your set is disabled. If all you see at the edges of your screen are one of the blue borders, overscan is turned on, and it’s time to turn it off.
  • Put the DVD remote down, pick up the TV remote, and go to your TV’s "picture size" or "screen size" settings. (On my Panasonic plasma, this setting is buried under "HD size," so look around for any option you get to select the size and shape of the display area.)
  • Change the settings until you can see the white line on the outside. There’s almost always an option that disables overscan entirely.

With overscan disabled, you can rest knowing that you’re actually seeing everything that was intended to be seen on your Blu-ray discs or HD programs, and none of the outside detail is being clipped away thanks to an holdover from the days of old television sets. Plus, when you’re watching true HD programming in 1080p/i you’ll know you’re getting the whole picture, pixel-for-pixel, as clear as possible.

Step 3: Tweak the Brightness for Deep, Dark Black Levels

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Brightness on a television, or "black level," on some sets, actually has little to do with how much "pop" the screen has, and instead defines at what level the darkest areas of the screen stop. In other words, it’s the setting where your TV stops reducing power to the pixels and says "okay, that’s dark enough to be black." Turn it up too high, and black areas in your picture are washed out and grainy. Turn it down too low and you lose all detail in dark areas of a scene, and everything looks like it was shot in a basement.

Brightness should be configured when the TV is nice and warmed up and the lighting in your living room or bedroom is set to its normal level for when you watch television. This is important—the degree to which the human eye can interpret detail in dark areas is directly related to the amount of ambient light in the room, so make sure the lighting in the room is normal for when you most often watch your television. Here’s how you configure brightness using the AVS HD 709 disc:

  • From the DVD menu, select "Basic Settings" and start the first chapter. You’ll see the test pattern here. In motion, there are flashing white bars behind each number, so don’t be surprised.
  • Line 16 is your "reference black," or the area that should always be black, even though there are subtle white bars flashing behind the others.
  • Pick up your TV remote, and in the display settings, change the brightness so line 16 is always black and you can no longer see the flashing white bar behind it, but you can see the flashing white bar behind line 17.
  • If you’re properly dialed in for your room and your set, you should barely be able to make out the flashing bars behind line 17 and up, and the higher you go, the more obvious the flashing bars should be. Line 16 and below should remain black, no matter what. If you’re borderline between a little higher or a little darker, go darker.

Most televisions have the brightness set entirely too high by default, so it’s just a matter of bringing it down until it’s configured just right. Keep in mind though that if you’re calibrating your TV in a room that’s brighter than usual, your ability to see dark detail will be reduced. If you add a lamp to your living room or start watching more movies with the lights on, you should come back here and tweak the brightness again so you’re not missing anything.

Step 4: Adjust the Contrast for Pure, Bright White

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Contrast (not Contrast Ratio, which is not something you can change) represents the total light output of the picture. Unfortunately, in order to make the image on the screen "pop," most manufacturers turn the contrast entirely too high before they ship their sets. Contrast settings define the overall light output of the set, and this time your goal is to keep the light output as high as possible without sacrificing image quality or detail. Here’s what to do:

  • Again, select "Basic Settings." Fast forward to the third chapter. You’ll see the test pattern shown here. There should be subtle black lines flashing behind each number.
  • Pick up the TV remote. Adjust the contrast so you can clearly see the flashing bars behind lines 230-234.
  • Line 235 is "reference white," or the limit above which there’s supposedly no additional detail in HD video, so if you can’t see the flashing bars beyond it, you’re in good shape. If you can, don’t worry – that just means you’ll get the detail if there is any, but don’t go crazy trying to get the contrast set so you can see it. You’ll know it’s too high if the flashing bars start to take on a reddish color—they should be grey at all times.
  • Now that your contrast is dialed in, grab the DVD remote, and back up to the 2nd chapter. You’ll see the test pattern below.
  • This test pattern, with a white outer border and a black bar across the horizontal center, lets you calibrate brightness and contrast simultaneously. Changing contrast affects brightness, and vice versa, so you want to make sure that after changing one, you haven’t adversely changed the other.
  • On this test screen, you’ll see flashing grey bars behind the white numbers at the top, and flashing white bars behind the black bars in the center. Again, reference white and reference black are noted.
  • Make sure that anything below reference black is truly black and you don’t see flashing bars. Make sure anything above reference white is either pure white and not flashing, or that the grey bars are faint and grey without any color or hue. Make very fine adjustments here, nothing big.

