When using a Blu-ray player or a video game system, you often have many color space selections to choose from. The most common choices available are YCbCr, 4:2:2, 4:4:4, RGB, RGB Full or Enhanced, and RGB Limited. For the most part they output the same content in different ways except for RGB Full. So what does this Color Space control mean, and how should you select it?

When an image displays on your TV, Monitor, or Projector, it uses RGB. Except for a few rare cases, every pixel on your screen is made up of Red, Green, and Blue sub-pixels. Everything sent into your display becomes RGB at some point. Not everything sent to your display is RGB to start with.

So why do we have YCbCr and RGB? That itself could be its own article, but it involves Black and White TV, the transition to color, and human visual perception. RGB treats everything equally while YCbCr allows you to treat Black and White and Color information differently. Since we have a higher sensitivity to Black and White information than to color, this allows us to compress color more (the CbCr part of YCbCr) while leaving Black and White with more detail. Our eyes can’t see the difference but we save lots of bandwidth and storage space.

RGB Full and RGB Limited are a different story. The names are confusing, as you would assume you always want the full information. Why would someone ever choose to have something limited? Well it comes down to TVs vs. PCs and how they handle a video signal.

TVs use a video range from 16-235. It considers levels below 16 to be black, and information above 235 is white. A calibrated TV will never display anything below 16 as anything other than black. Most will also treat everything over 235 as white since it should not exist in video content.

PCs are different and use a range from 0-255. There is no data below 0 or above 255 with an 8-bit video signal as there are only 256 possible values. In short, this is much simpler to understand as the TV concepts of Blacker-than-Black and Whiter-than-White do not exist.

RGB Full and RGB Limited exist because of this difference. TV programs and movies use the 16-235 range of values. Video games and PCs use the 0-255 range of values. Since TVs and PC Monitors use different scales, there has to be a way to convert between the two. Setting this RGB Full and Limited setting does that.

With a TV you should always use the RGB Limited setting. Limited refers to the values being limited to 16-235 and not the Full 0-255 scale. With TV and Movies, it leaves them untouched because they are already in the 16-235 range. When you play a video game, it will convert the 0-255 range to the 16-235 range. If it did not do this, shadow and highlights would be pure black or pure white, and the image will look off. You aren’t losing anything by using RGB Limited, but if you use RGB Full with a TV you are losing details. You’ll want to make sure you have Brightness and Contrast set correctly by using a Calibration Disc like Spears & Munsil.

The image below takes the image at the top of this piece and displays it as a TV will when using RGB Full. You see washed-out highlights while the bottom of the ramp is all black. These are highlight and shadow details we will lose.

Limited to Full

On a computer monitor you use the opposite approach. RGB Full will display video games and other 0-255 content at the correct 0-255 range. TV, Movies and other video range content expands to use the full 0-255 range of a computer display. If you use RGB limited instead, shadows will be gray instead of black and highlights will be dull. You will not take full advantage of the dynamic range of the PC monitor and content will have a washed-out look. The image below is the opposite of that above where now we are missing highlights, they are slightly gray instead of white, while blacks are a dark gray and not black.

Limited on Full Display

While poorly named, RGB Full and RGB Limited allow you to use AV devices (Blu-ray players, Video Game systems, and more) with a TV or a PC Monitor without having to keep adjusting the settings. By using this control correct, you see all the shadows and highlights you should regardless of the display. You also will not need to calibrate your TV twice because of the different types of content. Hopefully this clears up some of the misunderstandings people have about this setting.

August 30, 2014 Update

I’ve noticed a lot of discussion about this and some more misconceptions about how Full and Limited RGB work with video game consoles in particular. Hopefully I can address a few more of these questions to make it easier to understand how to set this up correctly.

Q: Since video games use the Full RGB palette, shouldn’t I use Full RGB when playing video games and then Limited RGB for movies?

A: No. Most video games are designed using the Full RGB spectrum since they are designed on computers which use that. However, when you are playing a Full RGB game and your video game console is set to Limited, it takes this into account. The video levels are shifted from 0-255 down to 16-235 and the gamma curve is adjusted to match a TV as well. You aren’t losing anything as the system is accounting for this.

Q: When I choose limited, I get a washed out image. When I choose full, shadows are crushed. Which is correct?

A: If you are on a TV, then Limited is still correct. The washed-out image is caused by your brightness setting being too high. You should use a calibration disc, like the free AVS 709 disc, World of Wonder, or Spears & Munsil, to set this correctly. Then your black levels will be correct in limited, you will see shadow details, and it won’t be washed out.

Q: My TV supports Full mode, shouldn’t I use this?

