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5 home hacks to upgrade the TV setup you already have… that won’t cost a penny

With so many brilliant series to catch up on, and more time at home than we know what to do with, we’re watching more TV now than ever before .

While we fill our time with the huge selection of shows and films available on all our favourite streaming services, now is the time to make sure you’re getting the most out of your TV set up – be it optimising the brightness of your screen so you can enjoy Baby Yoda in all his glory, or ensuring that the audio is just right for when Beyonce’s Spirit starts in The Lion King.

When it comes to perfecting your front room setup, Dolby Labs, purveyors of Dolby Atmos and Dolby Cinema, amongst other audio-visual innovations, are the unrivalled experts. So, naturally, they were our first port of call when it came to optimising a luxe living room.

Here, Dolby’s Javier Foncillas, who is VP of Commercial Partnerships Europe at Dolby Laboratories, reveals his insider tips for perfecting your home movie watching setup… without having to buy any new tech. 

1. Glare today, gone tomorrow

It’s not all about the brightness on the screen itself, you also have to pay attention to the lighting of the room you’re in. “For those moments when you really want to tune into what you’re watching, pay attention to the brightness level in the room, as this can negatively impact your viewing experience,” advises the Dolby VP. 

For full immersion in your favourite show, you’ll want to make your room as dark as possible. But there are caveats. “Use curtains to dim natural lights and switch off all your lamps,” says Foncillas. And whatever you do, don’t put your TV next to a window. 

Make sure that all your gadgets, such as Wi-Fi routers, smart speakers and thermostats are not inadvertently reflecting unwanted light onto your screen.

TLR says: Sometimes low light is better than no light…

If you own an LED LCD TV, it almost certainly won’t be able to deliver a true black colour. That’s because LCD screens require an always on-backlight to work. In a full dark room, this can make blacks look rather grey. You can compensate for this by watching movies while retaining some low level of ambient light, maybe putting a small light behind the screen. This simple trick can prevent blacks looking wishy-washy. If you have an OLED TV, you can turn off all the lights, as blacks will always be inky and convincing – a key benefit of OLED pixels being self illuminating. 

Create multiple account profiles customised according to who or what people want to watch…

2. Make your inputs and profiles your own

Whether you are rushing to get on a conference call, or are in the middle of making dinner, simplify how different users in your household are able to access their entertainment by customising your streaming profiles and input sources – especially if you have multiple devices plugged into your TV.

It’s a simple way to make your telly-watching experience more user-friendly. “Most TVs allow consumers to name individual inputs, for example, ‘Rachel’s Xbox,’ ‘Cable TV,’ or ‘Blu-ray player,’ says Foncillas. 

“Another easy tip, especially if you have multiple people in the house using your streaming account, is to create multiple account profiles customised according to who or what people want to watch, like ‘Cartoons’, ‘For Grandma’, or ‘Parents,’” Foncillas suggests, to allow everyone to easily tune in to what they’re interested in.

3. Social distance from your TV

It’s not just social distance from other people you need to think about right now – the space between you and your TV is important, too. 

“The distance from your TV to your couch makes a big difference in your viewing experience,” says Foncillas, “if your TV is too far away, your picture quality can suffer and things won’t look as crisp. It’s all about the details, so unlike at the movie theatre, close is good.” 

Images will start to lose detail if the distance between your couch and TV is “greater than three picture heights,” he advises – the picture height being the distance between the top and bottom of your screen. You should make this distance even closer if you are watching movies or TV shows in 4k.

To really appreciate the extra detail offered by a 4k UHD screen over a 1080p HD model, you’ll either need to sit closer than you were previously, or buy bigger. If you don’t do either of these things, you’ll wonder what the fuss is about. So move that sofa closer!

TLR says: Think big, buy larger…

The most common comment we hear after folks upgrade their TV is ‘we wish we’d bought larger’. As a general rule of thumb, buy a bigger screen than the one you had before. This is because your new model will almost certainly take up less space than the same screen size TV it’s replacing, as the bezel surrounding the new screen will most likely be smaller. So a 55-inch TV will fit in the same space as an older 48-incher.

Consider hanging a piece of art on your walls to help absorb sound…

4. How to get great sound, without bothering the neighbours

With many families juggling work, school and leisure screen time at home right now, the placement of your TV or audio system will have a significant impact on the quality of your AV experience… and family sanity.

Height is important when placing your TV, as well as distance. “Make sure your TV is placed on or above a surface like a table to ensure you’re sending audio throughout the room,” says Foncillas.

“Most new TVs have speakers placed behind the panel and are pointed downward. If you don’t have a surface directly under to help reflect sound, the audio will get buried.”

If your room is too reflective, consider putting down a rug or hanging a piece of art on your walls to help absorb sound. If you have a 5.1 surround system, a large bookshelf. at the rear of the room, opposite the TV will always help. Arrange the books so the spines are staggered in and out, rather than smooth.

If you have a soundbar, make sure that it is mounted or placed on the edge of your TV table instead of sitting flush with the wall. “This way, the audio is reflecting outward into the room rather than bouncing against your TV,” advises the Dolby boss.

Unsure where to park a subwoofer? “Subs are omnidirectional, meaning they reverberate sounds all throughout a room. So, you can put it anywhere,” says Foncillas, “but don’t place it against a wall or near an object that will rattle: your neighbours will thank you!” 

Give yourself some time to adjust to each different picture setting before making a judgement…

5. Don’t be afraid to switch up your settings

You might not want to use the same TV settings, depending on what you’re watching. So, as you switch from Frozen 2 to Tiger King to the return of the Premier League, experiment with your TV settings for a better viewing experience.

Most TV’s include these common image presets: ‘Cinema Mode’, for those looking for a purer picture; ‘Vivid Mode’, which ramps up the saturation and brightness but at the same time can make the picture look cartoony; ‘Sport Mode,’ which optimises live sports and other forms of live entertainment, ‘Gaming Mode’, which actually turns off certain features inside your TV to speed up its internal processing to reduce potential latency; and a ‘Standard Mode’, which finds a balance between all of the above.

“Watch each mode for 15 to 30 minutes to give yourself some time to adjust before making a judgement,” advises Foncillas. 

TLR says: Turn off motion smoothing

If you think blockbusters look a bit cheap on your TV, more like a daily soap opera than a major movie, then you’ve probably got motion smoothing, also known as interpolation, turned on. Many TVs ship with it on as a default. Different TV makers call  interpolation by different names – Intelligent Frame Creation, MotionFlow, TruMotion to name but few – but the end result is the same. Our advice is to find this in the TV’s picture menus and turn it off. Then films will look properly cinematic.

More: Dolby Atmos Music finally streams to a home cinema near you

Bex April May is an experienced entertainment, travel and lifestyle journalist based in London, writing for The Guardian, Metro, Cosmopolitan, MTV, Shortlist and more. Follow her adventures on Twitter @bexlectric and on Instagram @bexaprilmay

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