How to set up your new 4K TV for the best possible picture | Popular Science
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How to set up your new 4K TV for the best possible picture

The wrong moves will make your new UHD set look worse than your old display.

TV test pattern

Your new TV can show you all the colors of the rainbow, but you can easily ruin it with a bad setup.

PopSci Staff

Getting a new TV is exciting, especially when you had to battle the Black Friday crowds to get it. But, if you want the best out of your new display, you’ll need to make sure you’re setting it up properly. Here are some tips to help you avoid crucial television mistakes.

Make sure your media source supports 4K playback

A fancy TV is only as good as the content you push into it, which means that Roku box you bought back in Obama’s first term isn’t going to cut it for your new Ultra-HD setup. If you bought a smart TV, its native apps should stream at high quality, but here are some stand-alone boxes that can take full advantages of your new 4K set:

Apple TV 4K ($179): It’s a pricy box with no Amazon content playback at the moment, but it offers extremely high quality audio and video, as well as UHD movies in the iTunes store for $5.99 to rent or $19.99 to buy.

Roku Ultra ($99) or Streaming Stick+ ($49): Not every Roku supports UHD, but these two will push out the proper number of pixels for your new set. Get the Ultra if you want an ethernet jack for internet, a USB port for media storage, or a microSD for expandability.

Google Chromecast Ultra ($54): If you watch a lot of YouTube content in 4K, this is the best choice. it’s also a good choice if you want to show your own photos or videos on the big screen in high-res. Google Home Assistant integration is also nice if your TV doesn’t have native voice control.

Nvidia Shield ($149): This powerful content box puts a focus on gaming—it even comes with its own Xbox-style controller. Voice search and tight Google integration also make it useful as a smart home hub.

Amazon Fire TV 4K ($69): This low-priced option is adept at streaming Amazon content and using Alexa (obvi), but it also has a full suite of the most common streaming apps and even some games.

4K Blu-ray player ($150 and up): If you prefer physical media that won’t tax your internet with high-def streaming, opt for a compatible Blu-Ray player.

Gaming consoles: The Xbox One S and X both do UHD playback via streaming and disc. The same goes for the PlayStation 4 Pro. The base model consoles and Nintendo’s scrappy Switch will leave you with upscaled 1080p.

Make sure your internet connection is ready for the onslaught of data

Streaming or downloading 4K content taxes internet connections hard. Netflix recommends at least 25 Mbps for UHD streaming, while Hulu demands a lighter 13 Mbps connection.

Set your TV up in the right spot

Ideally, you should consider the distance you’ll sit from your TV before you go out and buy one. THX recommends a viewing angle of 40-degrees, which requires you multiply your distance from the TV by 1.2. You can use this online calculator and move your seat closer or further from the display to make it work. It doesn’t have to be spot on, but position it too close or far and you’re going to hinder your experience.

When mounting your TV to the wall (or sitting it on the stand), you want the center of your TV to line up with your eyeballs. Putting it above the fireplace or on the floor may work on home design TV shows and dorm rooms, respectively, but it’s bad for viewing.

Pick the right HDMI ports

Not all HDMI ports are created equally. Right now, you’ll commonly find HDMI 1.4 and HDMI 2.0 ports on a TV. To pass 4K content, the port, cable, and source need to be compliant with a protocol called HDCP 2.2. If your TV won’t display 4K content, it’s possible you’re plugging into an incompatible port. Try another one or check the manual on your TV to see which ports you should be using for UHD.

Pick the right settings

Now that we turned the TV on, it’s time to get the picture looking good.

When stores display TVs on the massive wall, they crank the brightness to the max in order to attract the eyes and wallets of the shoppers below. This is often called “display” or “vibrant” mode in your TV’s menu and you should avoid it like the plague if you want a picture that resembles reality in any way.

The most accurate mode is often called something like “cinematic,” or “movie,” but it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Vizio, for example, typically calls this mode "calibrated."

Picking the right preset is tricky because when you compare them to one another, the brighter modes can look appealing. Pick the mode that you think might be the most accurate and leave it on for a while. Go do something else and come back to it after a while. What may have seemed slightly dark or less contrasty before might seem just right without the memory of the “vibrant” setting burned into your brain.

Note that “game mode” and other similarly named settings typically turn off things like motion smoothing in order to cut down on response time. You might notice the benefits when gaming, but don’t keep it on for everyday viewing.

Figure out your TV’s motion smoothing

Does your new TV make everything look like a soap opera? It’s probably because of motion smoothing. If you want an in-depth explanation of what’s happening, you can check out this link, but from a practical standpoint, your best bet is typically to leave motion smoothing on and set to its lowest possible setting. This will cut down any jittery appearance without pushing things into General Hospital territory.

Again, if you’re going to be gaming, turn off motion smoothing because it’s going to tax your TV’s performance and make your overall gaming experience frustrating and slow.

Enable HDR

If your TV has a fancy new high-dynamic range mode, you want to take advantage of it, so make sure it’s turned on in the menus.

Be weary of the other picture adjustments

If you go into the menus on your new TV, you’ll find a bevy of different picture adjustments, things like brightness, color, and gamma. The trouble with these is that they’re not very standard from set to set and messing with them can introduce new problems that you didn’t have before.

Adjusting gamma, for instance, can make the display brighter overall, but you’ll start to lose details in the highlights. The brightness may also be desirable during the day, but overpowering when the room gets dark at night.

Color is similarly risky. This slider typically adjusts color saturation and it’s easy to overdo it and make things look cartoonish if you’re just adjusting it with your subjective taste. If you’re having a specific problem like dull colors or weird noise in the picture, check out the TV’s manual for the specific fix before you go messing around with random sliders. Unless you have a specific reason to move a slider, leave it where it is.

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