Easy HD

Posted: October 5, 2010 by ryanlecocq in Features

Uhh… huh?

We just got a 42″ Plasma and after performing brain surgery on my entertainment center to hook everything up for the best sound and picture, I thought about how many times I’ve had to look something up to gain the knowledge it took just to hook up my new tv.  From cables to resolutions to refresh rates and signal types, I’ve had to amass at least an Associates Degree worth of knowledge, just to get something I use every day to do what it’s supposed to.  So here it is.  This is like that secret sex book that was in whatever retarded teen movie that was, that had the secrets to getting laid.  This is the secret Man’s Guide to Living Room Technology that will make you seem like you mysteriously know everything.  Your wife or girlfriend will suddenly be thankful that you bought this huge ass tv, because now she can watch Friends or Scrubs or whatever chicks watch in amazing, pimple revealing clarity.  Meanwhile you can see things that kick ass like blood and the spit that flies from a dude’s face when he gets punched in lifelike glory.  So read on real man of genius.

Part 1 HDTVs

HDTV Types:

HD Tube TVs:  Some of the oldest HD sets are HD compatible tube TVs.  These are the huge old fashioned glass tube CRTs that people have used for decades.  The HD models offered by Sony, Samsung, Philips, Toshiba and others usually display 480p and 1080i resolutions.  These aren’t technically HD as they display in however many vertical lines the tube has (usually 600).  This means the TV is converting the resolution to display in a 600i deinterlaced picture.  1080i is the resolution you want to aim for as it is the best the set can display.  These TVs normally have only component inputs (red, green and blue cable) for HD signals.  So to get HD picture at all you need a component cable for your movie player or game console.  The benefit to keeping one of these sets around is the superior color and contrast a tube offers.  Only Plasma TVs have better color and contrast than a tube.  The downfall is most of these sets get color spots and lines on the picture after a few years of use.

LCD flat panel TVs and monitors:  LCDs are the cheapest currently available HD technology.  Most affordable sets sold in stores are LCD (liquid crystal display) sets.  LCD tvs are available up to 1080p (sometimes higher for computer resolutions), but most cheaper ones are only 720p.  On sets 32″ and smaller it is nearly impossible to tell the difference, but on bigger sets, 1080p makes a difference.  The huge benefits of LCDs are low cost and long life.  LCDs will run for years and even then only the light will be burned out and can be replaced.  The downsides are poor contrast and dead pixels on cheaper sets.  Dead pixels are when a light or dark dot always appears on the screen when on.  Higher quality sets feature both better contrast and lower failure rate.

LED Flat Panel: An LED (Light Emitting Diode) TV has millions of tiny lights that can light up in a full spectrum of colors.  These are superior to LCD sets as each pixel lights itself, so the screen brightness is uniform and the contrast is better as the neutral diode is darker than inert LCD crystals that are still lit by a backlight.  In simple terms, it looks closer to a DLP or Plasma, but slightly cheaper.  Like LCDs, LEDs can have individual diodes burn out creating dead pixels.  Also like LCDs these can’t be replaced, the whole screen needs to be replaced to fix it.  Since most of these are pricier models though, build quality is usually high.

HD projection sets:  Some of the later huge projection TVs feature HD picture.  These are generally 480p/1080i like tube TVs but offer much better picture.  Projection creates smooth edges and good color, but only moderate contrast (better than LCD, not as good as DLP or Plasma).  These sets usually offer great picture, but they are hugely heavy and require maintenance.  Many parts on a projection TV can need replacement, so this is a high maintenance investment.  This usually makes them really cheap secondhand though if you pick them up.

Digital Projector:  In the right conditions a projector can create unmatched picture.  Projectors can take many types of signals and make them look fantastic on a huge area.  The downside is that picture quality is entirely dependent on how dark the area is and how flat and large the surface is.  Projectors can be had up to really high resolutions depending on how much you spend and some can cover and area as big as a movie screen.

Plasma and DLP tvs:  If you’ve got the cash this is the way to go.  DLP is digital light projection, like a digital projector in a box.  Plasma is literally a cloud of ionized gas between two panes under pressure (and how f*cking cool is that?).  These sets have better everything than anything else.  A Plasma set will have the color and contrast of a tube with the clarity of one of those huge viewscreens on Star Trek.  DLPs are getting phased out as they are really pricey and uncommon, but they also provide amazing picture.  Most of these are 1080p, but the old 720p sets are getting dirt cheap and still look better than any other TV, especially for gaming.  The only drawback is that both of these technologies have one part that burns out on a specific lifetime.  Plasmas need new color wheels about every 2-4 years and DLPs need new bulbs on a similar timeline.  These cost about $200-600.  Considering if you bought this thing, you probably buy a new set that often anyway, don’t let that dissuade you, this is the one you want if you can swing it.


