Dirty Screen Effect: What Is It and How to Fix It

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dirty screen effect
Of all the things affecting the color depth and image quality on a television screen, the most frustrating might just be the dirty screen effect.

With any technological issue, not knowing where the problem’s coming from might be much more annoying than being faced with a knowable problem. We speak anecdotally, but the importance of the “formulation of a problem” has been known to experts across all fields of life for years and is relevant when knowing what the absolutely-maddening dirty screen effect is what the dirty screen effect’s fix is.

Being infuriating as it is, we’ve deliberately held back and eased you into this article instead of laying it out for you – reader, beware, if you aren’t aware of what the dirty screen effect is, then your Eureka moment can be one of deep annoyance.

What Is The Dirty Screen Effect?

Even in displays with great color accuracy, the dirty screen effect can creep in and cause havoc.

The dirty screen effect is observed where “residue” can be seen on your screen: spots, specks, streaks, and lines. In many cases, it’s unobservable (unless pointed out – we warned you, but we’re still sorry) and in others, it’s an extreme nuisance.

More technically, the dirty screen effect arises from a lack of uniformity in colors; particularly, the grays. This happens when the other aspects are functioning perfectly or reasonably well on your own, so knowing how to calibrate a monitor is a fundamental and helpful thing but won’t help us with the DSE.

What Is Gray Uniformity?

The gray palette is the standard against which we can test for the luminance of other colors. A saturated pink becomes grayer as it goes, a saturated red shade moves towards gray, and so on. Darkness and light can be compared uniformly on a gray background.

The gray uniformity is thus calculated as the standard deviation (a statistical term meaning the average spread of a number of figures) of color “values” of a single, solid, static, and non-gradient color across the entire screen, as well as the presence and severity of darker patches (particularly along the edges and in the center, the optimum and median viewing angle of a TV or monitor screen).

Thus, we define gray uniformity as a screen’s ability to maintain that solid color uniformly.

It can be most pronounced when playing video games or when watching sports, as the darker patches affect how surfaces look, presenting potentially misrepresenting situations. These surfaces tend to be uniform color – think of a snooker table, a football pitch, and so on. However, you can also see it in snowy or sunny scenes in television and film. If it’s too bad, it manifests as dirty wet splotches that ruin all viewing experience.

There are websites and online resources that detail how screens are tested for dirty screen effect, but the focus of our article is primarily on getting to a dirty screen effect fix.

Getting To A Dirty Screen Effect Fix

Knowing about how to apply a dirty screen effect fix requires some knowledge of how gray uniformity is unique between different television sets, right down to each different panel, even if of the same model.

That being said, some manufacturers are slightly more notorious in this department than others. For example, of the known sets with the dirty screen effect, TCL 4K Smart TVs are said by some to be known to have noticeable problems, and generally, pricier models from different manufacturers – owing to better, more stringer quality standards – have less of a noticeable dirty screen effect.

In many cases, the first course of action should be to notify the manufacturers and retails and get a return or refund. In case this fails – and it very well can – the last resort is simply that of adjusting.

In some cases, the adjusting is literal: picking viewing angles and spots from where the “damage” is least visible. You can gain a better understanding of this in the next section, but common practice is to get the screen closer and as vertical as possible so there’s no tilting.

You can also adjust the display modes and picture settings on your device. Many television sets have preset modes, such as movies, sports, and game mode. Many users have reported that the gaming preset is designed to present better color uniformity particularly when it comes to gaming thus minimizing and mitigating the dirty screen effect.

For gamers, there’s also a possible snafu that’s causing these problems: check to see if you have an artificial 120HZ refresh rate setting – consider this a pro-tip from us (that might or might not help, since we can’t stress enough just how painful the DSE is to diagnose and fix).

In case you go for an exchange or a new purchase, note that most plasma televisions, due to the way they display images, do not run a risk of the dirty screen effect being prominent in these sets. That is, of course, unless the model is particularly cheap or outdated and the phosphors are either worn out or malfunctioning.

Usually, however, the individually-illuminated pixels on a plasma screen TV help keep the dirty screen effect away.

Why Does The Dirty Screen Effect Exist?

We know that problems in gray uniformity give rise to the dirty screen effect. Where do these problems in gray uniformity arise? At the panel level.

The panels in an LED/LCD TV are highly sensitive to pressure – in many cases the dirty screen effect could’ve even come up as a result of a bump or a thud with a television in your possession as opposed to it being there out of the box. The pressure can also have come into action during manufacturing, such as by mishandling or misalignment of the components underneath. In some cases, you can also see the grid of the underlying LEDs, owing to full-array backlighting.

OLED TVs also suffer from the dirty screen effect at times, although in these cases, it’s the entire panel that’s faulty, which is rarer still. In any case, having the television set replaced or returned and exchanged is the key – repairing and other such promises or attempts are just cat-catching-own-tail “solutions” that will only cause more wastage of time.

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