A: No. TVs support Full to make them easier to calibrate. Most TVs will not display a black level below 16 because video content should never have it. By letting you see Black 15 or 14, it can make it easier to calibrate the display and get the black level correct. However, you really should not use this as your main setting as most displays are not designed to display levels below 16, and often introduce color tints when doing white levels past 240 or so. Additionally, if you restrict yourself to levels 16-235 you wind up with a brighter image with a better contrast ratio, as you can turn up the contrast level higher. Contrast Ratio is the thing your eye notices most, and so it will produce a more pleasing image.

Also, since any non-video game content will only use 16-235, these picture settings will work for all inputs and sources, not just a single source.

Q: Should I set my video game system to Auto instead of choosing Limited or Full?

A: No. If you can choose Limited or Full, you are best to do this. The system will choose based on the EDID of your display, or your receiver, whatever it connects directly to. Usually this is fine but some devices report incorrectly, or the system interprets it incorrectly. A good example is the Roku 3, which doesn’t let you change this setting. A receiver I was testing reported an incorrect EDID to my Roku, forcing it into Full RGB which crushed all the shadows and made the image look bad. Had the Roku let me change this, I could have avoided the issue. Since you know which you should pick, you should always do it because you can avoid complications.

Q: What about Superwhite mode on a PS3 or PS4?

A: Superwhite enables YCbCr values over 235 (or 240 in the case of Y) to be displayed. It will not harm anything, and you should leave it enabled. Some Blu-ray content has specular highlights, like sunlight off a lake, that can be above peak-white and would be hidden otherwise. This lets you see this content if you want, but otherwise won’t harm the image either. It doesn’t expand the dynamic range, it just allows values greater than the usual peak to pass through.

Hopefully this has cleared up some more of the confusion with this setting. The rule of Limited RGB with TVs and Full RGB with PC Monitors still applies. You might just need to calibrate your TV after you set this correctly to make sure you see all of the data.

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151 Comments on "RGB: Full vs. Limited"

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So you’re telling me that even though I have a full rgb capable tv, a ps4 that will run full rgb, and a game that supports full rgb, I still shouldn’t run full rgb because my tv isn’t a computer monitor? That doesn’t make sense

can I change the HDMI port of PlayStation 4 to PC mode and change the black level to low? Is it alright?

When playing a Full RGB game and video game console is set to Limited, it takes this into account and the gamma curve is adjusted to match.
Is it some pallette will be lost?

In correct range settings,
Is “Play Full range source with Full range monitor” more better than “Play Full range source with Limited range monitor”?

So, what if I set my Xbox/PS3 to RGB Full and my TV also to RGB Full? Shouldn’t that be the best option as the games don’t have to be converted from 0-255 to 16-235? Or will the games always be converted to RGB Limited in the Xbox/PS3 and RGB Full will lead to the games being converted from 0-255 to 16-235 and then back to 0-255?

That would not be ideal. RGB Full on the TV is only telling the TV not to clip the data below 16 and the data above 235 over HDMI. However most TVs are not designed to show data below 16 or above 235/240. Many will not show black levels down to 1 no matter how much you raise the brightness. To show the contrast all the way out to 255 you’re also going to likely reduce the maximum light output of the display. The biggest issue is that by doing this to accommodate a video game console you are making… Read more »

Great articule :)

l hope you cant respond to this questions, its bad to play PC games in a 4:2:2 tv? my panny plasma only offers 4:2:2 when hock up a PC, it will be lose quality?

You will lose some quality, as it has to do chroma subsampling to get 4:2:2 from 4:4:4. On something like a game you would not really notice, but if you are displaying text or other fine, still images then you can notice a slight loss in quality.

Thanks for the reply!!! pretty hard to find detail of this subject.

Do you consider the slight losst quality worth to prevent? my panny plasma only do full rgb but downsample everithing to 4:2:2, my only interest is for games, as you say, it will be hard to notice?

Sorry for bad english, greetings for Colombia!! can i use you articule for some college lecture?

Great article but I do have several questions. So if I am reading this correctly setting my XboxOne to RGB Full (PC) and my Samsung TV to Full will not actually give me 0-255 range? Is there downside to doing that? I Second question – when I play my XboxOne, a lot of the text in games is white on black background. However that strains my eyes – is it possible that my Backlight setting is set too high? Currently it is set at 8 (out of 10), as it gives a lot of radiance in games. How do I… Read more »
The downside is that if your Samsung has shared picture settings, every other source is going to appear to be washed out. Whites will be slightly gray and blacks will be a dark gray instead of black. You also will reduce your contrast ratio most likely, since the brightness will have to be increased and the contrast/picture setting decreased relative to a video level setting to make those shades visible. As far as the backlight setting, that is likely too high. Most calibrators would set a TV to be around 30 foot-Lamberts bright in a dim room, and 40-50 fL… Read more »
Thanks for the reply! Since I play in a very dark room, I will definetly turn the Brightness down. And Limited seems like the way to go as well (what was weird is when I tried to calibrate the TV using XboxOne’s calibration tool when everything was set to Full, the Closed Black Eye that is used to get the Brightness calibration would disappear…weird right?) Ok so additional questions. 1. Does using Game mode make any difference besides the fact that it turnings off all post processing features? Should I use it? 2. Dynamic Contrast option – I know that… Read more »

