Adjust your HDTV to make the picture better


Q: My free version of the AVG virus program is about to expire and they are bugging me to buy their more expensive version now. It’s about $50 for one year. I don’t think AVG will let me keep the free one, because it is a trial, so can you recommend another free anti-virus program? — Judie Myers

A: You can continue using AVG without paying. Here’s the source of confusion. AVG offers both free trial versions (that’s what you have) and totally free versions. The free trial versions are designed to let you try the software and then buy it. The totally free version is just that – totally free. You can download it here — free.avg.com/us-en/homepage

Q: I want to get a new computer and have been waiting, as you suggested in a past column, to let Microsoft to get any bugs out of Windows 8. My wait has been impatient and frustrating because my tired, XP computer performs in fits and starts—and stops. It’s discouraging waiting 6 minutes for my desk top to fill out completely. Would you recommend ordering a new computer with Windows 8 or with Windows 7? I worry that Microsoft mostly sees Windows 8 as a product for tablet owners. — Brook Evans

A: First off, you’ve waited and suffered long enough – so buy that new computer. Windows 8 does offer many features for tablets but works just fine with desktop computers. So, no question, get a new computer with Windows 8 installed.

If you aren’t happy with the picture from your HDTV the fault probably isn’t with your set. It may be with you.

Today we’ll examine the many ways that you can take your mistakes out of the picture.

Settings

Televisions — and this was true way before HDTV was around — come out of the factory with the settings all wrong. Generally the contrast is set too high, the colors set too vivid. Doing that makes a picture stand out — and that’s especially important on a showroom floor where the TV is competing with many other TVs for attention. When you do no more than glance across that showroom floor, the over-amped picture looks good.

But the bright colors and high contrast create a picture that is too vivid and unnaturally sharp. You’d think that would be a wonderful thing but — for day to day viewing — you’ll have a much more pleasant experience with a well-adjusted set. For one thing it’ll come closer to displaying movies like the director intended. For another it’s just easier on your eyes.

Since we’ll be covering a lot of ground today I won’t go into great detail with each step. Instead I’ll include this website that does go into detail on adjusting a set: www.nbcnews.com/technology/gadgetbox/how-adjust-settings-your-hdtv-118279.

And, if you want to get really fancy there are DVDs out there that take you through the process in a much more technical way. For me, using my eyes and the sort of procedures outlined on the website that I furnished is plenty good enough. The advantage of the DVD is that it’s less subjective. The advantage of using your eyes is that, after all, you’re the one who will be watching the TV so what seems best for you is, in a way at least, best.

One counter-intuitive thing I’ve discovered: Some of the “picture enhancement” settings that are common on HDTVs – auto color, noise reduction, etc. — actually degrade the picture. Try them by all means if you like (and if you prefer the picture with them on, hey, you’re the person watching) but also try the set with these settings turned off. My guess is that you’ll prefer things my way.

Also, once you’ve adjusted the set, give your eyes and brain a little time to get used to the new settings. Sometimes it takes a week or so to get used to the new settings. Give them a fair trial before going back to over-boosted color and contrast.

Cables

If you’re using anything less than HDMI cable to connect cable boxes, DVDs, satellite receivers, whatever … well you are guaranteed not to have the best signal possible.

But don’t go overboard. Some of these cables are as expensive as a meal at a fancy restaurant, the kind that puts more than one fork at the place setting. Others are dirt cheap. I’ve found no difference that my eyes or ears can detect between the least expensive cables and the most expensive.

So the only secret here is to use HDMI cables.

Viewing angle

It should come as no surprise that you’ll have the best experience watching from head-on instead of way to the side. Many sets quote viewing angles that the manufacturer says are acceptable. But some of those figures are inflated. The best thing to do is to situate your set so that it does the best job of giving your seating area a view that is as head-on as possible. Obviously room and seating arrangements won’t allow every seat to have that straight to the set view. But do arrange things, as best you can, to minimize asking folks to watch from way to the side of the set.

A sounding board

Even the most expensive HDTV sets have cheap speakers. Especially when watching movies, there is a big difference in using a separate audio system that offers 5:1 Dolby sound. That sort of sound is actually one of the specifications for what comprises a HDTV signal.

Luckily there are plenty of sound systems that can be purchased for a reasonable price. Stick with name brands such as Sony, Onkyo, or Philips to name just a few. Even a system that costs less than $200 (that’ll include the receiver and all the speakers) can make a huge difference in your enjoyment.

Lights, camera and action

While watching the TV in a room with glaring sunlight hitting the screen or your eyes is a horrible way to go, you also want to avoid total darkness. In a perfect world a soft shaded light that is located behind the set will produce just the right viewing environment. In a less than perfect world you’ll be fine with dim lighting.

We’ve come a long way from the fuzzy pictures of analog TV. But my guess is that you can still go a long way toward a better picture by following these tips.