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

If you set the TV settings to the default like we suggested, your TV’s "color temperature" should be set to its default, or "normal" setting. If not, make sure you do this when you’re tweaking the brightness and the contrast—it will make sure that your whites are pure white and don’t take on some a blueish tone (if your color temperature is set to "cool") or a reddish hue (if your color temperature is set to "warm"). If you’re set to normal and your whites are still too blue, go ahead and switch to the warm color temperature. Ideally, you want your color temperature as close as possible to 6500 Kelvin (6500K), or the reference temperature used by directors and producers when they shoot and edit video. Often this is accomplished by switching to the "warm" setting, but only do so if it looks realistic—don’t do it because you feel like you "have to."

Once you’re finished here, your brightness and contrast are all dialed in. It’s time to move on to sharpness.

Step 5: Adjust the Sharpness for a Clearer Picture

Sharpness creates the illusion of clearer, crisper images by artificially inflating the peak white in your display. You’re adding information to the image you see on-screen, and by increasing the sharpness you’re trying to walk the line between making sure black lines and borders aren’t fuzzy and everything is as crisp as it can be without making compression artifacts in your HD television streams or Blu-ray discs really obvious on-screen. Some enthusiasts insist that because turning up the sharpness introduces information to the picture that was never intended to be there, you should set it to zero and move on—I can respect that, but give it a try first and see if you like it before you turn it off completely. Here’s how you do it:

  • From the DVD menu on the AVS HD 709, go back to "basic settings" and forward to the fifth chapter—that’s right, the same one we used for overscan. (If you’re curious why we didn’t do this first, it’s because it’s important to have brightness and contrast properly set before working with sharpness.)
  • The pattern in the center of the screen will be your guide here. Grab the TV remote, and turn the sharpness all the way up. You should notice that around the edges of the black lines you’ll start to see a Moire Pattern, or lines where there really shouldn’t be any. They may look like a curved line pattern, radially stretching across the black lines.
  • That’s your cue that the sharpness is up entirely too high. Back it down from there until you can no longer see the radial patterns across the black lines, but the black lines themselves stand out full and clear from the white space between them. It’ll be difficult, and it’ll take a good eye.
  • Be careful not to turn the sharpness down too far (unless you hate it anyway) because you may wind up softening the detail in the image and the black lines will appear a little fuzzy. Experiment, and see what makes you most comfortable.

Sharpness is a contentious feature. The only way to decide whether you want to turn it off entirely or leave it on is to give it a try. The important thing to do is to set it somewhere that enhances the viewing experience for you. If you’re having trouble, start in the center instead of the extremes and work your way around the scale from there.

Step 6: Make Sure You’re Not Bleeding Colors

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Finally, it’s time to check and make sure that you can clearly see the difference between each color in a broad gradient, that you can clearly see the difference between green and red, and the difference between shades of green and red. To check, you’ll need a color pattern that steps through color gradients evenly. Thankfully, our calibration disc has a pair of color patterns to help.

  • At the DVD menu, select "Misc Patterns."
  • Select "A – Additional," and forward to the third chapter. You should see the stepping pattern here.
  • Look closely and make sure that you can see the steps between each color, from brightest to darkest, and even to black, even if they’re subtle.
  • If you can’t make out the color stepping, there’s no simple fix by tweaking one setting, but you can try backing off of the brightness or lowering the sharpness a little bit to make sure the colors aren’t too washed out.
  • Once you’re satisfied that you can see the color stepping, move forward to the next chapter to test for color clipping.
  • How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 MinutesThe pattern you’ll see is similar to the contrast and brightness patterns. Make sure you can see the flashing lines up to the Green, Red, and Blue markers in each column (number 235) and afterward the colors should be solid.
  • Again, there’s no quick fix if it’s not configured properly, but tweaking the brightness or sharpness can help a bit.

If everything is set up correctly, these steps should just be to test the colors after everything else is tweaked to be just the way you like. You can adjust the tint to try and adjust clipping or bleeding, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Remember, every time you adjust brightness or contrast, you should go back to the combined test pattern to make sure they’re aligned well, so don’t change one without checking the other afterward.

