The World Cup isn’t far away and millions of Brits will be tuning in to see England scrape past Tunisia, draw against Panama, lose to Belgium and squeeze into the knockout stages on goal difference.
The swift pans, colourful kits and detailed spectator-packed stadiums are an excellent test of a TV’s quality. Whether the once-every-four-year event is justification for you to upgrade to a new TV, or you just want to make the most of what you’ve already got, optimising your setup can ensure you’re getting the best possible experience.
But with modern TVs coming with scores of settings, and many offering relatively poor sound, deciding on the best setup can be a laborious guessing game.
That’s why our experts do the hard work for you by determining the ideal picture settings for each TV we test. Tinkering with a few picture settings won’t hold back the tears when England crash out in the quarter finals, but at least you’ll be impressed by the balanced colours and smooth motion. And if we do turn out a surprise performance or two, the commentator’s shrieks of delight will never sound better.
If the World Cup is the perfect excuse for a new TV then our Top five TVs is a good place to start. And if you don’t want to spend the earth, there are some great bargains hiding in our guide to the best TV deals around right now.
TV picture settings – less is more
The picture settings are easy enough to understand – brightness, sharpness, contrast – but delve a little deeper into the advanced picture settings and things get a bit more obscure.
Some LG TVs have a feature called Magic Eye Care, certain Sony TVs have Reality Creation and some TVs even have separate settings for grass, skin and sky.
You would assume that turning all these extras features on would guarantee you the best picture, but that’s rarely the case. Here are are some of the helpful-sounding features that our TV experts recommend you turn off.
- Contrast Enhancer on Samsung TVs – contrast ratio is the difference between the brightest the screen can be and the darkest. We often praise a TV that can display deep detailed blacks on screen, so surely anything that enhances contrast would be beneficial, right? Wrong, our experts recommend this feature be turned off. Sometimes these artificial boosts can affect colour balance, making the screen look overly dark or bright.
- Clear Motion on Panasonic TVs – there are few things more jarring than blurry pictures or juddering while the camera pans. It reminds you that you’re watching a TV show and breaks any immersion. Clear Motion should improve fluidity, minimising any smearing, but our experts didn’t think it improved motion at all and we recommend you keep it turned off.
- Motion Eye Care on LG TVs – those nice giant tech companies are always thinking of our well-being. LG really doesn’t want you to strain your eyes while enjoying your favourite films and TV shows. This feature adjusts the brightness and motion blur to stop your eyes tiring out, but our experts felt that it had a negative impact on image quality.
- Live Colour on Sony TVs – ever since the first colour TVs in the 1940s, manufacturers have been upping the number of colours a TV screen can display. Live Colour from Sony is supposed to increase the number of colours its TVs can draw on to create an accurate picture, but all it does is mess with the balance and make what you’re watching look less accurate. Turn it off.
These are just some of the superfluous settings on TVs. To see which ones to leave on and which to turn off head to our guide to getting the best TV picture and search for your TV.
Here you can find out the optimum picture settings for everything from brightness and contrast to colour temperature, along with a range of expert advice on how to configure additional settings such as energy-saving mode, colour gamut and proprietary picture modes, such as LG’s Motion Eye Care.
Are some TVs better for sport?
Most TVs have a sport mode, but our experts rarely recommend your turn it on. Getting your TV settings right will mean it looks its best whether you’re watching a movie, playing a game or watching the footie.
There are still some features to look out for if you’re a sport fanatic. Primarily a TV needs to be good at handling motion – whether that’s a camera panning a landscape, a frantic car chase, or a football flying through the air. There’s nothing more immersion-breaking than judder, making a TV look like it’s jumping from image to image, like a stop-motion film rather than smooth action. Or smearing, which makes the ball look like an extended slinky every time it’s kicked.
Our tests cover all these bases to give us a motion stability score. If this is low, then it’s probably worth choosing another TV.
To see which TVs we recommend for the football take a look at our best TVs for sport page.
What about sound?
Picture quality is important, but to get the full World Cup experience you want to hear the roar of the crowd (fingers crossed for a return of the vuvuzela) and the shriek of the referee’s whistle as he awards England a penalty.
We take as much care testing the sound as we do the picture, so you know when we award a TV five stars for audio it really will impress. But can even the best sounding TVs be improved by a sound bar? To test the theory, we asked our panel of experts to rate sound quality according to a range of different audio samples, with a range of different setups.
As you can see, sound bars outscored even home cinema systems and, although they weren’t as impressive as a micro hi-fi, they are far more cost-effective.
Find out more in our guide to sound bar vs home cinema system vs surround sound systems, or get some help with setting up a sound bar with a TV.