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Ready Optimal Picture for Watching the Oscars

The 94th Academy Awards will honor the best films of the past year on Sunday, March 27, at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT). (Here’s how you can watch the Oscars live.) But before you tune in to tonight’s award show, your TV may need a few tweaks to look its best. As part of our TV review process at CNET, we adjust the picture settings to make sure the televisions we’re testing have optimal picture quality. That’s because the default settings the ones that your TV uses before you make any tweaks don’t necessarily deliver peak performance. Fortunately every TV has numerous adjustments, including different picture modes and controls for brightness, backlight, sharpness, smoothing and more, that you can change to improve the TV shows, movies and video games you watch every day. (This includes Oscar nominated films like Drive My Car, West Side Story, Nightmare Alley, King Richard and Dune, too.) It’s easier than it sounds, it’s completely free and our guide has everything you need to get started. A word of warning before we begin: Picture setting names are all over the place. A setting one TV company calls “brightness” could control something totally different on another set, for example. We tackle a lot of the variations below, but we can’t account for every TV -maker, especially on older models.

Start with the right picture mode

Your TV’s picture mode has the largest effect on overall picture quality. This one setting controls multiple other settings to change the overall “look” of your TV. If you’ve never changed this setting it’s probably still the default mode, typically labeled Standard, Vivid, Dynamic, Bright or something similar. The TV is at its least accurate in this mode, with typically blown-out colors and image “enhancing” features that might catch the eye on a shelf in a store, but at home might make the TV look worse than it could. A place to start is switching to the mode called Cinema, Movie, Calibrated or Filmmaker. These will dial back some of the picture’s more garish aspects. At first, the TV might even look soft or too warm (“reddish”). We’ll discuss below why that is, but for now trust that you’re actually seeing more fine detail, and the image is more lifelike.

Backlight or OLED light

Nearly all TVs will have some control that adjusts the overall light output of the TV. It’s usually labeled as the backlight control, or OLED light, or something similar. On newer Sony TVs this setting is labeled Brightness, and on Roku TVs there are five settings (Brightest to Darkest) in addition to a backlight control. Whatever the label, this setting is the actual brightness, which is generally separate from the control labeled “Brightness” (see below). You should adjust this setting based on room lighting and personal preference. Brighter rooms and daylight viewing will call for a higher setting, while home theater or nighttime viewing often looks better at a lower setting. On an LCD TV, a bright backlight can wash out the image somewhat and reduce contrast and pop, especially on models that lack full array local dimming. The brighter the TV is, the more energy it will consume, if you’re concerned about how much electricity you use. Higher brightness also makes OLED TVs somewhat more susceptible to image retention and burn-in although that’s unlikely with typical viewing habits, even at maximum brightness.