Stream HD Video From Your PC and Other Devices
With so many free online video sites popping up, from Hulu to Joost to the sports-oriented ESPN360, not to mention YouTube, your PC can also be a great source of free HD programming to supplement those over-the-air channels. To watch PC-based video on the big screen, all you need to do is connect your PC to your TV. Many newer systems--both desktops and laptops--have HDMI outputs, so you can hook them up directly to your TV, if the PC is close enough.
Use a Media Player Box
If such a direct connection isn't possible, a media player box will grab video (and music and photos too) from your PC over your home network, then deliver it to your TV via HDMI. The Apple TV is one such option that streams whatever video you have in iTunes, as well as YouTube and even Hulu, if you install the Boxee add-on to Apple TV. My current favorite media player is the Netgear Digital Entertainer Elite, which can play most any video on your PC, download BitTorrent videos directly to the built-in hard drive, and access Netflix Instant movies using PlayOn PC software.
Upgrade Your Game Console to HD
If you have a Sony PlayStation 3 or Microsoft Xbox 360 Elite, you already have an HD-capable console. However, you'll need to upgrade from SD cables to HDMI versions to see the extra pixels in games such as Halo 3. The PlayStation 3, with its built-in Blu-ray drive, also doubles as a native HD movie player, while the Xbox 360 Elite doubles as an upconverting DVD player.
While you're at it, be sure to change the video output setting of these consoles to 720p or 1080p, depending on your TV's maximum resolution. The PlayStation 3 has a second setting for 24Hz Blu-ray movie playback, where you can choose Automatic, Off, or On. If you have a TV capable of 24Hz 1080p playback, set this to On. You must use HDMI cables and specify HDMI in the various PlayStation 3 display settings for this to work.
Nintendo Wii owners are out of luck, since the Wii outputs only 480p--higher quality than SD, but not full HD. (Your AV receiver or TV can upscale the signal, however.) Original-Xbox owners have it better. While they don't have HDMI ports, they can get 1080i output by using component cables, which carry analog HD video.
Optimize Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes Video
To get the best results when viewing video from streaming sources such as Netflix Instant, Amazon Unbox, and iTunes on your HDTV, follow three basic rules. First, make sure your source device (Apple TV, Roku box, TiVo, Xbox, PC, and so on) is set up to output at the maximum resolution your HDTV can support, such as 720p, 1080i or 1080p, and that it is connected via HDMI if available.
Second, for PC sources, use the 1:1 pixel mapping mode on your TV (variously called PC mode, Full Pixel, Pixel for Pixel, or some similar name), and check that your PC is set to output at the native resolution of your HDTV, such as 1920 by 1080 for most 1080p displays or 1366 by 768 for many 720p plasmas. This setting will ensure that scaling doesn't distort the pixels.
Finally, for all types of streaming sources, make sure that you have a rock-solid Internet connection. If your wireless connection is not up to the task, you'll soon know it from all the dropouts and glitches in your video. In that case, you can switch to a wired connection like ethernet, powerline, or coax.
This story, "How to Improve the Picture and Sound on Your HDTV" was originally published by PCWorld.