'Avoid the "soap opera" effect' – 4 tweaks you should make to your TV settings to improve your watching experience

Don’t just start watching: calibrate your TV for optimal performance

a living room with a tv wall
(Image credit: Alexander James. Design: Christian Bense)

When you buy a brand new TV, the temptation is to set it up as quickly as possible and put on a movie to really show it off. That’s a mistake.

Most TVs will look reasonable out of the box, but it pays to take 15 minutes to ensure it looks its very best in your space, especially if you're investing in the best TV brands. You’ll want to do it right away — spend too long with your set, and the default settings will begin to look natural, meaning that any attempts to recalibrate will look alien, even if they’re objectively better.

Here are the things you should change right away to get the most out of your new set.

1. Fix your color accuracy

For some reason, TV manufacturers seem to think viewers want the most bright and vibrant images on their screens, even if it’s not terribly color accurate. That means you’re not seeing the content the way the creator intended. 

Now, you can spend time trying to get the exact color temperature for your living room TV by fiddling with the settings and editing everything manually. But the good news is that for most people, this simply won’t be necessary. 

Most TVs come with a number of presets that are naturally more accurate without you needing to get lost in the weeds. Look out for settings with names like “cinema” or “movie” as these tend to be as natural as the TV can be out of the box. 

2. Turn off motion smoothing

Motion smoothing is one of those features that sounds good in principle, but actually can leave your shows looking artificial and off somehow. In short, with the setting enabled, the TV will generate extra frames to fill in the gaps between the ones that are provided by the content. 

But TVs typically go too far, and most sets, whether a Samsung or LG TV or anything in between, just make things look too smooth — especially if you’re watching a movie shot at 24fps. The artificial frames thrown in leads to something called the “soap opera effect” because of how fake it feels, and you’ll want to turn it off — or at least try your TV without to see what you think. 

It can be tricky to find, as different manufacturers call it different things. Look out for TruMotion (on LG TVs), Auto Motion Plus (on Samsung TVs) and Motionflow (on Sony TVs), or Google your specific model if you can’t find it.  

While motion smoothing looks bad in most places, the one exception is sports content, because of the fast-paced nature of player and ball movements. You may want to turn this back on for the big game, or temporarily switch to a dedicated sports preset if you have one.

3. Turn down sharpness

Like disabling motion smoothing, this is one that sounds counterintuitive on paper. Isn’t having a sharper image a good thing?

Well yes, but confusingly that’s not really what the sharpness setting does. Actual sharpness is down to resolution — both of the screen and the content — and contrast. Instead, the sharpness setting simply accentuates the edges of images, which can create an off-putting, noisy halo effect around objects and people. 

A little goes a long way, and while you may not want to turn it off completely, reducing sharpness to between 5 and 10% is usually about right. Test it out and find the sweet spot yourself. 

4. Consider disabling power-saving modes

This won’t be for everyone, especially with energy bills being as high as they are. Power-saving settings are generally a good thing, but by their very nature, they do limit your TV’s brightness. For OLED panels — which already aren’t the brightest — you may decide that a little extra expenditure is worth it.

While different manufacturers have different names for it, none are too tricky to figure out, usually containing the words “power” and/or “energy”. Some manufacturers such as Samsung have a series of customizable options, while others just have a single setting to toggle. Either way, dig in and see if tinkering makes enough of a difference to justify the higher power consumption.

What else can I do to improve my TV's performance/

The main thing that makes smart TVs smart is the huge selection of streaming apps that come pre-installed, or available via an on-set app store.

But the built-in solutions aren't always brilliant, and if the menus are hard to navigate, the apps are poorly optimized or your favorite one simply isn’t available, it may be time to consider one of the best streaming devices to improve performance, picture quality of ease of use. 

I personally switched from the LG default to Apple TV 4K, and haven’t looked back since

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. He often writes for T3 and Tom's Guide. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.