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How to Optimize Your HDTV

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.

Standard-definition video on an HDTV
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.

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