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How to setup your video sources correctly

Setting up your sources correctly can be just as important as getting your TV Picture Perfect

by Steve Withers Oct 27, 2014


  • OK, so you've got your TV setup as per our Picture Perfect guide, now what?
    Well, you need to check that your various video sources are also setup correctly to ensure that they aren't doing anything they shouldn't. This is especially true of devices that have any kind of picture controls; try and avoid using these because this is usually best done by your TV. For example when it comes to your Blu-ray player, manufacturers have a bad habit of including picture controls when all your really want is for the player to output exactly what's on the disc. The same goes for AV receivers, which often include some basic calibration controls and again what you really want is for the receiver to pass all the signals through unmolested.

    The exception to this will be the resolution that your device outputs and here you have two choices. If your TV has particularly good video processing then you can set the device to output at its native resolution and leave the TV to do any deinterlacing and scaling. Alternatively, you can set the source to output at the same resolution as your TV, so if you have a Full HD TV (1920 x 1080) then output at 1080p, if available, or 1080i if not. If you're using an AV receiver you might be better off inputting all your connected devices at their native resolution and then deinterlacing and upscaling the signal in the receiver before outputting to your TV.

    The problem is knowing which device has the best video processing but we test for this in our reviews, so if your TV or source device has been reviewed at AVForums we'll tell you whether it's any good. The easiest solution is to just set your device to output at the same resolution as your TV and if you're using a receiver just pass-through. If your device is 1080p such as a Blu-ray player then you always want to output at the full resolution in order to take advantage of the superior performance. It's also best to make sure that only one device is performing any deinterlacing on an interlaced signal (standard definition TV broadcasts and DVD) because otherwise this can cause issues between devices.

    Naturally different manufacturers use different names and have different setup procedures, so where possible check to see if we've already reviewed the device in question. For the purposes of this article we are assuming that you are using HDMI for your connections, along with a modern TV that uses a 16:9 aspect ratio, and our advice will be fairly general, rather than manufacturer specific. So consider this a basic set of guidelines to ensure that your video chain is as optimal as possible.
    As a general rule, avoid using any picture controls on your video sources, this is best done by your TV.

    Blu-ray Players


    Overall the best approach is to ensure that the player is outputting the signal exactly as it is on the disc, so don't use any picture controls (Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness, Colour, Tint, Noise Reduction) and if their are any presets choose the one that doesn't impact the image. All the manufacturers are different, so you'll need to check the review on AVForums to find out which preset is appropriate. The exception to the rule is with older DVDs where there might be compression artefacts and here the player could be able to improve the perceived image.

    The resolution you use will depend on your TV but assuming you have a Full HD TV then you obviously want to ensure it's outputting 1080p. Pretty much every player will default to this but quite often manufacturers don't set the player to play 24p discs as standard. So you may need to check this to ensure that movies are being displayed at their correct frame rate on your TV; based upon our reviews just about every TV these days can happily accept 1080p/24.

    If you have an HD Ready TV, the best option is to output at 1080i or 1080p (if it can handle it - check your manufacturer specs) and let the TV scale to match the native resolution of its panel (720 or 768 lines of resolution). We've noticed that the deinterlacing and upscaling on modern Blu-ray players tends to be very effective, so you should get the best out of any DVDs you have or streaming services that you use as well. In fact some players even include a 2:3 pulldown feature for those with any NTSC DVDs in their collection.

    A lot of Blu-ray players now include 4K upscaling but whether you decide to use this is dependent on your Ultra HD TV. In reviews we haven't been able to distinguish between the upscaling in the the player and the TV but we'd probably leave it to the TV, given the price differential.

    DVD Players


    In general, the advice for Blu-ray players applies just as equally to DVD players but the obvious difference is that they don't play high definition discs. DVDs are standard definition and on some players you have the choice of outputting at that resolution, which can be handy if you plan on using a video processor to do the deinterlacing and scaling. Alternatively you could let your TV do this but in general DVD players can be very good at deinterlacing and scaling themselves.

    So once again, as a general rule we'd recommend setting the resolution to match that of your TV. Which means for Full HD TVs you can output at 1080p or 1080i. However for HD Ready TVs, you would be advised to just output at 576i/p and let the TV scale to the native resolution of its panel. Otherwise you'll be scaling up to 1080 and then back down to 720 or 768, which is unnecessary. If you have a lot of US DVDs then a 2:3 pulldown feature will also be useful if your DVD player has one.

    Finally, as with Blu-ray players, try and avoid any picture settings, you just want the DVD output untouched and let your TV handle all the image adjustments. The possible exception is with older DVDs that could have a lot of compression artefacts, where the player might be able to improve the perceived image.

