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Home / Tips and Tricks / You must now lower the sharpness control on your TV

You must now lower the sharpness control on your TV



sharpness-control-2

Geoffrey Morrison / CNET

If you get your TV settings (and you definitely should), there is one operation that is very counterintuitive. You might think that increasing your TV̵

7;s sharpness setting will give you a sharper, better picture. I mean, it’s exactly in the name. In fact, it doesn’t do that at all: on most TVs, it adds something called “edge enhancement”, which can reduce the actual fine detail in an image.

With the sharpness set to high, you might not get all the detail possible in that beautiful 4K TV. That’s why you have to turn around down the sharpness control. Sometimes the best setting is actually 0, while it is in the bottom 20% or so on most TVs. This is why.

Sharpness = edge enhancement

On the left the original image. On the right, the edged “sharper” version. Note the added “halos” around everything. That’s what your focus control adds.

Geoffrey Morrison / CNET

On almost all TVs, the sharpness control adds something called “edge enhancement”. That’s exactly what it sounds like. The edges in the image are enhanced, essentially by adding a thin outline or halo to it. This makes them more visible.

View the pictures side by side above. The left image is the Of course version. Significant amounts of edge enhancement have been added to the right. Note the outline around the buildings. Although the left image may appear “soft” at first glance, in reality it is not.

The image below is a close-up of the edged version:

Geoffrey Morrison

As you can see, some kind of white halo appears around different edges. This is exactly what the sharpness settings do on most TVs.

The problem is, halo shouldn’t be there – and it replaces what should be. It might not seem like a big deal in this image, but with most content, that halo covers the actual detail. In addition, it often brings out grainy noise in other parts of the image. See how much cleaner the left image looks compared to the enhanced image.

Edge enhancement certainly gives the image a certain look: it can do the appearance of more detail. Most TVs’ sharpness settings are set in the standard picture modes, so we’re used to this faux-detail look.

In fact, unimproved images can look soft in comparison, especially at first. In reality, however, the softer-looking image is more detailed as it reveals fine textures in walls, pores on faces, and tiny hairs – all of which can be hidden by too much edge enhancement.

So what’s the right setting?

The easiest way to check this is to switch your TV to the movie or cinema picture preset and see where the sharpness control is in that mode. Whatever that number is, it’s a good place to start.

Do you want to fine-tune it? While watching a variety of content, especially 4K if you have a 4K TV, turn the controls down from that starting point and see what happens. Do the fine details disappear? If so, it is too low. Ideally, you can find the spot with the most current detail and the least additional noise. Don’t be surprised if that number is 0.

Some TVs actively soften the image when you set the sharpness setting to zero (or in some cases even below 50). This can be done to provide a way to reduce the noise in lower quality sources, but I would be shocked if it were ever used for that purpose. Just something to keep in mind. If the picture looks sudden blurry, that is definitely too low. There’s a good spot near every TV, it’s just a matter of finding it.

An installation disc, such as the Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark, has patterns that make it easier to find the exact level of sharpness for your particular TV.

It is possible, although rare, to have a TV with permanent edge enhancement. Even if you set the sharpness setting to zero and go through each setting (and picture preset) on your TV, you may still see edge enhancement or other edits. However, this was more common with older TV sets. Today it is quite rare.

Other controls

Lots of TVs and some high-end projectors have processing functions that are separate from the focus control. These are usually deeper in the settings menus, or in separate “advanced” sections. Some of these can enhance the apparent detail without adding unnecessary amounts of edge enhancement. Others, of course, do more harm than good.

AI upscaling

The different steps in Samsung’s AI Upscaling process.

Samsung

Part of this is due to the increase in the overall processing power available in mid- and higher-end TVs. For instance, Samsung, LG and Sony have talked about using AI for their upconversion, and that’s how you get a decent-looking lower-resolution image on a high-resolution television.

There is no general advice here. If your TV has these additional resolution / detail enhancement features, take turns trying them out to see what they do. Sit close and see if it adds noise or edge enhancement, or if it makes the image look sharper. Purists will likely want to disable these features, especially with high-quality content like from a 4K Blu-ray, but with some content it can help.

Consider the source

Occasionally, the edge enhancement is in the source. This was common on early DVDs where edge enhancement was added to make them “pop”. If it’s in the source, there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just something to keep in mind when trying out different settings, don’t just use one source or program.

TV manufacturers love edge enhancement mainly because it makes their TVs look super detailed when viewed in a store.

There are also some sources, generally low quality video, such as standard def TV channels or even VHS tapes, that can take advantage of a TV’s detail enhancement circuitry. These sources are so soft and low-resolution at the outset that when blown up to the size of today’s major televisions, they can look better.

Looks sharp, but keep looking

If you now go to your TV and turn the sharpness control all the way down, the picture will look absolutely soft. Just like high color temperaturesanyone who is not used to making fine adjustments to their TV controls has become accustomed to a certain ‘look’ of the TV picture. So at first even the correct sharpness setting might seem soft, especially if your TV was in vivid or dynamic picture mode.

Try the new, lower sharpness setting for a few days. Then if you don’t like the look of the non-enhanced image, that’s fine. Turn it up again. But I bet when you do that the “original” setting looks weird.

Note: This article was first published in 2015, but has been updated and refreshed with more information.


In addition to TV and other display technology, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, huge aircraft carriers, medieval castles, airplane cemeteries and more.

You can follow his exploits on Instagram and YouTube, and on his travel blog BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-sized submarines, along with a sequel.




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