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How to Optimize Your HDTV

Audio Output

Your HDTV has built-in speakers, but it also has audio-output connectors that allow you to attach a superior home theater surround-sound system. If you watch televised concerts, or if you want to get the best out of today's movie soundtracks, a separate sound system is the way to go.

Sending the audio directly from your TV to your receiver saves a lot of annoyance. You have fewer cables to deal with. You don't need to set both the TV and the receiver when you switch from your DVD player to your DVR. And you can control the receiver's volume with the TV's remote.

Once you've connected the cable, explore the HDTV's menus for an option with the word speaker in it. It will almost certainly be in the Audio submenu. If your remote has a Quick Menu, Q. Menu, or Tools button, that might lead to a shorter, alternate menu that could also have this option. One of the choices will probably be TV Speakers. Pick the other one.

This setup has one problem: While the separate sound system is great for movies and concerts, it's a waste of electricity while you're watching news programs or talk shows. If the speaker option is on your Quick Menu, you'll have an easy time switching to the TV's speakers when you don't need big sound. If it's buried deep in the main menu structure, you'll have a hassle.

Label Your Inputs

When you want to watch a DVD movie and you're looking at your HDTV's Input menu, would you be more inclined to select something labeled 'AV 4', or an option labeled 'DVD Player'?

Modern HDTVs have a lot of inputs--up to four HDMI connections, two or more component-video ports, two composite-video connections, and another one for a PC. And let's not forget the TV's own built-in tuner. When you press the remote control's button to change inputs, you get a long list of not very helpful names. But many HDTVs let you change the generic 'AV 4' type of labelto something more specific and descriptive.

Search the television's on-screen menus for an option called Input Label or something similar. What submenu will you find it in? I've seen it in Settings, TV, and Input.

When you select this option, you usually get a list of choices: DVD, Blu-ray, DVR, and so on. On some sets you can select a blank field, into which you can enter a name manually.

Some HDTVs include a choice called Skip. That's a good option for an input that you know you're not using, as it removes the item from the list of inputs you toggle through as you search for your desired input.

Program Your Remotes

How many remote controls do you have? I have six--and I find it hard to keep track of them all. I suspect your coffee table is similarly cluttered.

One solution, of course, is to invest in a third-party universal remote control. However, many of today's home theater components can talk to one another. And teaching one remote to control more devices than the product it came with won't let you dump another one.

The more specific the device (for example, a DVD recorder or DVR), the more likely it will have features that you can access only with its own bundled remote. But if you can instruct the remote that accompanied your DVR or Blu-ray player to control the basics of your TV--turning it on and off, changing the inputs and channels, and adjusting the volume--most of the time you'll be able to watch TV with only one remote in hand, and you won't have to spend money on yet another remote.

You may get some of this control through HDMI CEC, a standard for allowing devices to control other devices through the HDMI cables that connect them. But you might not. As we note in "The Secret Feature on Your HDTV: HDMI CEC," the technology works best when it's operating between devices by the same manufacturer.

The other option is to program one or more of your remote controls. To find out if a remote control is programmable, hunt in the manual for a long list of manufacturers and numbers. Once you find that, look for directions describing the actual programming.

Generally speaking, you look up the type of device you want the remote to control (TV, DVD player, and so on). Then, below that, you find the device's manufacturer. By the manufacturer's name you'll see several four-digit numbers.

The directions will tell you to press some buttons on the remote, enter the first listed number, and press another button or two; you then see if the remote can control the device. If it can't, repeat the steps with the next number.

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