    Set Top Boxes


    Whilst the setup menus on set top boxes (Freeview, Freesat, SKY, BT Vision, Virgin etc.) might look complicated, they thankfully don't tend to have too many actual picture controls; although if there are any try and avoid using them. So the main decision you need to make when setting up up your set top box is which resolution to output. Since we're primarily dealing with TV broadcasts here, they will either be standard definition or high definition and once again the choice becomes down to where to do the deinterlacing and scaling.

    You could output standard and high definition to your TV and let that deinterlace and scale the signal or, if applicable, let your set top box do all the work. As before, we'd suggest doing all this in your set top box and outputting 1080p to your Full HD TV, assuming your box is capable. If not you could output at 1080i, which would also be appropriate for any HD Ready TV that you own and again just outputting standard definition to an HD Ready TV will avoid unnecessary scaling up and then down again.

    These days a lot of set top boxes, along with Blu-ray players and any number of other devices, include streaming and catchup services and again there doesn't tend to be much in the way of actual picture controls. It's just as case of selecting the appropriate resolution, which you will already have done as part of your setup for the TV aspects of the box.

    Media Players/Streamers


    When it comes to media players such as an Apple TV or a Roku 3, along with any number of streaming devices, the same basic advice applies as it does with Blu-ray players and set top boxes. There generally aren't any actual picture controls, although if there are try and avoid using them, and the main decision comes down to the desired resolution.

    Whether you're watching a catch-up or video-on-demand service or streaming video content from your own library, the deinterlacing and scaling needs to be done in either the device or the TV. As before, the simplest and safest option is just to match the output of your device to the resolution of your TV, so 1080p for a Full HD TV and 1080i for an HD Ready TV.

    Always try and match the output of your source with the resolution of your TV.

    AV Receivers


    An AV receiver isn't usually a video source but many of today's new models include the ability to stream video content and some even include catch-up or video-on-demand services, so that is changing. In addition you can connect all your video sources to your receiver and then send one HDMI cable to your TV, so it's important to make sure that your receiver is setup correctly.

    Certain manufacturers, especially Onkyo, include a number of picture controls but we have found these to be fairly crude and as we have already mentioned, you're better off using the picture controls on your TV. So as with all the other sources on this list you really want to just pass the signal through untouched.

    The majority of AV receivers do include deinterlacing and scaling features, so once again you could choose to input all your sources at their native resolutions, process in the AVR and then output at the correct resolution for your TV. However, since we've just told you to set your sources to output at the same resolution as your TV, it would make more sense to just pass-through the receiver.

    Video Processors


    The exception to the rule is a dedicated video processor, which whilst not a direct source does sit between your sources and your TV. Since you've gone to the trouble and expense of buying a dedicated video processor, it would be a shame not to use it. A quality video processor will offer superior deinterlacing, scaling and calibration controls, so you can input all your sources at their native resolution and then perform any necessary deinterlacing and scaling in the processor before outputting to your TV. A high end processor like the Lumagen Radiance also offers calibration controls far in excess of most TVs, so you can use the processor instead but that will require some professional help.

    Ultimately, when setting up a video source try and remember two key rules. Firstly avoid any picture controls, these are better handled by your TV and try and match the output of your source to the native resolution of your panel. This way you should be able to avoid any unnecessary deinterlacing and scaling and thus ensure your video chain is optimal.
    Always try and match the output of your source with the resolution of your TV.

    Games Consoles


    These days you're most likely to be gaming in high definition from either a PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 or Xbox One, so you'll obviously want to output at the highest resolution possible. So as will all the other devices on this list, you can use 1080p for a Full HD TV and 1080i for an HD Ready TV. Of course these days a games console can do so much more than just play games, so you also have TV broadcasts, catch-up and video-on-demand services and streamed content. The resolution will be dictated by your initial setup and as usual try and maintain the purity of the video signal by avoiding any unnecessary picture controls.

    Computers


    When it comes to the graphics cards on computers, there tends to be an incredible number of controls for both the picture and resolution. Whilst there may be a temptation to fiddle and experiment, if you're using your computer as a video source it is best to avoid manipulating the image and just concentrate on deinterlacing and scaling where necessary and outputting at the correct resolution for your TV.

    Mobile Devices


    These days a lot of mobile devices (smartphones, tablets etc.) can play and even create video footage of their own. In addition, the introduction of Mobile High-definition Link (MHL) support on HDMI and streaming means that more and more people are using their phone or tablet as a video source. The quality and resolution of this content can be very variable, so given this and the fact that a smartphone or tablet might not have the kind of scaling capabilities necessary, it would probably be best to do that in your TV.


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