Big Picture Big Sound

Why Does My HDTV Look Like Crap?

By Chris Boylan

Dear Big Picture Big Sound,

Nice review and observation on the Olevia 542i HDTV. I've had this TV for 2 weeks now and I'm still not very happy with the picture. When I play DVDs it's OK, but not great. I have been playing with the settings so many times I'm getting confused - I think I'm doing something wrong. In the store the TV looked great. I narrowed my problems down to a couple of things and I would like your advice.

Any solutions or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your time.

My questions follow below.

-Sebastian R.

Dear Sebastian,

Thanks for your note, and welcome to the first installment of "Ask The Expert." Your letter is not unlike several we have received lately with new HDTV owners frustrated with the performance of their new HDTV sets. First of all, the Syntax is a fine TV capable of good performance when set up properly. For a primer on hooking up and setting up an HDTV, see our three-part tutorial on the subject, How to Hook Up and Set Up Your Fancy New HDTV.

But let me also address your questions individually:

Question 1. My cables are regular standard coax/av/svideo nothing special no gold tip?

Answer: Very cheap cables can compromise picture performance, but more importantly, you need to use the correct type of cable to get the job done properly. Coax (F-type) cables should only be used as the cable, antenna or satellite inputs to source devices such as a cable box, satellite tuner or HDTV tuner. Never use coax F-type cables between a source device and your TV's antenna input! This modulates and demodulates your video and audio signals, and will limit your video performance to very low resolution. The cables of preference between a cable box, or satellite tuner and an HDTV are:

  1. HDMI - handles audio and video digitally
  2. DVI - handles the video signal digitally, no audio
  3. Component Video - typically 3 RCA-type cables bundled together, labeled red, green and blue. This handles the video signal in the analog domain, but still supports high definition resolution.
  4. S-Video - does not support high definition resolution, but does separate luma and chroma video signals on the cable, so it can look OK for standard definition sources
  5. Composite Video - standard RCA-type single connector for video. Does not support high definition, but can be acceptable for SD sources.
  6. Coax Cable - this screw-on type connector is sometimes used between a cable box or VCR and a TV. You tune the TV to channel 3 or 4 in order to receive the signal. This is the worst possible way to connect a source to a display device. The source has to modulate the audio and video signal to a VHF output on channel 3. The display then has to tune this signal in and separate the components back out. Not only does this not support high definition, but you won't even get stereo audio. Use coax cables where they should be used - between your satellite dish, roof antenna or cable service and the satellite box, cable tuner or HDTV built-in ATSC tuner. Then connect the cable or satellite box to the TV properly.

You don't have to spend a lot of money to get decent cables. Component video cables and HDMI cables are available from less than $20/set. Try sources like Parts Express , icon and to find these less expensive component video and HDMI cables.

If you do not use HDMI, then you will also need audio cables. It's best to carry the audio signal digitally if you can via a coax or fiber-optic digital audio cable, plugging these into a home theater receiver or HTIB (home theater in a box). But if you are connecting your device straight to your HDTV and using the TV's built in speakers, then you may need to use stereo audio cables (usually white and red pairs of RCA-type cables). You can get high quality stereo audio and digital audio cables from the same sources mentioned above.

Hooking up your current DVD player, the same rules of cable usage apply. But only newer upconverting DVD players include HDMI outputs. So, most likely the best connection you can use to connect your current DVD player to your set is component video, so use it.

Also be sure to go into your DVD player's set-up menu to set up your "display type" or "TV Shape." If you are upgrading from an older roughly square-shaped 4:3 TV, then you'll need to tell your DVD player that your new set has a 16:9 widescreen shape.

Question 2. I'm watching TV just through my digital Satellite tuner, no high def service. Should my setting be set to HDTV or SDTV?


The correct answer is to throw away your current satellite box/service and get High Definition. Both Dish Network and DIRECTV as well as virtually all cable providers offer high definition packages. Not all channels are available in HD, even with an HD package, but more HD channels are coming online every month. Connecting a standard definition satellite tuner to a high definition TV is like putting grain alcohol into a fine sports car. It might "make it go" but you won't be getting anywhere near the performance of which your set is capable. Get High Def or get off the pot. Period.

Question 3. I'm seeing like digital boxes and blurriness when the picture is in motion like football but when the picture is still, it is OK. Why?


Welcome to a badly set-up LCD TV. LCD panels generally have a harder time reproducing fast motion images than do plasmas or tube (CRT) televisions. But these effects can be minimized with correct calibration of the image. Generally speaking, the contrast and brightness controls (as well as the "backlight" controls of LCD TVs) are set too high at the factory, so that the TV will look good on a showroom floor. Turning these levels down a bit at home, to match the more subdued home lighting is usually a good start.

Ideally, you should pay a professional ISF calibration technician to come in and "tune up" your HDTV. But short of that, consider getting a self-calibration test disc like "Digital Video Essentials," "Avia Guide to Home Theater" or Monster's "HDTV Calibration Wizard." These discs will display test patterns and/or standard video signals and will instruct you on how to adjust the picture so they look the way they are supposed to. Once calibrated properly, many of the artifacts of poor calibration are minimized if not eliminated entirely.

Question 4 - My color temp settings is on "native" not 6500 or 9500. Is this OK?

On the Syntax Olevia TVs, the most accurate color setting pre-set is "6500." We have measured this and found it very close to 6500 Degrees Kelvin - the NTSC standard temperature for the color white. Setting your TV's color temperature properly means your TV's reproduction of white will match, as closely as possible, the reference used by the studios that actually create the movies and high definition television programming.

Many HDTVs offer more than one color temperature pre-set, sometimes labeled "cool," "neutral" and "warm." The "cool" settings are typically shifted more towards the color blue, and the "warm" settings trend toward orange. But only measurement with a device called a "colorimeter" can accurately measure which setting is best. On the Olevia, it is the (accurately labeled) "6500" setting that comes closest to the 6500 Kelvin standard. But on Sony's recent Bravia XBR2 LCD panels, the "Warm 2" setting is closest to NTSC standard.

If you want to measure your set for the most accurate setting, consider hiring an ISF specialist or buy your own colorimeter and calibration software. A basic consumer version of the device the pros use is available, called SpyderTV. There is both the standard SpyderTV (MSRP $250) and the more advanced SpyderTV Pro version (MSRP $600). Both come with software, a test pattern DVD and a basic colorimeter.

Either SpyderTV package will allow you to determine the best picture settings for your HDTV, including the most accurate color temperature settings. The "Pro" version includes more control over individual color gains and biases, as well as the ability to store results for more than one set, and to measure the performance of front projection sets.

With high definition sources, proper connection and good calibration, you can be sure to get the most out of your HDTV and enjoy it for years to come.


Related Articles:

Keep those cards and letters coming! if you have a question for one of our home theater experts, shoot us an e-mail to "Ask The Expert." We'll select among these for future installments in this column. Due to the volume of requests we receive, we cannot reply to each question personally.

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