Contrast and Brightness Controls - A Simple Guide to Setting Them Correctly

By Geoffrey Morrison

If you’ve never adjusted your TV’s Contrast and Brightness controls, your TV probably doesn’t look its best. With just a few minutes effort, your TV can look better. If you’ve ever had a hard time seeing something in the shadows of a dark scene, or wondered why you can’t see the moguls on a ski competition, this is the guide for you.

To put it as simply: “Contrast” controls the bright parts of the image, and “Brightness” controls the dark parts. However, the tricky part is, turning up the Contrast past a certain point won’t make the TV any brighter, and turning the Brightness control all the way down won’t actually make the TV darker. Finding that specific point is key.

If you set the Contrast too high the image will look blown out, like it’s overexposed. Turning it too low, and it will look washed out and flat. The best way to set the Contrast control is using a scene of snow or a bright cloudy sky. Turn the control down about halfway, and then move it up. Stop when the clouds or snow start losing detail. You want them to be bright, but not washed out (and lacking detail). A white blob is not a cloud.

Setting the Brightness control too low, and the image will look underexposed and mostly dark, like wearing your sunglasses at night. Set it too high, and everything will be washed out and objects that are supposed to be black will be grayish. The best scenes to use to set brightness are night scenes with people in dark clothes. Turn the brightness control way up, so everything’s flat and washed out, then turn it down until you start losing detail in the clothing (then tick it back up a few steps). Sometimes parts of the image should be too dark to see, but what a main character is wearing is usually something the director wants visible. This control might take a little bit of fiddling, with different shows or movies.

If you want to go one step further, a video setup disc (Blu-ray or DVD), will have test patterns to help you get each setting perfect.