TV settings can be a a confusing mess. For example, brightness control does not make the entire image brighter. The difference is just adjusting the bright highlights. The color… well the color does what it says. However, it’s easy to see what each control does by adjusting it. However, there is one control that at first seems to improve the picture, but actually makes it worse: Sharpness.
Understandably, this is quite the opposite. After all, you wouldn’t seek sharp picture? Sure, but acute management will not “increase” acuteness. That is, it does not add details to the image. Instead, sharp controls add something called “edge enhancement.” This creates very rough or “bright” edges around objects. At first glance it may seem “sharp” but this plugin removes fine details from the image.
That means if your sharpness is set too high, you may lose some of the finer details of that fancy 4K TV. In some cases, the best setting is zero, while for most TVs the setting is better at 20 percent or so.
But what exactly is intensity? That’s a picture very bright or cover up it is easy to understand, but being serious requires some clarification. Buckle up.
Oh, and if you want to dive deeper into what settings are right for your TV, read about what they are the best way to picture and the try changing these settings.
Sharpness means added edge
In almost all TVs, sharp controls add something called “edge enhancement.” That’s exactly what it sounds like. The edges in the image are enhanced, basically by adding a small outline or halo to them. This makes them more visible.
Check out the side-by-side pictures above. The picture on the left is or naturel translation. The right has significant amounts of added edge. Notice the outlines around the buildings. While the image on the left may appear, at first glance, “soft,” it is not.
The image below is a close-up of the improved “sharp” version. As you will see, a kind of white halo appears around the different edges.
The problem is that the halo shouldn’t be there — and it’s replacing something that should be there. It may not look like a big deal in this picture, but with a lot of content the halo covers most of the details. In addition, it often produces grainy noise in other areas of the image. Notice how clean the image on the left looks compared to enhanced.
The enlargement of the border certainly gives the image a certain look: It can provide appearance for more details. Most TVs have their sharpness controls turned to default picture modes, so we’re used to seeing false details.
While raw images may look soft in comparison, especially at first glance, they’re more detailed because they show fine wall textures, facial pores and tiny hairs — all of which can be hidden by too much edge enhancement.
What is the best plan for my TV?
The easiest way to check is to switch your TV to the Movie or Cinema picture setting, and see where the sharp controls are in that mode. Whatever that number is, it’s a good place to start.
Read more: How to set up your TV
Do you want to fix it? While watching different content, especially 4K if you have a 4K TV, turn the control from that starting point and see what happens. Are fine details disappearing? If so, that’s too low. Ideally, you’ll be able to find a site that offers the most realistic detail and the least amount of extra noise. Don’t be surprised if that number is 0.
Some TVs actively smooth the picture when you turn the sharpness control to zero (or even less than 50 in some cases). This could be done to provide a way to reduce noise on low quality sources, but I would be surprised if it was ever used for that purpose. Just something to remember. If the picture looks fast it’s dark, that’s too low. There’s a sweet spot on any TV, it’s just a matter of finding it.
A benchmark disc, such as the Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark, has patterns that will make it easier to find the correct sharpness level for your particular TV.
It is possible, although rare, to have a TV set with fixed conversion. Even if you turn the sharpness control to zero and go through all the settings (and picture presets) on your TV, you may still see an edge enhancement or other process. This was more common on older TV sets, however. These days it is rare.
read more: When to bring a Pro to change your TV settings
What about other visual controls?
More TVs and more high quality projects have different processing characteristics than acute controls. These are usually deep in the settings menus, or in various “main” sections. Some of these can improve detail without adding undue amounts of edge enhancement. Some, of course, do more harm than good.
Part of this is due to the increased processing power available in mid-range and high-end TVs. As well, Samsung, LG, and Sony have discussed using AI for their transformationit’s how you get a good-looking low-resolution picture on a high-end TV.
No blanket advice here. If your TV has these resolution/feature enhancement options, try each one to see what they do. Get up close, and see if it adds noise, edge enhancement, or makes the image appear sharper. Purifiers may want to keep these features turned off, especially with high quality content like 4K Blu-ray, but with some content it can help.
Why sometimes you can’t deny the severity
Sometimes, the edge is improved at 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. Just something to keep in mind if you’re trying different settings, don’t use the same source or program.
TV manufacturers love edge enhancement, mostly because it makes their TVs look more detailed when viewed in a store.
There are also some sources, generally low-quality video such as low-quality TV channels or VHS tapes, that can benefit from TV detail enhancement circuits. These sources are soft and low-resolution, so that when they are blown up to the size of today’s large televisions they can appear much better.
Sharpness looks strange? Give it a few days
If you go to your TV now and turn the sharpness control all the way down the picture will look soft. Much like him high levels of color, anyone who isn’t used to making fine adjustments to their television controls has become accustomed to a certain “look” in their television picture. So at first, even the correct sharpness setting may seem soft, especially if your TV was in Vivid or Dynamic picture mode.
Try a new, lower intensity setting for a few days. If you don’t like the look of the unenhanced image, that’s fine. Put it back up. But I bet when you do the “original” setting it will look weird.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015 but has, ahem, been updated with updated information, links, and more.
Along with covering television and other visual arts, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, large aircraft carriers, medieval castles, 10,000 mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and excursions.
He wrote a best-selling sci-fi novel about city-sized submarines and sequels. You can follow his journey on Instagram and his YouTube channel.