Common HDTV questions answered

LCD or plasma? HDMI or component? Read on for answers to the most common HDTV questions

Should I use HDMI or component?

When you want to watch HD material on your TV, typically you need to choose between two different connections: HDMI or component.

HDMI is a single cable that connects from the video source to the television. It allows both video and audio to travel through the cable, making it appealing from a space-saving perspective.

Component, on the other hand, uses five cables — three for video and two for audio.

In the vast majority of cases, component is just fine for HD content. If you're watching programming from your cable or satellite provider, or if you have an Apple TV hooked up to your television, component is perfect, since it transmits up to 720p or 1080i video to your HDTV.

However, if you plan on gaming in 1080p or watching Blu-ray films, you have to use an HDMI cable. HDMI supports full 1080p resolution, making it the only suitable option for such high-quality content. It also works with any resolution under 1080p, including 720p, 1080i, and 480p.

So, which one should you choose? As long as you have enough open ports, you should probably opt for an HDMI cable, regardless of whether it's connected to a Blu-ray player or a cable box. With HDMI, you'll save space in the back of your entertainment center, and you'll be sure to get the best picture quality.

Before you head down to pick up an HDMI cable, however, keep one thing in mind: They're all the same. No matter what a salesperson might say to you, find the cheapest HDMI cable in the store and buy that — you won't encounter any issues with picture quality if you choose a cheap HDMI cable over the $100 option sitting next to it.

How can I calibrate my TV in 5 minutes?

You can find a host of hardware and software tools that promise to help you calibrate your HDTV — but since your goal is to save time, the following 5-minute calibration should be all you need.

First, be sure to calibrate your HDTV at the time of day when you're most likely to watch programming or movies. Depending on the time and on how much light is in the room, the picture might not look ideal. If you calibrate the TV in the same conditions as when you're most likely to watch, you'll be far more pleased with the results.

Next, put on a movie or TV show that you're familiar with, and pause the playback on a scene that you know particularly well, so you can ensure that skin tones and colours are accurate as you calibrate.

Browse to your HDTV's video settings and choose either 'movie' or 'film' mode. In most instances that option provides you with the closest-to-optimal setting for your HDTV. If you like the way that setting looks, keep it there and don't make any tweaks. But if you think it needs a little something, start modifying some of the individual picture settings, such as brightness, sharpness, and contrast.

Brightness is perhaps better described as "black level." You'll want to adjust the brightness on your set until something black on your display has a nice, deep, inky look to it.

Sharpness tends to create odd halos around objects that aren't coming from the video source. Since you want to create an accurate picture as quickly as possible, it's generally best to turn sharpness down to zero.

Then, go to the contrast settings (sometimes called "picture") and turn it down so that white objects on the screen look sharp, have detail, and don't appear odd. At this point you might also have to return to the brightness setting to ensure that blacks aren't too dark and you haven't lost some detail along the way.

You may also find a 'colour' setting on your HDTV. Since you're not using any calibration aids, it's best for now to leave that alone, since most HDTVs deliver relatively accurate colour out of the box.

If after this quick adjustment you're not quite happy with what you've found, feel free to go back and adjust the settings until you've set up the right look for your eye.

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Don Reisinger

PC World (US online)
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