Dear Lifehacker, I recently saw a post on CNET describing game mode on TVs, and I'm wondering what all these other settings like "movie mode" and "PC mode" do. What do these mean? Should I use them? Sincerely, Mode Operator
The preset modes on a TV certainly sound appealing. With settings like game mode and movie mode they promise that you won't have go through the cumbersome process of calibrating your TV yourself. Let's dig into what they're supposed to do, and if they even work to begin with.
Movie Mode Makes Your Movies Look Great
As you'd expect, movie mode is meant to give you a better picture when you're watching movies. Every TV treats this mode a little differently, but the basics are pretty simple.
Movie mode generally adjusts the contrast, brightness, colour, tint and sharpness of the picture to offer a cinema-like experience. This often means the picture is a little softer with a red or yellow tint to it. Chances are the brightness and contrast are raised to provide darker blacks and brighter whites. The settings typically assume you watch movies in the dark, so a movie mode alters the image to provide a good experience for that.
Movie mode can be great on some TVs if you're watching in the right lighting conditions, but it also looks a little odd if you have overhead lights on. That said, if you typically watch movies at night in the dark, it's worth at least checking out movie mode to see how your TV handles it.
Similarly, if your TV has a built-in sports mode, then it does the same basic thing as movie mode. It alters the contrast, brightness, colour and tint to make sports look better. In this case, that typically means making primary colours look brighter (for example your blues and greens would be more emphasised in football). In some cases, sports mode may also alter the image to decrease motion blur. Picture: Jon Ross/Flickr.
Game Mode Reduces Input Lag (but Makes Everything Look Horrible)
Game mode is even more confusing sounding than movie mode for most people. The obvious thing to think is that if you have a game console connected to your TV it should probably be in game mode. However, it's not as simple as that.
Game mode exists because most modern TVs have a lot of different processes happening at once. They convert the incoming video signal, scales images, and then the television creates the images that come out in front of you. All of these processes take a little while, and in some cases the image lags behind the input you're putting into the controller.
As CNET points out, most game modes essentially strip away as much processing as possible to make the lag between you pushing a button on the controller and the image on the screen changing as small as possible. The problem is that the image quality is usually reduced significantly. If you have older consoles hooked up to your TV, like a Super Nintendo or PS2, you likely won't notice the drop in image quality. However, on the newer consoles, like a Xbox 360 or PS3, the image quality is noticeably worse.
For most people, the lag between your game console and TV is pretty insignificant, so it's not really worth messing around with game mode unless you notice problems. How much it helps varies between TVs, but if you're sick of always dying in Super Mario Bros. because your button presses don't seem to correspond to what appears on the screen then game mode is worth trying out. Picture: Marco Arment.
PC Mode Makes Text Readable (but Everything Else Looks Like Junk)
PC mode typically works a lot like game mode. It strips away a lot of the video processing that causes lag and adjusts the image quality. All TVs are a little different, but typically this means your TV disables scaling, and adjusts the sharpness setting to make the text more readable.
If you're connecting your PC to your TV to use it as an actual computer monitor where you're reading text or browsing the web, then PC Mode can help make everything a lot cleaner. It also might reduce lag between your mouse movements and what appears on the screen. That said, if you're using your computer as a home theatre PC, you should put it in movie mode since that's what you'll be using it for.
In the end, all of these settings are worth experimenting with. Depending on your TV brand and your use, you can get some great results from the built-in settings, especially with movie mode. Chances are none of these settings produce as good of results as a proper calibration, but they at least provide a good baseline for quick switching between modes. Picture: TexasDarkHorse.
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