Adjust your HDTV
So you spent a fortune for your high-definition TV, but when you sit down to watch something, all you get is 1080 progressive lines of off-color junk? Let's fix that.
The fastest way to improve your TV's image is to turn off whatever fancy dynamic mode (sometimes called "Movie" or "Sport" mode) it happens to be in. Using your TV's image-adjusting menus (I can't give you exact instructions for navigating them because TV menus differ considerably), set the mode to Normal or something similar. Then turn the brightness and contrast down to about the halfway point.
If you're still not satisfied, search your DVD collection for a movie with a THX logo on the box. Among the extras on the disc, you'll find the THX Optimizer, an excellent set of test patterns that will help you adjust your TV.
The few minutes you spend with the Optimizer are well worth the time, but there are two caveats. First, to get the Optimizer's full value, you must order a pair of special, blue glasses from The THX Store. The cost is $2 plus a highly variable shipping and handling fee, and it also requires a few days' wait.
The other factor to keep in mind is that most high-definition TV video settings are specific to the inputs, which means that the adjustments you make with a DVD will affect only what you watch through the DVD player. What you watch through your DVR or over your direct connection won't be improved.
You can jot down all of your settings and manually re-create them, but that's a hassle, and the right settings for composite video may not be appropriate for HDMI.
If you receive HDNet through your cable or satellite company, you have another option: The station broadcasts 10 minutes of test patterns every Saturday at 6:30 a.m. Eastern Time (3:30 Pacific). That's a harsh time to wake up, but if you have an HD DVR, it isn't a problem. For more tips, see "Fine-Tune Your High-Definition TV's Settings."
Take Linux for a test drive
Trying out a new operating system can be intimidating. But you can give Linux a whirl quickly and painlessly.
The latest version of Ubuntu, Hardy Heron 8.04, comes with easy installation options. The fastest method is to burn the OS to a CD and then reboot the PC from that disc. Ubuntu will start up in Live CD mode, which lets you work with most of its features without installing it.
A better choice is to insert the CD while Windows is running and use the Wubi installer (it should run automatically). Wubi lets you install Ubuntu just as you would any other Windows program. When you reboot the PC, the Windows Boot Manager will give you the choice of running Windows or Ubuntu. You can use all of Ubuntu's features--including the 3D desktop effects that Linux users are bragging about. If you decide you like it, don't change a thing. If not, reboot in Windows and run the Wubi uninstaller from the Add/Remove Programs control panel.
Publish home movies
Windows Movie Maker comes equipped with a 'Send in e-mail' option. But you shouldn't even think about clicking it unless you don't mind angering your friends. Why not make everyone happy instead by using YouTube to share your home videos? The site accepts a wide range of video file formats, including .wmv, .avi, .mov, and .mpg, and handles the format and resolution changes itself.
From Windows Movie Maker, you have to output the video in a YouTube-friendly format before you can upload it. Click Save to my computer under 'Finish Movie' in XP, or click This computer under 'Publish to' in Vista. Follow the resulting wizard, saving the file to a convenient location, and selecting Best quality for playback on my computer. In response, Movie Maker will output a .wmv file that YouTube can accept.
You must be a YouTube member to upload files, but signing up for a membership is free. Once you're in, click the yellow Upload button and follow the prompts.
Wait a few minutes after the movie has finished uploading; then click My Videos, select the video, and watch it. (If the video is not there yet, wait a bit longer.)
You can click the Share icon to tell your friends about it, or you can copy the URL and paste it into an e-mail. And if you'd rather not share your movie with the world, set Broadcast Options to Private and name the contacts you want to share it with.