Part 2 Signals, Resolutions and Cables.

Your HDTV won’t look much better than your old TV if you have it hooked up with your old cables. You have to have at least a component video cable for HD (red, green, blue connectors), but HDMI is what you want as it’s better in every way and required for 1080p on most TVs.

Component: If your tv doesn’t have HDMI ports, this is the cable you need.  Most of these sets support 720p resolution, so once you have it hooked up, set your device to 720p.

HDMI: This cable is the best as it can support any resolution and also carries digital sound (more on that later).  HDMI looks kind of like a USB cable and has a trapezoid-ish metal end.  It’s an easy plug and play operation.  Also since it’s digital, your TV and the device connected to it will often automatically calibrate to the right settings.  Since it also carries sound, you need to either have a digital sound out on your tv or use a separate cable from the device to the sound system to get digital surround sound.

DVI:  DVI-D is the white rectangular plug with lots of holes on some HDTVs.  This is to connect to a computer for HD digital signal.  It looks as good as HDMI but doesn’t carry sound, so you need to connect the computer’s sound to your sound system or TV separately.

VGA: Standard computer monitor cable, blue trapezoid with holes.  You can connect your computer to your TV like a normal monitor if it has this connection.  Check what resolution your TV supports as sometimes it’s higher than the HD signals.  This also carries no sound, so you need to connect that separately.

Digital Cable:  You can get HD television programming from your cable box or antenna with any digital capable standard TV cable.  It looks like crap compared to better cables though, so check the back of your cable box and see if it has component or HDMI out.  If it does, use those instead for better television signal.

Make sure once you have it connected properly you set your device to display in HD.  On the Xbox 360 this is under system settings, on the PS3 it’s in the Display section of the Settings tab.  On DVD players you will have a Progressive Scan or Upconversion button, Blu-Ray players will usually automatically set to the right resolution.


Digital Sound

Even if you have a 7.1 surround sound system that cost thousands of dollars, if you have it connected with a standard audio cable (white and red ends) you don’t have real surround sound.  It always blows me away how many people have no idea they aren’t even using their Dolby Digital on their fancy Denon sound system.  So here’s the basics.  There are three types of digital sound connections: Coaxial (Single round orange plug), Optical (square plug that goes in the flip open port) and HDMI.  I put those in order from worst to best, so use the best one you find on the back of your system.  Once you have your sound connected to your device with one of these, make sure to set the sound output to digital surround (DTS, Dolby Digital etc.).  Then do the same on your receiver and you are good to go.  On the Playstation 3 or most movie players you will find an optical out on the back.  For the Xbox 360 you need to buy the Microsoft version of the HDMI or VGA cables and use the optical port on the cable.


HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computer)

The best way to connect all of your entertainment together on your giant screen is an HTPC.  Whether it’s a small desktop or a laptop hidden in your entertainment center, this will give you the ability to access all your movies, music and websites from the comfort of your couch.  Here is a quick guide on setting one up.

The HTPC:  Depending on what you want it to do, this can be a very modest PC or even a laptop.  If you want it to play HD movies you need something with at least a dual-core processor and a graphics card.  If you want to sit back on the couch and play your PC games on the TV, you obviously need a gaming PC (see my guide to build one cheap).  The important thing is to make sure it has HDMI out of the video card and a sound card that supports surround sound.  If you can’t run digital sound from your TV to your sound system, this means you’ll need a sound card with a digital output, not just connections for it’s own 5 speakers.

Picture Output:  If you can’t get a laptop or desktop GPU with HDMI out, make sure your TV has either a VGA or DVI input (see above).  It won’t really be digital over VGA so DVI is better if you have it.

Sound Output:  Just running HDMI to your tv and then running sound from the TV to the sound system is easiest, but if your TV doesn’t have an audio out, you’ll have to connect the computers normal sound.  If that’s a headphone cable, you may have to get a headphone to red and white audio patch cable.  Even though this won’t be digital sound, it will still be Pro-Logic (or fake stereo surround sound).

Screen Resolution:  Make sure you look up your TVs highest PC resolution as it may be higher than the HD signal.  Many 720p TVs can display computer images at 1440×900 or even 1680×1050 which will look way better than 720p (1280×720).


So there you have it, my simple guide.  I don’t cover the very basics of the technologies as they are usually in the manual or easily available online, but this should get you going if you have even a decent understanding of operating your tech.  Also I didn’t show pictures for every type of connection because they are labeled on every device I’ve ever seen.  So with my description you should be able to put the right plug in the right hole.  Good luck.


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