How to Fix the ‘Soap Opera Effect’

Couple watching HDTV
Many TV manufacturers offer free TV apps that let you use your smartphone and tablet as remotes. Photo courtesy Shutterstock; Chris Haston/NBC.

Today’s HDTVs can do a lot more than TVs of yesteryear. That picture? Gorgeous! The option of streaming movies from the Internet? Amazing! Making long distance calls (for free!) with video? Cool. But, like many smart technical objects, it can be tricky to use. Here are some great ways to tweak your flat screen to get the most out of it.

1. Turn off the “soap opera effect.” You may have noticed that sports on your flat screen are spectacular. So crisp! So clear! But when you watch a favorite movie, the picture looks, well, weird. The soft, grainy quality you expect in a film is gone. Instead it looks like video—cheap and cheesy—sort of like an episode of All My Children.

Without getting too technical, here’s what’s going on and how to fix it. We’re used to watching movies at 24-frames-per-second, the industry standard for film. Many HDTVs have a feature called “motion interpolation” or “motion smoothing.” Your TV may have a different name for it—LG TruMotion or Sony MotionFlow—but the results are essentially the same. Motion smoothing artificially adds extra frames-per-second to make images less blurry. This is why sports programming looks so great. But, the effect can ruin the lush look of film.

Here’s the good news: You can turn off motion smoothing for movies. To zap the soap opera effect, you’ll need to delve into the scary world of TV settings. But don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it! In one Samsung model, for example, press the “Menu” button on the TV remote (not the cable remote), and choose “Picture Options.” Turn off the feature called “Auto Motion Plus.” The process varies by TV. Try menu/picture on your TV, and see if you can find it. If the solution is not readily available, crack open the user manual. Be assured: There is a way. Don’t leave this function off all the time, because you’ll want it on for sporting events!

2. Tweak for optimum viewing. Now that we’ve gotten you to the menu, look at other settings. If willing to adjust them a bit, you’ll see a prettier picture optimized for your room. Vizio TV owners can choose between several modes, including Standard (best overall choice for most environments); Movie (good for movie-watching in dark rooms); Vivid (more vibrant picture); and so on. If you want to get fancy, purchase a calibration disc (Blu-ray or DVD), which includes test patterns and scenes that let you match your TV’s color, contrast, and other settings precisely to broadcast industry standards. Several are available, but the disc from Digital Video Essentials (about $40, new) has gotten favorable reviews.

3. Turn your smartphone or tablet into a remote control. Face it, TV remotes stink: Too many tiny, cryptic buttons. Luckily, there’s a better way. Many TV manufacturers, including LG, Samsung, and Sony, offer free TV apps that let you use your smartphone and tablet as remotes. If you’re a pay TV subscriber, your cable or satellite provider may offer a free remote app too. The Xfinity TV Remote from Comcast Interactive Media, for instance, lets you change channels, browse TV listings, schedule DVR recordings, and watch shows on your tablet or smartphone. It works with most Comcast set-top boxes, as well as Apple (iOS) and Android devices too.

4. Use your TV for video chat. Some new HDTV features seem gimmicky. When changing the channel or lowering the volume, are voice commands or hand gestures really that much easier than a slick mobile app? Perhaps it’s too early to pass judgment, but one smart TV app really does have long-term potential: video calling. More TVs are adding built-in cameras with video chat. Skype is available on select TVs from major manufacturers—LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba. If your TV isn’t on the list, an add-on device is an option. Microsoft’s Xbox One entertainment console ($500), slated to ship in November, will include an HD camera and Skype software. And since Skype-to-Skype calls are free, you won’t get stuck with a big video chat bill.

Here are more ways to get the most out of your TV and other devices!

Travel Mysteries: What’s the best time to book an airline ticket?

Passport and Boarding Pass

As we approach the holiday season, many people will begin planning their end-of-year vacations. Perhaps you’re contemplating a trip to somewhere warm or traveling to see your loved ones. Either way, it’s a good time to start thinking about where you want to go—and how much money you have to spend.

Timing is everything when it comes to travel. Everybody knows that buying airfares in advance will save you big bucks—but how far in advance should you make the bookings? Are there any special days or times you should be hitting the airline websites? There are more myths and rumors surrounding this topic than just about anything else to do with travel, but we’ve done the research. When you’re looking to book, keep these tips in mind.

The 21-day advance
If you have the ability to book your flight more than 21 days before your departure, you have a great chance to scoop the biggest savings. Many airlines use a discount cycle that increases incrementally—the closer to the date, the more you’ll pay.

Can’t make 21 days? Obviously, giving the most notice possible is advised, but many airlines use additional discount tiers with intervals of 14 days, seven days, and three days. Booking on the day of your flight can sometimes result in absolute last-minute bargains, but more often, it will leave you waiting for someone else to cancel.

Tuesday and Wednesday
Traditionally, these are the cheapest days to travel by plane. Vacationers have returned from their weekend destinations, and most people who travel for work have headed off on Monday. By Thursday and Friday, people have started taking their long weekends, and the end of the week is the most convenient for most people to travel, which means it’s also the most expensive.

If you have the flexibility to travel on Tuesday or Wednesday, you can save money on flights, as cheaper rates will often still be available right up until a few days before take-off. An added bonus: Because the plane will be less full, the chances of you having an empty seat next to you is higher, and airline staff are often more attentive, as there are fewer people to check on.

The stroke of midnight
A persistent myth suggests that Wednesday at midnight is the golden time to book your flights. If it’s not Wednesday, it’s midnight Thursday or midnight Friday. There are just as many people who swear by these times as there are those who think it’s ridiculous.

However, some airlines do send out fare updates three times per weekday (and once each on Saturday and Sunday). If you’re a believer that the early bird gets the cheap tickets, head to your airline’s website just after 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. or 8 p.m. Eastern, Monday through Friday. On weekends, the data is updated for each airline at 5 p.m. Eastern but not uploaded to the website until midnight the following day.

Friday’s all right
While the Wednesday night argument has been debunked as often as it has been proven, there is another day to keep an eye on. At the end of each week, airlines often experiment with prices. Some may drop their airfares to see if the others follow suit. That doesn’t automatically make Friday the best day, though—other airfares can experiment the other direction by raising ticket prices to see if its competitors will do the same. Even if one airline drops its prices on Friday, rivals may not drop theirs until Monday or Tuesday.

Any day ending in ‘y’
Unfortunately, there are no hard-and-fast rules about when to snag the best airfares. Cheap tickets can be released at almost any time of day, any day of the week.

Rather than playing the calendar game, it’s often a much better idea to subscribe to your preferred airline’s online mailing list. The airlines send out discount deals, bonus offers, and occasionally package holiday information that isn’t offered to non-subscribers. Sign up for a few mailing lists and potentially a few aggregator websites as well, to keep your bases covered. A cheap flight’s a cheap flight, regardless of which carrier it’s with.

There are plenty of people who will sing the praises of last-minute bookings, and indeed, there are some bargains to be had. However, if you want to minimize your stress (and maximize your savings!), it’s often best to plan ahead.

This article originally appeared on Tecca. More from Tecca:

[Photo courtesy Shutterstock]