Extra Credit: Get a Blue Filter and Adjust the Tint

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

If you’re up for some extra credit, adjusting the Tint on your HDTV will make sure that skin tones look realistic and lifelike, and people with pale skin don’t take on a green or reddish tone, and people with dark skin don’t look brownish-green.

The key to adjusting the tint properly is to get a blue filter or a pair of blue glasses first. Blue glasses are available from THX for less than $2, and if you pick up the Digital Video Essentials calibration disc we mentioned earlier, it’ll ship with one. If your HDTV has a built-in "blue mode," that you can turn on and off in the settings, use that instead! Using your set’s built-in blue filter will give you the best results, but fair warning, it’s not common and only some of the newest sets released in the past two years have them. Once your blue filter is on-screen or in front of your eyes, here’s how you adjust the tint:

  • From the "Basic Settings" program, skip forward to chapter 4, the flashing color test. You should see the test pattern shown here, with the small boxes inside the broad lines flashing periodically. Under blue filter, those vertical lines should be blue and black.
  • Adjust the tint up or down (most sets leave it in the middle by default) until the flashing box inside the blue lines fades away completely, and you can no longer see it flashing.

That’s all there is to configuring tint. When you take off the blue filter, you may not notice too much of a difference, but it’ll be there when you watch a Blu-ray disc when people’s skin tones look more natural. As always, you may need to go back and check brightness and contrast to make sure those settings still look good to you now that you’ve adjusted another setting.

Check Your Work: Watch a Blu-Ray Movie or Full-HD Video

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Once you’ve finished adjusting your TV’s settings, it’s time to put it to the test. Fire up your favorite Blu-ray movie or stream something from the web (as long as it’s full 1080p/i HD)—preferably something colorful—and take a good look to make sure you’re happy with the way everything turned out. If you’re not, tweak the individual settings or repeat the process above to dial in your settings just right.

If you’re looking for good films with vibrant color that you can use to test your calibration, I recommend a movie that’s translated well to Blu-ray, like The Fifth Element, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or just about any Disney film. The point isn’t to enjoy the film (unless you like it, of course) but to test your tint settings to make sure flesh tones look natural, contrast and brightness to make sure you can see details in dark corners and spaces, overscan to make sure you’re not losing any of the picture off the sides of the screen, and color to make sure bright colors don’t glow unless they’re supposed to, and aren’t washed out and dull.

You may need to watch a few movies, football games, and TV shows to really make sure you’re happy with the settings, so don’t hesitate to try something else, watch it, and change the settings some more even if you’ve settled on something. The goal is to calibrate your TV to your viewing environment and your eye. Don’t be shy!

Graduate School: Get Into the Service Menu for More Precise Tweaks

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Now that your TV is calibrated, you can trust that you’re seeing the Blu-ray movies and streaming video you own the way they were intended to be viewed, and the best your HDTV can display given your living room. However, HDTV calibration doesn’t stop here. In fact, we’ve only scratched the surface of what you could do.

Many professional HDTV calibration services will access your TV’s service menu using a special code or combination of button-presses on the remote control or the side of the TV, and fine-tune the picture with the more granular and precise controls available there. However, there’s a reason your owner’s manual won’t tell you how to get into the service menu and what all of the options are—most manufacturers will tell you that only certified and qualified professionals should work in there, warn you that you’d void your warranty by doing so, and advise you that mistakes and errors in the service menu can render your HDTV inoperable. That’s right—it can brick your HDTV.

That’s no excuse to learn more. If you’re interested in getting under the hood to do some serious fine tuning and additional calibration, a good place to start reading is the AVS Forum. Most manufacturers and HDTV models have a thread or sub-board there that you can lurk in and read to learn as much as you can about your set before you dive in. The community at the AVS Forum is helpful and willing to answer informed questions. When you’re ready to take the plunge, you’ll also likely find your service code and some calibration settings to try posted by a fellow user who’s been where you are with the set you already own.


A few basic tweaks to your HDTV’s picture settings will yield big benefits the next time you sit down to watch the big game or fire up your copy of Planet Earth on Blu-ray, and they don’t take much time to make. Just make sure you keep your calibration disc handy in case you want to refine your settings or calibrate another TV, and don’t be afraid to tinker with the settings if something doesn’t look right. After all, it’s your viewing experience that matters.


