Color Temperature and Your TV

How to use the color temperature setting on your TV or video projector

After setting up and turning on a TV or video projector, you choose a channel or other content source and start watching. Most of the time, the provided default picture settings look fine, but TV makers include several options to fine-tune your picture.

This information applies to TVs from a variety of manufacturers including, but not limited to, LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, and Vizio. The screenshot examples are of an LG TV.

TV Color Temperature Example
TV Image provided by LG - Color Temperature variation by Robert Silva

TV Picture Quality Setting Options

One way to "fine-tune" TV picture quality is with image or picture presets. These may include:

  • Standard
  • Vivid
  • Cinema
  • Game
  • Sports
  • User or Custom

Each preset determines how displayed images look based on the selected content sources. The User or Custom options allow adjustment of presets further according to preference. Here is how this breaks down:

  • Brightness: Makes dark areas brighter or darker.
  • Contrast: Makes bright areas brighter or darker.
  • Color: Increases or decreases the saturation (intensity) of all colors in the image together.
  • Tint (Hue) Adjusts the amount of green or magenta in the image (used primarily to dial in proper skin tones).
  • Sharpness: Adjusts the degree of edge contrast in the image, but doesn't change resolution. You should use this setting sparingly, as it can display edge artifacts.
  • Backlight: Increases or decreases light output from the backlight or edge light system for LED/LCD TVs. This setting is not available for Plasma or OLED TVs.

In addition to the above settings, another preset/custom adjustment provided is Color Temperature.

What Color Temperature Is

The science of color temperature is complicated, but you could sum it up as a measure of light frequencies emitted from a black surface as it is heated. As the black surface is "heated," the light changes color. The term "red hot" is a reference that light emitted appears to be red. With more heat, the emitted color goes from red, yellow, and eventually to white ("white-hot"), then blue.

color temp

Color Temperature is measured using the Kelvin scale.

  • Absolute black is 0 Kelvin.
  • Red shades range from about 1,000 to 3,000K.
  • Yellow shades range from 3,000 to 5,000K,
  • White shades range from 5,000K to 7000K.
  • Blue ranges from 7,000 to over 10,000K.

Colors below white are referred to as warm, while colors above white are cool. The terms warm and cool aren't temperature-related but are merely visually descriptive.

How Color Temperature Is Used

Color temperature is used with light bulbs. Depending on the type of light bulb, the light in a room may take on warm, neutral, or cool characteristics. With natural outdoor light as the reference point, some lights cast a warmer temperature into a room, which results in a yellowish cast. On the other hand, some lights have a cooler temperature, which results in a blueish cast.

Color temperature is also used in image capture and display. A photographer or video content creator makes color temperature decisions based on the desired result. Employing things, such as set lighting or shooting in various daylight or night conditions, accomplishes this.

The White Balance Factor

Another factor that affects color temperature is White Balance. For color temperature settings to work correctly, captured or displayed images must be referenced to a white value.

Professional still photographers, movie, and video content creators use white balance to provide the most accurate color reference.

The standardized temperature reference white that film and video content creators, as well as TV/video projector makers, use is 6500 degrees Kelvin (aka D65). Professional TV monitors used in the creation/editing/post-production process are calibrated to this standard.

The D65 white reference point is considered slightly warm, but it is not as warm as the warm preset color temperature setting on a TV. D65 was chosen as the white reference point because it most closely matches "average daylight," and is the best compromise for both film and video sources.

Color Temperature Settings On TVs/Video Projectors

Think of a TV screen as a heated light-emitting surface, with the ability to display all the colors needed.

Image information passes from a TV broadcast, cable/satellite, disc, streaming, etc. to the TV. However, although the media may include the correct color temperature information, the TV or video projector may have its color temperature default that may not display the intended color temperature accurately.

Samsung SP-A800B 1080p DLP Video Projector - Onscreen Menu - Color Temperature

Not all TVs display the same color temperature out the box. Its factory default settings may be too warm or too cool. A TV's perceived color temperature may also look slightly different as a result of room lighting conditions (daylight vs. nighttime).

Depending on the TV brand/model, color temperature settings may include one, or more of the following:

  • Presets, such as Standard (Normal, Medium), Warm (Low), Cool (High).
  • A continuous adjustment from warm to cool, similar to how you adjust volume, color (saturation), tint (hue), contrast, and sharpness (refer to the image below).
  • Additional temperature settings may be available for each color (red, green, blue). A trained technician should use this option.

The warm setting (W) results in a slight shift towards red, while the cool setting (C) adds a slight blue shift. If your TV has Standard, Warm, and Cool options, select each one or use manual settings to see the shift from warm to cool.

When performing more precise image calibration than basic warm, standard, cool settings provide, the goal is to get the white reference value as close to D65 (6,500K) as possible.

The photo below shows the color shift you might see when using color temperature settings. The image on the left is warm, the image on the right is cool, and the center best approximates a natural state.

The Bottom Line

There are a lot of ways to fine-tune a TV or video projector. Picture settings, such as color, tint (hue), brightness, and contrast, provide the most dramatic effects. However, to obtain the overall best color accuracy, color temperature settings are a tool that most TVs and video projectors offer.

The critical thing to remember is that all the available picture adjustment settings, although able to be dialed in individually, all interact with each other in optimizing your TV viewing experience.

Regardless of all the setting and calibration options available, consider that we all perceive color differently – adjust your TV so that it looks best to you.