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Common Installation Problems
How to Identify and Correct Problems

All too often after a new home theater, cable or satellite system has been installed, the performance doesn't match the hype or the expectations.  The image may not look all that sharp, and maybe your favorite stars appear rather short and fat.  Or the sound isn't all that different from the conventional television you've been watching.  You start to think that you've been had - too much money and not enough performance.  But wait, there are a number of common miss-perceptions as well as several common connection and setup errors that can explain why your system appears to be lacking.  These problems can arise from a variety of factors, such as installers working with unfamiliar equipment, sketchy manuals or documentation, and rushed or ill-trained installers.  This section goes into a number of these issues - most should have good explanations and will readily correctable with proper source material, setup and connections.

HDTV Receiving Hardware

In order to achieve optimum performance from modern HDTV displays, the programming source must be received in high definition (HDTV).  For this to happen, you must first have access to HDTV programming, and this is normally obtained from either cable, satellite or ATSC tuner and antenna.  If you have not recently upgraded your service to receive HDTV, you likely will not be receiving HD programming.  Call your service provider to confirm the service you are receiving.

HDTV Display Connections

Having HDTV service and programming available still doesn't insure that you are watching the read thing.  You will not be able to get the HD quality signal, for instance, if the improper connections are used to connect to your display.  HD is never connected through composite or S-Video cables - it is only connected via component (3 connectors), HDMI, DVI or RGB type cables.  Furthermore, some earlier displays may have component connections that aren't capable of receiving HDTV signals- if you have any questions, check with your installer or Operation Manual.

HDTV Setup

You may have the correct HDTV hardware, service, connections and programming, but still may be unable to view true HDTV!  Your cable or satellite box may have setup controls or menus to configure the component output connections for either SD or HD output.  This feature is to accommodate earlier displays that have component connections but cannot display true HD.  If you have any doubt about receiving true HDTV, make sure that your hardware is set for correctly for an HD output.

HDTV Source Selection

There are different channels for SD and HD programming.  For instance in Boston the local CBS affiliate broadcasts locally over-the-air on Channel 4 (standard definition (4-0)) and Channel 30 (high definition  (4-1)). On the Comcast cable service these channels correspond to cable channels 4 and 804, and on RCN they correspond to Channels 4 and 604.  You must select the high definition channel (4-1, 804 or 604 in these cases) to receive the HD programming.

A quick note on HDTV source material - while most major and prime time programming from the networks is now produced in HD, there is still a lot of programming that is only available in SD (standard definition).  If the source isn't true HD, the images from your HD display will not be in true high definition.  Even if you're watching a HDTV channel, and the image is in widescreen, the program still may be in SD.  With a little experience you will be able to relatively quickly tell whether the source programming is true HD.  Even during a given program, you will be able to tell if certain cameras aren't true HD; this is most commonly noticed during live sporting events.

Note that while standard DVD sources are digital and are generally very good, they are do not have HD resolution.  The true HD sources should appear noticeably better that DVD quality - if they don't, find out why and correct the problem to get the most from your home theater.  Of course the latest Blu-Ray and HD-DVD high definition DVD sources are true high definition and should look excellent, although of course there may be some specific films that don't look as good as others.

Aspect Ratio

One of the advantages of the new video standards is the wider 16:9 aspect ratio (ratio of display width to height), which more closely matches the natural view as seen by normal human vision.  But almost all earlier, as well as some newer, television programming has been created with a more square 4:3 aspect ratio.  This can create a "problem" in viewing a program created in a 4:3 ratio on a display that is 16:9.  If you are watching a HD channel, the viewed aspect ratio is determined by the HD source and will almost always be correct, and if the material being shown at the moment is in a 4:3 aspect ratio, you will see either black or gray vertical bars on both sides of the image.  But if you are watching a SD channel, your display may give you the ability to select the viewed aspect ratio - and thus the ability to select the incorrect aspect ratio!  The most common problem is stretching a 4:3 image to fill a 16:9 display - this causes people to look shorter and fatter, and circles will appear as ovals.  While this can be a personal preference selection, as some people want the image to fill the screen, regardless of distortions, doing this is like watching life through an amusement park fun mirror.  We encourage you to be aware of aspect ratios, and to determine and select the correct, non-distorted aspect ratio for the programming you are watching.

Many DVDs are created in a widescreen format to duplicate, or better duplicate, the original movie.  DVD players have a setup menu item to select for the display type (4:3 or 16:9).  If you have a 16:9 display, make sure the DVD player is setup to output widescreen format signal.  You will then see to movie filling your screen as intended by the producers, and it will be displayed with full resolution.

Surround Sound

Both the digital television standard as well as the DVD standard support high quality surround sound formats.  The standard is for "5.1" channels (speakers) - left front, center, right front, left rear, right rear and subwoofer (the ".1").  Well done surround sound can significantly enhance the home theater experience by surrounding you with appropriate realistic sounds; movies, sports and concerts benefit the most.  As with the video connections, however, proper connections and setup is necessary to realize the full potential of the encoded surround sound.  First, your decoding receiver must be connected to the audio source with either a single "coaxial digital" or "optical" connection.  Do not use the stereo (left - right) outputs - while the receiver may be able to synthesize a surround effect using only these inputs, this sound cannot come close to matching that from a well encoded and properly decoded surround sound program.

After insuring that the proper digital input connections have been made, it is then best to leave the surround decoding on automatic - the receiver will then be able to determine how the audio was encoded and will then perform the proper decoding.  There may be times when you will want to experiment with the various synthetic surround modes build into your receiver, and you may find that in some instances that the resulting sound is enhanced, but we feel that it's always best to leave the system on automatic to get the full benefit of properly encoded surround sound.

Now for a little reality regarding surround sound.  You will likely find that many programs, particularly older ones, may not have been produced in surround sound.  You may also note that programming for a number of other events, while produced in surround sound, really aren't very memorable.  But be patient, as the well done programs are excellent, and an increasing number of programs are being produced with quality surround sound.  You will be glad you installed a surround sound system.

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