You can reach Alan Henry, the author of this post, at alan@lifehacker.com, or better yet, follow him on Twitter or Google+.

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Most HDTVs ship with default settings that are meant to look good in store showrooms, but they’re not ideal in your home. Thankfully, with the right tools, calibrating an HDTV to your viewing style is easy, and you can do it in less than a half-hour.

Blast from the past is a new weekly feature at Lifehacker, in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This week, we’re talking about the easiest upgrade you can make to your home theater: proper TV calibration.

Before You Get Started

All of the calibrations and settings we’re going to work with here are easily accessible on most HDTVs. We won’t dive into the service menu to make minute or precision changes just yet, and nothing we’re about to do here is any substitute for the work of a professional calibration service. The goal here is to optimize the picture for your viewing environment and your preferences, and save you from spending money on an entry-level calibration service like Best Buy’s when you could do the same yourself.

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

What You’ll Need

  • An LCD or Plasma HDTV that needs calibrating
  • A Blu-Ray Player compatible with AVCHD, or Advanced Video Coding High Definition, a file format and video compression standard for high definition video. Most Blu-Ray players already support it, butScroll to Blu-Ray Players List to double-check that yours is. Alternatively, an XBox 360 capable of full HD playback will do.
  • The original remote controls for your DVD player and your HDTV (or a Logitech Harmony Remote, which can emulate the buttons on the original remotes). Generic universal remotes won’t work because they’re frequently missing buttons or commands required to tweak your TV’s setup menus.
  • A calibration disc. The AVS HD 709 Calibration Disc is the one we’re using. It’s free, easy to use, has all of the calibration patterns we’ll need, and can be downloaded and burned to a DVD or Blu-ray Disc.

The AVS HD 709 isn’t the only calibration disc available, there are others like the Spears and Munsil calibration disc or Digital Video Essentials that have their own tutorials. We’re sticking with the AVS HD 709 because it’s free, can be downloaded and burned to a standard DVD or a Blu-ray disc and played in just about any player (even in an HTPC or Xbox 360), and its easy to get started with. Combined with this guide, you’ll get great results.

Step 1: Find Your Contrast, Brightness, and Other Basic Picture Settings

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Before you do anything, the first thing to do is make yourself familiar with your TV’s controls and their current settings. If you unboxed your television, put it on your entertainment center, turned it on, and never looked back, now’s the time to grab your remote, grab the manual (or visit the manufacturer’s web site to download a copy) and take a look at the settings. You’re going to need to know how to get to the contrast, brightness, overscan (sometimes labeled "picture size" or "HD size"), and other basic settings to calibrate your television.

If you’ve never spent quality time with the settings, it’s also possible you have your set dialed in to the "vivid" or "cinema" modes that the manufacturer configured to make their set pop on store shelves. That’s fine if your TV is one among a wall of dozens, but it’s horrible for watching movies, sports, or Blu-ray discs. Once you’ve figured out how to get into your TV’s settings, the first thing you should do is set everything back to their defaults, just in case. It’s always better to start from a clean slate.

Now drop the AVS HD 709 into your Blu-ray player (which may also need to be set to its default video output settings, if you’ve changed them) and let’s get started.

Step 2: Eliminate Overscan for Full, Pixel-to-Pixel Viewing

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

The first and easiest change you can make to your TV to improve your viewing experience is to eliminate overscan. Overscan is the over-projection of an image beyond the borders of your HDTV or display. It’s a holdover from rear-projection and CRT televisions where the actual image is blown up to actually be larger than the edges of the screen so you wouldn’t see any artifacts or compression errors on the edges of the picture. With today’s LCD and Plasma displays, all overscan does rob you of a 1-to-1 pixel mapping for your HD video, making your video look stretched out. Plus, overscan eliminates the area around the edges of the screen, so you’re missing detail you may want to see. Here’s how to fix it.

  • After loading the AVD HD 709 calibration disc, start the "Basic Settings" program from the DVD menu.
  • Forward to the 5th chapter to see the overscan and calibration image shown here.
  • If you can see the entire image, including the outside white line, overscan on your set is disabled. If all you see at the edges of your screen are one of the blue borders, overscan is turned on, and it’s time to turn it off.
  • Put the DVD remote down, pick up the TV remote, and go to your TV’s "picture size" or "screen size" settings. (On my Panasonic plasma, this setting is buried under "HD size," so look around for any option you get to select the size and shape of the display area.)
  • Change the settings until you can see the white line on the outside. There’s almost always an option that disables overscan entirely.

