Few purchases are as big or as exciting as a new TV. Whether you buy a bigger TV or one with better picture quality, it will have an immediate impact on the way you watch movies and shows or play games.
But getting the most out of your new TV is more than just taking it out of the box and plugging it in, and even the best TVs require some minor tinkering to get the most out of them. Don’t worry – we’re here to help you through the steps to get yours set up right. A little effort before you buy and settle on your couch can make a big difference in your long-term enjoyment.
Before you buy a TV, decide where you’re going to put it. This will help you figure out how big your TV can be—both taking into account the space you’re going to put it in, and the distance you’ll most often sit at.
If you’re replacing your TV, you might think you should buy the same size TV. It depends on the age of the TV. The bezels around the TV are mostly gone, which means you can get a bigger screen in the same space – we recently replaced a 42″ TV that was about 10 years old with a 50″ and the new A TV would also fit in the same space. Newer TVs may also have higher resolutions, meaning you can sit closer without appearing pixelated.
Speaking of the size of your TV depending on how far you’re sitting, there are plenty of calculators on the internet that can help. The old rule of thumb is to divide the distance in inches from your seating position to the TV by two — but this will give you a very conservative measurement. For example, if you’re sitting 10 feet from your TV, the formula says you can get a 60-inch TV. But really, you can easily get a 65-inch 4K model — maybe even a 70-inch one. Trust me, you’ll get used to the larger size in no time.
Reminder about TV size: Quoted screen sizes (such as 55, 65 or 75 inches) are measured diagonally. To get the actual height, width and depth, you need to dig into the specs.
2. Standing or mounting?
When thinking about placement, consider whether you want to use the stand that came with your TV, or whether you want to replace it with a third-party stand or wall mount. The separate stand and base allow you to swivel the TV and even unfold it for the best viewing angle.
To find the right size bracket or mount, check your TV’s VESA specification – it’s in millimeters, eg 400 x 300. VESA is the standard used by televisions, so you can find the one that works for your model.
Viewing angle is an important consideration if you care about image quality. Ideally, the screen should be at eye level and you should be looking straight at it. If you place the TV too high or on the side, you’ll run into viewing angle issues, which can cause the picture to look washed out.
3. Connect and download your app
Once your TV is in place, the first thing you need to do is connect it to the internet (unless you manage to find one of the few “dumb” TVs currently on sale). Smart TVs come with a variety of operating systems, and the initial setup process will vary depending on the operating system you purchased. LG runs WebOS, Samsung uses Tizen OS, and many TVs use Google TV or Fire TV. All of these will guide you through the setup process.
Most TVs can be connected via Wi-Fi, which is certainly easy. However, if you have a poor wireless connection in the room where the TV is located, you may need to use a wired Ethernet connection.
Once you’re online, you’ll want to start downloading apps for the services you use. Then you have to log in to each one. Some offer QR codes, some let you log in via a web browser, and some still make you enter your username and password on the TV screen—a process I can’t wait to make disappear forever.
If you find that you don’t like your TV’s operating system or that it doesn’t have the apps you need, you can always get around it by plugging in a streaming device such as a Roku, Fire TV Stick, or Apple TV.
If you have a device that connects to your TV, such as a streaming device, game console, set-top box, or DVD player, you need to make sure your TV has the proper connection—and that you have the correct cable.
Most devices connect to your TV using HDMI, but older accessories can have component or composite outputs – very few TVs have these today. So either make sure your TV has the input you need, or update your equipment to use HDMI.
When connecting via HDMI, choose your port wisely. Most TVs have three or four HDMI inputs, but not all TVs are the same. One input should be labeled ARC or eARC – the one reserved for connecting to a sound bar or home theater receiver. Audio Return Channel (ARC) allows sound to be sent from the TV to the speakers and video to the TV over a single cable.
If you have an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, you’ll need to connect it to an HDMI port that supports HDMI 2.1 (not all TVs offer this feature). The latest version of HDMI takes advantage of features like 4K resolution and 120 Hz refresh rate support for ultra-smooth gaming. You may need to purchase an HDMI cable to take advantage of the most advanced features of HDMI 2.1.
Current TVs usually have at least a few picture modes for you to choose from. These are pre-configured settings with names like “Vivid” and “Movie”. Each mode significantly changes the picture, for example, making it brighter or more colorful. The best way is to try each and use the one you like best. Every room and every pair of eyes is different, so there is no right answer. Purists tend to go for “Movie” or something like that, as it tends to give the most true colors.
If your TV supports Dolby Vision, HDR10, or HDR10+, your picture mode may change automatically when you watch content encoded with these technologies. High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology includes information about how the TV should adjust for each scene. There may also be some picture mode options when viewing HDR content.
Once you find a picture mode you like, you may want to tweak it further to please your eyes. These options are usually found under Advanced Settings under the Picture Options menu.
My suggestion is that you turn off motion smoothing. Different TVs have different names — LG calls it TruMotion, Samsung uses Clear Motion — but each is designed to reduce blur. Despite this intent, it creates an effect known as the “soap opera effect,” where the image is so soft that it appears to be seen through a filter. Many people find this effect annoying; it often makes me nauseous.
You can also manually adjust brightness, color, sharpness, and more to get the best image in your space. If the preset picture modes aren’t to your liking, you should definitely explore what each picture option does. You can also search for combinations of settings that work for other people with your TV model as a starting point.
While today’s TVs can produce impressive pictures, the sound from most TV speakers is terrible. That’s a shame, because the audio elements of a movie, show, or game can bring the experience to life. But poor TV speaker performance can be overcome by adding a sound bar or home theater audio system.
A sound bar is the easiest way to improve your sound. Depending on your budget and your audio pair, you can spend a few hundred dollars less (our top pick, the Roku Streambar Pro, is just $150) or a thousand more (we recommend the $899 Sonos Arc for higher-end audio). How important you are. Look for soundbars that support Dolby Atmos, the latest sound technology for the most accurate surround sound. Many soundbars also come with virtual surround sound setups to help fill your room with audio.
If you can’t swing the soundbar, you should still be able to improve your sound with your TV’s settings. For example, you can boost the bass or enable the TV’s own virtual surround mode.
8. Tune in and enjoy
After you’ve got your photo as close to perfect as possible, sit back and enjoy. You likely won’t need to make many changes over time. But you may notice something that bothers you. After you’ve had some quality viewing time, go back and try different picture and audio settings to see if your chosen one still works best for you. In the end, the right choice is the one that helps you enjoy watching the most.