Back to Basics: How to Set Up Your new HDTV

Back to Basics: How to Set Up Your new HDTV
Back to Basics: How to
Set Up Your new HDTV
Everything you need to know to get your new
high-def set hooked up right and looking great
By Frank Doris
Illustrations by Turnstyle Imaging
July 2004
So you finally went out and bought a high-definition TV. Congratulations —
you’ve joined a growing community of people who’ve switched to the new
digital technology. Considering HDTV’s stunningly realistic, widescreen
images and Dolby Digital sound, it’s easy to see why more and more homeentertainment enthusiasts would rather have an HDTV than an
apprenticeship with Donald Trump.
Sound & Vision, August 2004 reprinted by permission
But because HDTV is relatively new, a lot of people still aren’t aware even of
the basics. For example, many don’t know that an “HD-ready” set (a.k.a. an
HDTV monitor) needs to be connected to an outboard digital tuner before it
can receive any highdefinition shows. Or that just because HDTVs
“upconvert” standard TV signals for display in the higher-resolution 720p
(progressive-scan) or 1080i (interlaced) format doesn’t mean the programs
are true HDTV. To view honest-to-goodness high-def broadcasts, you need
the proper equipment, properly connected, and you need a high-def signal.
Before delving into the various connection options, let’s review some basic
TV-setup considerations. Whether you go with a direct-view, rear-projection,
or flat-panel model — or even a front projector — you’ll want to roughly
match the screen size to the room so you won’t have to sit too close or too
far away to see the whole picture in full detail. A general rule of thumb for
comfortable viewing distance is about twice the diagonal screen size (1 1/2
times if you’re using a front projector). For example, if your set has a 40inch screen measured diagonally, you should sit at least 6 1/2 feet away.
Room lighting is also important. For daytime viewing, place the TV where
windows can’t shine light onto the screen. And for best nighttime viewing,
situate lamps so their reflections don’t appear on the screen.
You use the same composite-, component-, or S-video connections found on
a regular analog TV to hook up standard video sources like a DVD player or
an analog VCR to an HDTV. But hooking up HDTV sources can involve setup
and connection options you might not be familiar with, which are covered
Getting to the Source
High-definition TVs come in two varieties — monitors and integrated sets.
HDTV monitors require an outboard digital tuner to receive high-def signals,
whereas integrated sets have an HDTV tuner already built in. (Until recently,
HDTV monitors were more common, but the trend is toward integrated
sets.) You can get HDTV signals in three ways: via an off-air antenna, an
HDTV cable box, or an HDTV satellite receiver.
Sound & Vision, August 2004 reprinted by permission
The distance between your HDTV and your viewing position should be at
least twice the screens diagonal measurement.
Off-air antennas, which provide access to local HDTV broadcasts, come in
indoor and outdoor versions. is the best place to start
looking for an antenna. Enter your address, and the site tells you where
high-def stations are located in relation to your house and what kind of
antenna you need to pick them up.
For example, you might need to put a medium or large directional antenna
on your roof if you live in a one-story house surrounded by taller buildings,
while a smaller multidirectional antenna might do the job for a multistory
house on a property free of obstructions. Consider an indoor antenna if you
live in an apartment building that won’t let you have an outdoor antenna, or
if you don’t want one on your roof.
HDTV cable boxes and satellite receivers are similar to their non-HD
counterparts but have additional connections and features to provide highdef programming. Some new models even include a hard-disk drive, which
gives you TiVo-like functions such as automatic recording of favorite TV
shows and pausing live TV.
Sound & Vision, August 2004 reprinted by permission
Some new integrated sets have a CableCARD slot. The creditcard-size
CableCARD, which is furnished by your cable provider, lets you connect the
cable feed directly to the TV and tune in premium channels you’ve
subscribed to without having to install a cable box. Of course, if your cable
or satellite service doesn’t carry all of your local HDTV stations, you’ll
probably want to add an off-air antenna so you can receive them.
You have many options for making the video connection between an HDTV
tuner and monitor. The most common is to run component-video cables
from the set-top tuner box to the TV. Or you could instead run the cables to
an A/V receiver and then make a component-video connection from the
receiver to the TV. This is more convenient if you want to use the receiver to
switch between other component-video sources, like your DVD player.
Important: When making high-def component-video connections through a
receiver, make sure the receiver can handle the wider bandwidth of HDTV
signals, or you’ll lose picture detail. The receiver’s manual or product
literature will typically refer to these connections as “wide-bandwidth,”
“HDTV-compatible,” or just “wideband.” Also, make sure your installation
hardware —cables, splitters, and other components such as signal amplifiers
— can handle the full HDTVbandwidth. Your hardware should have a
bandwidth of at least 110 megahertz (MHz) to ensure that there’s no
degradation of the HDTV signals passing through it.