With overscan disabled, you can rest knowing that you’re actually seeing everything that was intended to be seen on your Blu-ray discs or HD programs, and none of the outside detail is being clipped away thanks to an holdover from the days of old television sets. Plus, when you’re watching true HD programming in 1080p/i you’ll know you’re getting the whole picture, pixel-for-pixel, as clear as possible.

Step 3: Tweak the Brightness for Deep, Dark Black Levels

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Brightness on a television, or "black level," on some sets, actually has little to do with how much "pop" the screen has, and instead defines at what level the darkest areas of the screen stop. In other words, it’s the setting where your TV stops reducing power to the pixels and says "okay, that’s dark enough to be black." Turn it up too high, and black areas in your picture are washed out and grainy. Turn it down too low and you lose all detail in dark areas of a scene, and everything looks like it was shot in a basement.

Brightness should be configured when the TV is nice and warmed up and the lighting in your living room or bedroom is set to its normal level for when you watch television. This is important—the degree to which the human eye can interpret detail in dark areas is directly related to the amount of ambient light in the room, so make sure the lighting in the room is normal for when you most often watch your television. Here’s how you configure brightness using the AVS HD 709 disc:

  • From the DVD menu, select "Basic Settings" and start the first chapter. You’ll see the test pattern here. In motion, there are flashing white bars behind each number, so don’t be surprised.
  • Line 16 is your "reference black," or the area that should always be black, even though there are subtle white bars flashing behind the others.
  • Pick up your TV remote, and in the display settings, change the brightness so line 16 is always black and you can no longer see the flashing white bar behind it, but you can see the flashing white bar behind line 17.
  • If you’re properly dialed in for your room and your set, you should barely be able to make out the flashing bars behind line 17 and up, and the higher you go, the more obvious the flashing bars should be. Line 16 and below should remain black, no matter what. If you’re borderline between a little higher or a little darker, go darker.

Most televisions have the brightness set entirely too high by default, so it’s just a matter of bringing it down until it’s configured just right. Keep in mind though that if you’re calibrating your TV in a room that’s brighter than usual, your ability to see dark detail will be reduced. If you add a lamp to your living room or start watching more movies with the lights on, you should come back here and tweak the brightness again so you’re not missing anything.

Step 4: Adjust the Contrast for Pure, Bright White

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Contrast (not Contrast Ratio, which is not something you can change) represents the total light output of the picture. Unfortunately, in order to make the image on the screen "pop," most manufacturers turn the contrast entirely too high before they ship their sets. Contrast settings define the overall light output of the set, and this time your goal is to keep the light output as high as possible without sacrificing image quality or detail. Here’s what to do:

  • Again, select "Basic Settings." Fast forward to the third chapter. You’ll see the test pattern shown here. There should be subtle black lines flashing behind each number.
  • Pick up the TV remote. Adjust the contrast so you can clearly see the flashing bars behind lines 230-234.
  • Line 235 is "reference white," or the limit above which there’s supposedly no additional detail in HD video, so if you can’t see the flashing bars beyond it, you’re in good shape. If you can, don’t worry – that just means you’ll get the detail if there is any, but don’t go crazy trying to get the contrast set so you can see it. You’ll know it’s too high if the flashing bars start to take on a reddish color—they should be grey at all times.
  • Now that your contrast is dialed in, grab the DVD remote, and back up to the 2nd chapter. You’ll see the test pattern below.
  • This test pattern, with a white outer border and a black bar across the horizontal center, lets you calibrate brightness and contrast simultaneously. Changing contrast affects brightness, and vice versa, so you want to make sure that after changing one, you haven’t adversely changed the other.
  • On this test screen, you’ll see flashing grey bars behind the white numbers at the top, and flashing white bars behind the black bars in the center. Again, reference white and reference black are noted.
  • Make sure that anything below reference black is truly black and you don’t see flashing bars. Make sure anything above reference white is either pure white and not flashing, or that the grey bars are faint and grey without any color or hue. Make very fine adjustments here, nothing big.

