Cable Tip #1: Component Video

I recently subscribed to Cablevision HDTV because the install was free and DirectTV wanted to charge me $400 to get HD ($500 if I also wanted DVR capability). You get what you pay for. After two missed appointments, Cablevision finally installed a Scientific Atlanta 4200HD receiver and hooked it up to my Dell HDTV via the S-Video input. However, the installer did not check that the HD channels actually came in HD.

For a while when watching HBOHD (or other HD channels, but I especially noticed it Sunday night with the Sopranos) the picture was letter boxed. In other words, if I set the TV to use a 4:3 ratio then I saw a letterbox Sopranos with black bars on the left and right hand sides, but at least Tony doesn’t look too fat.

If I set the TV to 16:9 fullscreen, then I still have black bars on top and all that happens is that the width is stretched disproportionately to the height. (i.e. Tony looks really fat and everyone else gains weight.) It does not fill the screen like it should.

It had taken me a while to be sure of this because even in HD, some movies that have ratios as wide as 2.5:1 can still be letter boxed. Furthermore, not all shows on HD channels are broadcast in widescreen mode. Finally, it’s not always obvious if everything’s 33% wider. You think that big a difference would really jump out at you, but it doesn’t. I kept looking for circles to make sure if the TV was set to the right ratio. The moon was a really useful calibrator.

But the Sopranos was made for HDTV. Further Tony’s big enough to begin with than when he gets 33% wider, you really notice it. (By contrast, when a 4:3 picture is stretched to widescreen, Meadow, Carmela, Artie, and the other size 2’s you usually see on TV just go from looking like toothpicks to looking like normal people.) In any case, I was now finally sure. The box was not actually sending a full screen HDTV signal to the TV. The next question was why?

Cablevision was exactly as much help as I expected; that is, to say, none. I checked their web site. All it told me was that they were negoiating agreements to rebroadcast local channels in HD. I sent e-mail to Cablevision. They promised to respond within three days. A week later I’ve yet to hear back from them. I googled the problem. Nothing.

When all else fails, I did the last thing any self-respecting geek ever wants to do. I read the manual. Buried deep within the Scientific Atlanta 4200HD setup guide I found on Scientific Atlanta’s web site (Cablevision installed three boxes but didn’t provide a manual for any of them) was this crucial bit of information:

5 HDTV Output Connects to HDTV input of TV (high definition). The component video cables must be connected here to provide HD signals to your HDTV

That sounds promising, and after disconnecting the DVD from the component input and connecting the cable box, I had High-Def! You’d think the cable install tech might have known to do this from the get-go, but apparently not. Interestingly, I then reconnected the DVD to the S-Video input; and it worked just fine, still playing wide-screen DVDs without a hitch. Why HDTV TV requires component video and a DVD player doesn’t I have no idea. The Dell TV actually has two sets of component inputs, but for some reason only one of them seems to work.

In any case, I am now able to watch HDTV in its full widescreen resolution. It is a definite improvement. Next project: building my own DVR.

3 Responses to “Cable Tip #1: Component Video”

  1. Brian Says:

    Slashdot | 50% of HDTV Owners Don’t Use HD:

  2. Brien Voorhees Says:

    I had a similiar experience with Comcast. After the Comcast “technician” installed my HD cablebox/DVR I looked at few HD channels and told him that they didn’t look HD and my TV even said it was receiving a 480I signal (which is standard def). He muttered something about HD being “about 500 lines” and wouldn’t recognize that anything was wrong.

    After he left, I read the manual and discovered that there’s a special configuration menu that allows you to enable the HD output resolutions (among other things). After I enabled the 720p output everything looked much better.

    It made me wonder how many Comcast subscribers are watching crappy standard def on their snazzy new plasma screens, thinking that HD must just be a bunch of hype.

    -Brien Voorhees

  3. Composite Video Cable Says:

    The reason the DVD player can use an S-Video is because DVDs are not High-def, so they don’t need the component jacks. Widescreen is not the same as high-def.

    For high def videos, you need HD-DVD or Blu-ray (expensive)

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