Few purchases are as big — or exciting — as a new TV. Whether you’ve bought a larger TV or one that delivers a better picture, the impact on how you watch movies and shows or play games is immediate.
But there’s more to getting the most out of your new television than just taking it out of the box and plugging it in, and even the best TVs require a little tinkering to get the most out of them. Don’t worry — we’re here to help you through the steps to take to properly set yours up. A little effort before you buy and before you settle onto the couch can have a big effect on your long-term enjoyment.
Before you buy a TV, decide where you’ll put it. That will help you figure out how large the TV can be — both for the space you’re trying to fit it into and how far you’ll sit most often.
If you’re replacing a TV, you may assume you should buy the same size. That depends on how old the TV was. The bezels around TVs have mostly disappeared, which means you can get a larger screen in the same space — we recently replaced a 42-inch TV that was about 10 years old with a 50-inch TV and the new TV fit in the same space. The new TV may also be a higher resolution, which means you can sit closer without it looking pixelated.
Speaking of how big the TV can be based on how far away you are sitting, there are plenty of calculators on the Internet to help. The old rule of thumb is to divide the distance from your seating position in inches to the TV by two — but that will give you a pretty conservative size. For example, if you are sitting 10 feet from the TV, that formula says you can get a 60-inch TV. But in reality, you can easily get a 65-inch 4K model — and probably even a 70-inch. Trust me, you’ll get used to the bigger size quickly.
A reminder about TV sizes: the quoted screen size (55, 65 or 75 inches, for example) is measured on the diagonal. To get the actual height, width and depth you’ll need to dig into the specs.
2. Stand or mount?
While you’re thinking about placement, consider if you want to use the stand that comes with the TV, or if you want to replace it with a third-party stand or a wall mount. Separate stands and mounts let you do things like swivel the TV or even extend it to create the best viewing angle.
To find the right size stand or mount, look for the VESA spec for your TV — it will be in millimeters, like 400 x 300. VESA is a standard that TVs use so you can find one that will fit your model.
Viewing angles are an important consideration if you care about image quality. Ideally, the screen would be at eye level and you should be looking straight at it. If you put the TV too high or to the side, you’ll have issues with viewing angles, which can result in the image looking washed out.
3. Connect and download your apps
Once you’ve got the TV in place, one of the first things you’ll need to do is connect it to the Internet (unless you managed to find one of the few “dumb” TVs currently for sale). There are several operating systems for smart TVs, and the process for initial setup will differ depending on which you bought. LG runs WebOS, Samsung uses Tizen OS, and many TVs use Google TV or Fire TV. All of them will walk you through the setup process.
Most TVs can connect via Wi-Fi, which is certainly easy. But if your wireless connection isn’t great in the room where you put the TV, you may want to go with a wired Ethernet connection.
Once you’re online, you’ll want to start downloading apps for the services you use. And then you have to log in to each one. Some offer QR codes, others let you log in through a web browser, and some still make you type in your username and password on the TV screen — a process I can’t wait to go away forever.
If you’ve got devices to attach to the TV, such as a streaming device, game console, cable box or DVD player, you’ll want to make sure your TV has the right connections — and that you’ve got the right cables.
Most devices use HDMI to connect to your TV, but older accessories can have component or composite outputs — and few TVs today come with those. So either make sure your TV has the inputs you need, or update your devices to ones that use HDMI.
When connecting via HDMI, choose your port wisely. Most TVs have three or four HDMI inputs, but not all are equal. One input should be labeled ARC or eARC — save that one for connecting to a soundbar or home theater receiver. Audio return channel (ARC) allows sound to be sent to the speaker from the TV as well as video being sent to the TV, all over one cable.
If you have an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, you’ll want to connect it to an HDMI port that supports HDMI 2.1 (not all TVs offer this). The latest version of HDMI takes advantage of features such as 4K resolution and 120 Hz refresh rate support for extra-smooth gameplay. You may need to buy an HDMI cable to take advantage of the most advanced features of HDMI 2.1.
Current TVs usually come with at least a few picture modes for you to choose from. These are preconfigured settings, with names like “Vivid” and “Movie.” Each mode will change the picture pretty significantly, making it brighter or more colorful, for example. The best approach is to try each and use the one that you like best. Each room and pair of eyes is different, so there is no right answer. Purists tend to go for “Movie” or its equivalent because it tends to offer the truest colors.
If your TV supports Dolby Vision, HDR10 or HDR10+, your picture mode will likely automatically change when you’re watching something that’s encoded with those technologies. The high-dynamic range (HDR) technologies include information about how the TV should adjust for each scene. There may be some picture mode options when HDR content is being watched, as well.
Once you’ve found a picture mode you like, you may want to adjust it further to please your eyes. These options are usually found under Advanced Settings under the Picture Options menu.
My recommendation is that you turn off motion smoothing. This goes by different names for different TVs — LG calls it TruMotion, Samsung uses Clear Motion — but each is intended to reduce blurring. Despite the intention, it creates an effect called the “soap opera effect,” in which the image is too soft, as if seen through a filter. Many people find the effect annoying; it often causes me to feel nauseated.
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 what you like, you should definitely explore what each picture option does. You can also search for combinations of settings that have worked for other people with your TV model as a place to start.
While TVs today produce impressive images, most TV speakers sound terrible. That’s a shame since the audio element of a movie, show or game can bring the experience to life. But your TV’s poor speakers can be overcome by adding a soundbar or home theater audio system.
A soundbar is the easiest way to improve sound. You can spend as little as a couple of hundred dollars (our overall top pick, the Roku Streambar Pro, is only $150) or more than a thousand (we recommend the $899 Sonos Arc for higher-end audio), depending on your budget and how important audio is to you. Look for a soundbar that supports Dolby Atmos, the latest sound technology that offers the most precise surround sound. Many soundbars also come with virtual surround sound settings to help audio fill your room.
If you can’t swing a soundbar, you should still be able to improve your sound through the TV’s settings. For example, you may be able to boost the bass or engage the TV’s own virtual surround mode.
8. Adjust and enjoy
After you’ve got the picture as close to perfect as possible, sit back and enjoy. Most likely you won’t need to change too much over time. But you may notice some things that bother you. After you’ve had some quality viewing time, go back and try different picture and audio settings to see if the ones you picked are still best for you. In the end, the right options are the ones that help you enjoy watching the most.