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

If you set the TV settings to the default like we suggested, your TV’s "color temperature" should be set to its default, or "normal" setting. If not, make sure you do this when you’re tweaking the brightness and the contrast—it will make sure that your whites are pure white and don’t take on some a blueish tone (if your color temperature is set to "cool") or a reddish hue (if your color temperature is set to "warm"). If you’re set to normal and your whites are still too blue, go ahead and switch to the warm color temperature. Ideally, you want your color temperature as close as possible to 6500 Kelvin (6500K), or the reference temperature used by directors and producers when they shoot and edit video. Often this is accomplished by switching to the "warm" setting, but only do so if it looks realistic—don’t do it because you feel like you "have to."

Once you’re finished here, your brightness and contrast are all dialed in. It’s time to move on to sharpness.

Step 5: Adjust the Sharpness for a Clearer Picture

Sharpness creates the illusion of clearer, crisper images by artificially inflating the peak white in your display. You’re adding information to the image you see on-screen, and by increasing the sharpness you’re trying to walk the line between making sure black lines and borders aren’t fuzzy and everything is as crisp as it can be without making compression artifacts in your HD television streams or Blu-ray discs really obvious on-screen. Some enthusiasts insist that because turning up the sharpness introduces information to the picture that was never intended to be there, you should set it to zero and move on—I can respect that, but give it a try first and see if you like it before you turn it off completely. Here’s how you do it:

  • From the DVD menu on the AVS HD 709, go back to "basic settings" and forward to the fifth chapter—that’s right, the same one we used for overscan. (If you’re curious why we didn’t do this first, it’s because it’s important to have brightness and contrast properly set before working with sharpness.)
  • The pattern in the center of the screen will be your guide here. Grab the TV remote, and turn the sharpness all the way up. You should notice that around the edges of the black lines you’ll start to see a Moire Pattern, or lines where there really shouldn’t be any. They may look like a curved line pattern, radially stretching across the black lines.
  • That’s your cue that the sharpness is up entirely too high. Back it down from there until you can no longer see the radial patterns across the black lines, but the black lines themselves stand out full and clear from the white space between them. It’ll be difficult, and it’ll take a good eye.
  • Be careful not to turn the sharpness down too far (unless you hate it anyway) because you may wind up softening the detail in the image and the black lines will appear a little fuzzy. Experiment, and see what makes you most comfortable.

Sharpness is a contentious feature. The only way to decide whether you want to turn it off entirely or leave it on is to give it a try. The important thing to do is to set it somewhere that enhances the viewing experience for you. If you’re having trouble, start in the center instead of the extremes and work your way around the scale from there.

Step 6: Make Sure You’re Not Bleeding Colors

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Finally, it’s time to check and make sure that you can clearly see the difference between each color in a broad gradient, that you can clearly see the difference between green and red, and the difference between shades of green and red. To check, you’ll need a color pattern that steps through color gradients evenly. Thankfully, our calibration disc has a pair of color patterns to help.

  • At the DVD menu, select "Misc Patterns."
  • Select "A – Additional," and forward to the third chapter. You should see the stepping pattern here.
  • Look closely and make sure that you can see the steps between each color, from brightest to darkest, and even to black, even if they’re subtle.
  • If you can’t make out the color stepping, there’s no simple fix by tweaking one setting, but you can try backing off of the brightness or lowering the sharpness a little bit to make sure the colors aren’t too washed out.
  • Once you’re satisfied that you can see the color stepping, move forward to the next chapter to test for color clipping.
  • How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 MinutesThe pattern you’ll see is similar to the contrast and brightness patterns. Make sure you can see the flashing lines up to the Green, Red, and Blue markers in each column (number 235) and afterward the colors should be solid.
  • Again, there’s no quick fix if it’s not configured properly, but tweaking the brightness or sharpness can help a bit.

If everything is set up correctly, these steps should just be to test the colors after everything else is tweaked to be just the way you like. You can adjust the tint to try and adjust clipping or bleeding, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Remember, every time you adjust brightness or contrast, you should go back to the combined test pattern to make sure they’re aligned well, so don’t change one without checking the other afterward.

Extra Credit: Get a Blue Filter and Adjust the Tint

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

If you’re up for some extra credit, adjusting the Tint on your HDTV will make sure that skin tones look realistic and lifelike, and people with pale skin don’t take on a green or reddish tone, and people with dark skin don’t look brownish-green.