Many HDTV tuners also have a DVI (Digital Visual Interface) output, which
provides a top-quality, all-digital video connection. To use it, your HDTV
monitor has to have a DVI input, and it’s a good idea to make sure it’s
compliant with the HDCP (Highbandwidth Digital Content Protection) copyprotection scheme some program providers have started using. (HDCP uses
a transmitter and receiver with encryption at each end to pass programs
from a tuner to a TV.) An upgraded version of DVI, the HDMI (High
Definition Multimedia Interface) connector, which can handle both audio and
video, is beginning to appear on HDTVs. Eventually, all high-definition tuners
— and maybe all audio/video components and TVs — will have this
connector. Some HDTV tuners and sets also include an analog VGA jack for
connection to a computer. Another connection — RGB+H/V (red, green, and
blue plus horizontal and vertical sync signals) — is found mostly on high-end
front projectors.
Once you connect the tuner, you’ll need to set it to match your TV’s display
format. There will be a switch or menu option for selecting 720p or 1080i
output, depending on your set’s native resolution. Flat-panel LCD and
plasma TVs often have a different native resolution — such as 1,024 x 768
Sound & Vision, August 2004 reprinted by permission
— in which case the set will convert the signal as needed. If you’re not sure
what display format your TV uses, check the manual.
And don’t forget the audio! If you have an A/V receiver, run either an optical
or coaxial digital audio cable (depending on your equipment) from the cable
box or satellite receiver to the A/V receiver for 5.1-channel surround sound.
If you don’t have an A/V receiver, connect the tuner and TV using standard
analog stereo inputs and outputs. Note that in addition to the high-def video,
the HDTV signal includes Dolby Digital audio — in 5.1 channels if that’s how
it was broadcast, or else in Dolby Digital stereo.
Most cable and satellite installations have to be done by professionals,
because the set-top box will need to be configured and activated. With a
satellite hookup, you’ll also need an 18- to 20-inch dish to receive HDTV. If
you already have satellite service, you’ll at least need a new receiver. With
DirecTV, you’ll also need a larger, elliptical dish. Most people can handle
hooking up an off-air antenna, but placing an outdoor antenna on the roof or
a tall mast might require a professional.
The Finishing Touches
Ready to sit back and watch your favorite team in all its high-def glory? Not
so fast. Like all TVs, your new HDTV will require a firsttime setup, using the
remote control and onscreen menus, to set audio output options and other
functions like channel scan and off-air antenna or cable tuning.
Sound & Vision, August 2004 reprinted by permission
Most HDTVs have a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. To accommodate
traditional 4:3 aspect ratio broadcasts, most models place gray bars to the
sides of the image.
It will also need to be calibrated to perform at its best. You can use DVDs
like the Sound & Vision Home Theater Tune-Up, the Avia Guide to Home
Theater, and Digital Video Essentials for this. I like the Home Theater TuneUp disc (okay, I might be a little biased) because it’s easy to use and
contains essential test patterns and step-by-step instructions for adjusting
color, brightness, contrast, and other critical picture settings. It also takes
you through receiver and speaker setup and other necessities for getting
peak performance from your entire home theater system.
Sound & Vision, August 2004 reprinted by permission
Before settling into your favorite chair, there are a few other points to note.
Make sure the aspect ratio of your DVD player and widescreen HDTV are
both set to 16:9 (usually called “full mode” in the TV’s setup menu) and not
the squarish 4:3 aspect ratio, which is the typical default for DVD players.
Otherwise, the set may stretch a 4:3 DVD image to fit the 16:9 screen —
resulting in bloated bodies and egg-shaped wheels. This can also be a
problem if you’re using a progressive-scan player that doesn’t have “aspect
ratio control.” The problem here is that some HDTVs “lock” into full mode
when displaying a progressive-scan DVD. If you’re watching a 4:3 program,
it’ll be stretched to fill the 16:9 screen, which looks pretty bad. But if your
progressivescan player has aspect ratio control, it will send the TV a properly
formatted picture.
There are a number of options for HDTV recording. As noted, some high-def
cable boxes and satellite receivers have a built-in hard disk for recording in
high-def. Other tuners, and some HDTVs, have FireWire (a.k.a. IEEE 1394 or
i.Link) jacks for feeding a high-def signal to a digital D-VHS VCR for
recording and playing back HDTV broadcasts on D-VHS tape. (D-VHS VCRs
can also record and play analog video on D-VHS, S-VHS, and VHS tape.) HD
tuners also send downconverted versions of highdef programs to their
analog composite/S-video and stereo audio outputs so you can make
standard recordings on your VCRor DVD recorder.
Now you’re ready to enjoy all the thrills and splendor of HDTV, experiencing
favorite TV shows, sports, and movies as never before. In fact, after just a
few minutes in front of your new highdef set, you’ll know what millions of
viewers already do — once you’ve seen HDTV, there’s no turning back.
Sound & Vision, August 2004 reprinted by permission
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