Optimise Your HDTV

Have a new HDTV? Here are five settings that you can tweak to enhance your viewing experience.

You've bought the HDTV. You've set it up, plugged everything into it. Maybe you've even calibrated it for the best possible picture. (If you need advice on handling those chores, see "How to Install Your HDTV" and "Calibrate My HDTV".) But you're not done yet: Fiddling with a few more settings can further complement your viewing experience.

Here are five settings that you may want to change on your HDTV itself or on devices plugged into it. I won't be able to give you exact directions, because the steps differ from one manufacturer and model to the next. But I will tell you where you can typically find these options, and what they're usually called.

Picture Size for Broadcast or Cable

Your HDTV receives both standard- and high-definition TV channels, and automatically upscales standard-def video. The question you need to address is how the set should handle the aspect-ratio difference.

Standard-definition video uses a 4:3 aspect ratio. That's only three-quarters the width of your new, high-definition TV's 16:9 screen. HDTVs generally offer three ways around the discrepancy: They can stretch the image to fill the screen, which makes everyone look fat. They can blow up and crop the image, losing the top and bottom and making everything look fuzzy (because they're using less of the low-res image to fill more of the screen). Or they can pillarbox the image, displaying the unaltered 4:3 image between black or gray vertical bars.

Go with the third choice. True, you won't get the "Wow! I have a widescreen TV!" effect, but the resulting image will be the one you're supposed to see. And when you switch to an HD channel, the "wow" effect will be even greater.

While watching a standard-definition channel, search the HDTV's remote or its on-screen menus for a setting called Picture Size, P. Size, Aspect, AR, Format, Screen Size, Viewing Mode, or something similar. Of the options offered, the one you want is probably labeled 4:3, 4X3, standard, or normal.

Most HDTVs are smart enough to understand that your choice in this setting indicates how you want all of your SD channels--and only your SD channels--to look.

Picture Size for DVDs

The same issues apply to DVDs, but they're resolved differently. Although DVDs are standard definition, they support both aspect ratios. On an anamorphic widescreen DVD, the disc-mastering process squeezes the wide, 16:9 image into a 4:3 frame; playback then stretches the image out again. (Movies on DVD often appear letterboxed within the 16:9 frame, because they were intended for even wider movie screens.)

By default your DVD player was set under the assumption that you have a 4:3 television. When you played an anamorphic disc on your standard TV, the player shrank and letterboxed the image, keeping the wide image and the proper proportions but throwing away 25 percent of the resolution.

Now, with your new HDTV in place, you need to tell your DVD player that you have a widescreen display. Press the Setup or Home button on the player's remote control and look for a TV Shape or Output option. Use this menu to indicate that you have a 16:9 TV.

You'll want to instruct your HDTV to display anamorphic DVDs in the Full or Wide mode (whatever your HDTV calls it), using the screen option described in the previous tip. Standard, nonanamorphic DVDs (usually TV shows or pre-1953 movies) should be displayed in the pillarboxed 4:3 ratio.

If your DVD player is connected to the HDTV via component video or HDMI, it will be able to tell the television whether a disc is anamorphic, and the TV will adjust itself automatically every time you load a disc.

If you have an upscaling DVD player or a Blu-ray player, no tweaks for the HDTV are necessary--everything the television gets from the player is in 16:9 HD. Any adjustments you need to make will be in the player's menu.

Audio Output

Your HDTV has built-in speakers, but it also has audio-output connectors that allow you to attach a superior home theater surround-sound system. If you watch televised concerts, or if you want to get the best out of today's movie soundtracks, a separate sound system is the way to go.

Sending the audio directly from your TV to your receiver saves a lot of annoyance. You have fewer cables to deal with. You don't need to set both the TV and the receiver when you switch from your DVD player to your DVR. And you can control the receiver's volume with the TV's remote.

Once you've connected the cable, explore the HDTV's menus for an option with the word speaker in it. It will almost certainly be in the Audio submenu. If your remote has a Quick Menu, Q. Menu, or Tools button, that might lead to a shorter, alternate menu that could also have this option. One of the choices will probably be TV Speakers. Pick the other one.

This setup has one problem: While the separate sound system is great for movies and concerts, it's a waste of electricity while you're watching news programs or talk shows. If the speaker option is on your Quick Menu, you'll have an easy time switching to the TV's speakers when you don't need big sound. If it's buried deep in the main menu structure, you'll have a hassle.

Label Your Inputs

When you want to watch a DVD movie and you're looking at your HDTV's Input menu, would you be more inclined to select something labeled 'AV 4', or an option labeled 'DVD Player'?

Modern HDTVs have a lot of inputs--up to four HDMI connections, two or more component-video ports, two composite-video connections, and another one for a PC. And let's not forget the TV's own built-in tuner. When you press the remote control's button to change inputs, you get a long list of not very helpful names. But many HDTVs let you change the generic 'AV 4' type of label to something more specific and descriptive.

Search the television's on-screen menus for an option called Input Label or something similar. What submenu will you find it in? I've seen it in Settings, TV, and Input.

When you select this option, you usually get a list of choices: DVD, Blu-ray, DVR, and so on. On some sets you can select a blank field, into which you can enter a name manually.

Some HDTVs include a choice called Skip. That's a good option for an input that you know you're not using, as it removes the item from the list of inputs you toggle through as you search for your desired input.

Program Your Remotes

How many remote controls do you have? I have six--and I find it hard to keep track of them all. I suspect your coffee table is similarly cluttered.

One solution, of course, is to invest in a third-party universal remote control. However, many of today's home theater components can talk to one another. And teaching one remote to control more devices than the product it came with won't let you dump another one.

The more specific the device (for example, a DVD recorder or DVR), the more likely it will have features that you can access only with its own bundled remote. But if you can instruct the remote that accompanied your DVR or Blu-ray player to control the basics of your TV--turning it on and off, changing the inputs and channels, and adjusting the volume--most of the time you'll be able to watch TV with only one remote in hand, and you won't have to spend money on yet another remote.

You may get some of this control through HDMI CEC, a standard for allowing devices to control other devices through the HDMI cables that connect them. But you might not. As we note in "The Secret Feature on Your HDTV: HDMI CEC," the technology works best when it's operating between devices by the same manufacturer.

The other option is to program one or more of your remote controls. To find out if a remote control is programmable, hunt in the manual for a long list of manufacturers and numbers. Once you find that, look for directions describing the actual programming.

Generally speaking, you look up the type of device you want the remote to control (TV, DVD player, and so on). Then, below that, you find the device's manufacturer. By the manufacturer's name you'll see several four-digit numbers.

The directions will tell you to press some buttons on the remote, enter the first listed number, and press another button or two; you then see if the remote can control the device. If it can't, repeat the steps with the next number.

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Lincoln Spector

PC World (US online)

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