The key to adjusting the tint properly is to get a blue filter or a pair of blue glasses first. Blue glasses are available from THX for less than $2, and if you pick up the Digital Video Essentials calibration disc we mentioned earlier, it’ll ship with one. If your HDTV has a built-in "blue mode," that you can turn on and off in the settings, use that instead! Using your set’s built-in blue filter will give you the best results, but fair warning, it’s not common and only some of the newest sets released in the past two years have them. Once your blue filter is on-screen or in front of your eyes, here’s how you adjust the tint:

  • From the "Basic Settings" program, skip forward to chapter 4, the flashing color test. You should see the test pattern shown here, with the small boxes inside the broad lines flashing periodically. Under blue filter, those vertical lines should be blue and black.
  • Adjust the tint up or down (most sets leave it in the middle by default) until the flashing box inside the blue lines fades away completely, and you can no longer see it flashing.

That’s all there is to configuring tint. When you take off the blue filter, you may not notice too much of a difference, but it’ll be there when you watch a Blu-ray disc when people’s skin tones look more natural. As always, you may need to go back and check brightness and contrast to make sure those settings still look good to you now that you’ve adjusted another setting.

Check Your Work: Watch a Blu-Ray Movie or Full-HD Video

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Once you’ve finished adjusting your TV’s settings, it’s time to put it to the test. Fire up your favorite Blu-ray movie or stream something from the web (as long as it’s full 1080p/i HD)—preferably something colorful—and take a good look to make sure you’re happy with the way everything turned out. If you’re not, tweak the individual settings or repeat the process above to dial in your settings just right.

If you’re looking for good films with vibrant color that you can use to test your calibration, I recommend a movie that’s translated well to Blu-ray, like The Fifth Element, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or just about any Disney film. The point isn’t to enjoy the film (unless you like it, of course) but to test your tint settings to make sure flesh tones look natural, contrast and brightness to make sure you can see details in dark corners and spaces, overscan to make sure you’re not losing any of the picture off the sides of the screen, and color to make sure bright colors don’t glow unless they’re supposed to, and aren’t washed out and dull.

You may need to watch a few movies, football games, and TV shows to really make sure you’re happy with the settings, so don’t hesitate to try something else, watch it, and change the settings some more even if you’ve settled on something. The goal is to calibrate your TV to your viewing environment and your eye. Don’t be shy!

Graduate School: Get Into the Service Menu for More Precise Tweaks

How to Calibrate Your HDTV for Better Video Quality in 30 Minutes

Now that your TV is calibrated, you can trust that you’re seeing the Blu-ray movies and streaming video you own the way they were intended to be viewed, and the best your HDTV can display given your living room. However, HDTV calibration doesn’t stop here. In fact, we’ve only scratched the surface of what you could do.

Many professional HDTV calibration services will access your TV’s service menu using a special code or combination of button-presses on the remote control or the side of the TV, and fine-tune the picture with the more granular and precise controls available there. However, there’s a reason your owner’s manual won’t tell you how to get into the service menu and what all of the options are—most manufacturers will tell you that only certified and qualified professionals should work in there, warn you that you’d void your warranty by doing so, and advise you that mistakes and errors in the service menu can render your HDTV inoperable. That’s right—it can brick your HDTV.

That’s no excuse to learn more. If you’re interested in getting under the hood to do some serious fine tuning and additional calibration, a good place to start reading is the AVS Forum. Most manufacturers and HDTV models have a thread or sub-board there that you can lurk in and read to learn as much as you can about your set before you dive in. The community at the AVS Forum is helpful and willing to answer informed questions. When you’re ready to take the plunge, you’ll also likely find your service code and some calibration settings to try posted by a fellow user who’s been where you are with the set you already own.


A few basic tweaks to your HDTV’s picture settings will yield big benefits the next time you sit down to watch the big game or fire up your copy of Planet Earth on Blu-ray, and they don’t take much time to make. Just make sure you keep your calibration disc handy in case you want to refine your settings or calibrate another TV, and don’t be afraid to tinker with the settings if something doesn’t look right. After all, it’s your viewing experience that matters.


You can reach Alan Henry, the author of this post, at alan@lifehacker.com, or better yet, follow him on Twitter or Google+.