Step-by-step instructions on how to get the best possible picture out of your TV.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

How to adjust your TV

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1987, The Syracuse Newspapers

   Video accessory stores sell all sorts of gadgets to improve the picture on your TV screen. Most of them tweak the signal in one way or another to make it seem sharper. And most of them cost a good chunk of a week's pay.
   But there is a much cheaper way of improving the image you watch every day.
   All it takes is a little time, a small amount of patience and a willingness to get up at an ungodly hour.
   The hour is the tough part. You have to get up early to make use of the color test pattern that most stations broadcast before they sign on in the morning. By eyeballing certain portions of the pattern, you can adjust both the color and the black-and-white circuits of your set.
   The color pattern may vary from station to station, but usually it consists of seven vertical bars of various colors on top of a black rectangle and three small squares.
   Three of the colors in the vertical bars are the primary colors used in TV broadcasting, red, green and blue. The four other bars are mixtures of those three primaries. The magenta bar is an equal mixture of red and blue; the cyan bar is an equal mixture of green and blue, and the yellow bar is a equal mix of green and red.
   The fourth mixed-color bar is white. It is called "75 percent white," since it appears slightly gray. It is an even mixture of all three primary colors.
   The rectangle below the bars is solid black. In the three boxes next to it is one that is solid white. Those two areas are used first, to adjust brightness and contrast.
   Here's how you do it. First, turn the color control-the one that makes the colors "bleed" if it is turned too high-all the way down. (Many sets have an automatic color circuit that may have to be turned off to get all colors to disappear.)
   Now turn the brightness control all the way up. The black rectangle should now look gray. Then turn the brightness control down until the black rectangle is just past the point at which it turns completely black.
   Now use the white box to adjust contrast. Turn the contrast control all the way down (the white box will appear gray), and then slowly turn it up until the white box cannot get any brighter.
   In essence, you have used the brightness control to adjust the contrast of black areas, and you have used the contrast control to adjust the brightness of white areas. This is the key to proper balance of the two controls.
   Now, on to the color settings. For a rough adjustment, turn the color control back to its normal setting and set the tint or hue control to its midpoint.
   If you want to use the most technologically accurate way of adjusting the color, get a magnifying glass and hold it right up against the screen so to you can clearly see the color phosphor elements-the pixels. (Don't worry -- there isn't enough radiation from the screen to harm you if you only do this for a few minutes.)
   When you look at the pixels in each of the primary color areas, only the phosphors of those primaries should be glowing if your set is adjusted properly. Play around with the color tint control to see how the "wrong" pixels will light up when the hues are changed.
   It may take some fiddling to get the primaries adjusted just right by the pixel method. Once you get the color control set to your satisfaction, make a note, mental or written, of the position of the knob, so you can get it right if it is knocked out of adjustment later.
   The final adjustment is for color saturation. Keep the color control set low enough so that colors are natural, and not neon-bright. Judging by the reds us easiest, since they will be the first to "bloom."
   That's all it takes. However, you may find that the settings that give the best color from the test pattern sometimes don't work well in actual broadcasts. Live shows such as baseball games may have color properties that match your settings, but taped shows or movies may not.
   So don't be afraid to experiment, and if you find that most shows look better with non-standard settings, trust your eyes more than the test pattern. After all, it's what looks good that matters most.