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Make sure your TV is in good shape, set the proper aspect ratio


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Does your TV picture looked squished? Stretched out? Zoomed in?
If so, properly setting the aspect ratio on your TV is the key to getting your TV in shape.
By, Steve Hartfelder Diamond Case Designs, Inc.

Being in shape seems to be a pretty popular concept these days. Everywhere we look in the media we are bombarded with diets, work outs, and miracle pills to help us achieve that perfect shapely figure. While millions of Americans diligently work on manipulating their bodies, they go home to watch TVs that are bloated, expanded, squished, or otherwise distorted.

It may not be a miracle, but I'm going to show you how to put your TV on the proper electronic "diet" to get it into shape. Possibly the best part about this diet is it doesn't cost anything, and only requires the sweat of a couple button pushes on a remote control.

What is an aspect ratio?

In simple terms the aspect ratio refers to the shape of your television screen (square or rectangular)? Traditionally, televisions have been made in a square shape called a 4:3 or 1.33 to 1 aspect ratio. Since HDTV has become standard, TVs are now made in a rectangular shape referred to as a 16:9 or 1.78 to 1 aspect ratio.

How are TV programs and DVDs recorded?

TV programs and DVDs are recorded in both square formats (4:3) and wide screen formats (16:9). How the program is recorded depends on the age of the program and how the director intended the program to be viewed. In fact some directors record their programs in a 'super rectangular' format referred to 2.35 to 1.

What causes my programs to look funny or not fill the screen?

TV manufacturers realize that television shows and movies are recorded in a variety of aspect ratios and that many customers want the picture to fill the entire screen (without black bars). As a result, they have designed "formatting" modes that can electronically manipulate the shape of the image to "force" it to fill the TV screen. The incorrect use of these formatting modes can cause your programs to look distorted or out of shape (see below).

If the program you are watching was recorded at one shape (aspect ratio) and the TV you are watching it on is a different shape, then the program will either look funny or have black bars on the screen.

In addition, cable boxes, satellite receivers, and DVD players must be told what shape TV they are connected to so that they can properly display your programs. If these components think they are connected to one shape of TV when in reality they are connected to another, your programs will look distorted and out of shape.

Step 1: Set the proper aspect ratio

Proper TV Aspect Ratios
The screen shot above is intended to show the picture of a perfectly spherical globe. The image on the left is properly calibrated and the globe appears as it should. The image on the right has an incorrect aspect ratio and as a result the globe looks squished and skinny.
Proper TV Aspect Ratios
The screen shot shows an example of a set-up menu of a typical Blu-ray DVD player.

As mentioned above your video devices such as DVD players, cable boxes, and satellite receivers must be told what shape TV they are connected to; square (4:3 aspect ratio) or rectangular (16:9 aspect ratio). If this menu setting is incorrect you will see some form of distortion as shown above.

While this is one of the most common errors I see, it is easy to correct. Simply get the appropriate remote control for your component and enter into the set-up menu. There will typically be a sub-menu for TV, video, or display settings and then a submenu for the TVs aspect ratio or shape. Make sure this setting matches the shape of your TV. If you own an older square TV it should be 4:3. If you own a new rectangular HDTV it should be 16:9.

Make sure you adjust this setting for all appropriate video devices. It will need to be separately made for each DVD, Blu-ray, satellite receiver, or cable box you own.

Step 2: Set the proper format mode

Remote Control Formatting Buttons
This photo shows what typical formatting buttons look like on major name brand televisions.

Now that you have properly set the aspect ratio on each component, it is also important your TV is properly formatted.

As mentioned above, TV manufacturers give you a variety of formatting modes that artificially change the shape of the TV picture in an effort to make any image fill the screen. While this seems like a great feature, improper formatting can lead to distorted or bloated images. Let me give you an example.

Let's say you are watching a square program on your rectangular TV. You have the option of formatting the picture which will artificially blow it up to fill the screen and in turn eliminate the vertical bars. This can lead to two problems:

  • A image that has been blown up or expanded will look distorted and have less detail/sharpness than the original.
  • If you change channels to a station that is broadcasting a rectangular image (which almost all HDTV stations do) your TV will continue expanding this image actually cutting off the top and bottom of the broadcast (see photo below). This can be particularly bothersome when you change to news or sports stations where the tickers at the top or bottom of the screens may disappear!
Proper TV Aspect Ratios
The image on the left is properly formatted where the entire image is shown on the TV screen. Notice how you can see the score bar at the bottom of the screen and the menu bar at the top of the screen. The image on the right has been formatted incorrectly. Even though we are watching the same channel notice how the score bar at the bottom and the menu bar at the top have been cut off.

Generally speaking I recommend avoiding the use of the TVs artificial formatting modes. Most people should leave the TV in its standard or default mode which will show programs they way they are broadcast (square programs will be square, rectangular programs will perfectly fill your screen). However if you choose to format your image to fill the screen (which can be a good idea with plasma TVs) just make sure to return the TV to the standard mode when watching standard (rectangular) HDTV programs.

Following this simple advice will help keep your TV in shape and looking its best!

Diamond Case Designs, Inc. - 655 N. Shepard St. - Anaheim, CA 92806 - (800) 616-5354 -

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