Game mode will disable all processing, so for non-gaming it should be disabled. It will cause jaggies in interlaced content (TV) and when it upscales 720p images, as well as possible color issues since it will bypass some of the internal circuitry for that.

If you like how Dynamic Contrast looks, then use it. However, they usually work by causing crushing of shadows and blowing out highlights so you’ll lose those details.

Great article! I have two questions, if you don’t mind: 1 – Does YCbCr follows the same logic as RGB? Limited on TV’s and Full on Monitors? I have this option in my Ps4. 2 – Also, when playing a game, i get some “ghost-like effect” when in darker areas and when I move the camera (the black lines follow the movement). When I put it on Full, this effect is a little reduced, but i get oversatured colors. If limited is the correct for TV’s, could be that this “ghost effect” is caused by the bad quality TV and… Read more »
I don’t have a PS4, but at least on the PS3 there are flags for Limited (with RGB) and Superwhite (with YCbCr). All that Superwhite does is allow Y levels past 240 to be displayed, but it doesn’t change that no blacks below 16 are displayed. There isn’t supposed to be data above 240 (and in a video game there would not be), but in films there can be rare highlights (like sun off of water or snow, or a bright spotlight) that can be past 240. The issue with ghosting is something with the response time of your display.… Read more »
Chris this is a really helpful article. I was just wondering about my TV in particular. Its a 2014 Sony KDL50W800B, and is specifically catered to PS4/PS3 gamers like myself. Sony also happens to make the PS4. In the TV’s Pro Picture Setup, there is an option to change the Dynamic Range to Full or Limited for each of the TV’s HDMI inputs, which I have done for the PS4’s input. Is it possible that this TV, along with the rest of the BRAVIA series TVs by Sony, are actually capable of displaying the full 0-255 RGB that the PS4… Read more »

On any TV, I’d still stick to limited for a gaming system. You aren’t losing anything, and you aren’t adding extra complexity by having inputs calibrated totally differently. Just because a TV can do that doesn’t mean that it should do it. It might make it easier to work with a HTPC, which is a benefit, but that’s about it. Limited and Full are there to support both TVs and PC Monitors, and it’s best to stick with the one meant for your display.

So do all PS4 games does use the 16-235 system? Like blu-ray movies do? And if this is true, do you recommend the Disney WoW calibration disc? I figure if the disc is meant for blu-ray movies, and the PS4 games use the same color standard as blu-ray (16-235), that it would be worth the investment. Is my logic correct?

Games use 0-255 but when you select limited, it remaps those down to 16-255. It also adjusts the gamma, which helps to get the shadow details correct. TVs and PC monitors usually use different gamma curves, and using the incorrect one leads to shadows being either too dark or washed out. If you use WOW, since it uses the limited color space, it won’t convert from 16-235 if you select limited. If you select Full, it will expand it to 0-255. Since all Blu-ray video content uses the limited range, this is fine. The PS4 will know what to do… Read more »

I’m slightly confused, but to confirm, I should set the TV’s RGB setting to limited, the PS4’s RGB setting to limited, buy the WOW disc, and calibrate everything properly to get the best (most accurate) possible picture out of the PS4?

Set the PS4 to limited and you can set the TV to Full, but it shouldn’t matter. If you set it to Full, it will make values below 16 and above 235 visible, which makes using the WOW disc easier. If you have it limited in the TV, it just won’t display them. You can still set it up just fine, but it might not be as easy.

But everything related to Full settings is irrelevant because my TV cannot properly display the full 0-255 anyway, because it is an LED TV and not a PC, right? I mean if the TV cannot display this properly there is no point in even using it at all for anything if it is just going to crush the 0-15 blacks and mess up the 236-255 whites? Why is it even an option on the TV?

Chris i have 2 pioneer kuro a 151 elite and a 150 elite should i use 16-235 when watching a Blu-ray movie and set it to auto when I’m watching regular TV?

Regular TV only uses 16-235 as well. The only content that goes beyond 16-235 for a TV would be a home theater PC, if not configured correctly, or a video game system when set to full. Correctly fixing that would be to fix those, and not the display, so you can run 16-235.