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TVs

How to set up your new TV

Got a new TV? Setting it up correctly isn't hard, but it helps to know where to start. We've got you covered.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Wondering how to set up a new HD or 4K TV? It may seem like a daunting task, with pages and pages of settings and a pile of cables. But since you took all that time finding the right TV, and you've driven/carried/dragged it home, it's worth a little extra time making sure it's correctly set up. Otherwise, it won't look its best.

After you follow the instructions for getting the TV on its stand (if it isn't already), the real setup begins. There are countless settings, options and potential issues between box and beautiful picture.

This how-to guide should help you navigate the waters of TV technology.

Cables

If this is your first TV (or first new one in a while), you may find the cables have changed a lot since the last time you hooked one up. Even if you're replacing an older TV, it's important to understand the cable of choice: HDMI.

An HDMI cable

An HDMI cable.

HDMI.org

HDMI cables carry high-resolution images and sound over one small cable. If you bought your TV at a store, perhaps you were pushed into buying expensive HDMI cables to go with your TV.

Expensive HDMI cables offer no benefit to the average consumer. If you paid more than $10 for your HDMI cables, you should consider returning them. Check out my article on why all HDMI cables are the same for more information. If you bought HDMI cables in the last few years, chances are they'll still work. If not, you can get new cables cheap.

Pretty much all video sources, from game consoles to Blu-ray players to media streamers, use HDMI cables. If you have older gear, like a DVD player, a Nintendo Wii or a VHS deck, there are some older cables you need to consider. 

Component cables are three attached cables identified with the colors red, green and blue. Most are also labeled Y, Pb and Pr. These only carry video. You'll need two more cables for audio, most commonly a matched pair of red and white analog audio cables. If your gear has HDMI, use that instead, it's better and easier.

If you're got a new 4K Ultra HD TV, you probably don't need new HDMI cables, despite what the salesperson might have told you. It is important to understand that it is not about the HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 cables themselves, but the connection (i.e. in your TV or media streamer). The latest version of the connection is HDMI 2.1, but you don't need to worry about that for now.

Sometimes, very rarely, spending a bit more on certain cables is a good idea

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Sources

If you bought a 4K or regular Blu-ray player to go with your new TV, it will probably auto-detect what your TV wants (1080p or 2160p) and send it that. The same is true for a newer streaming box or game console. For older devices, or a cable or satellite box, make sure that it's set for 16x9 video and set to output HD.

Just because the cable box is capable of HD doesn't mean you're getting HD. You need to pay your provider for HD channels (unless they're included in your current package) and you need to tune to the specific HD channels. For example, with my provider, channel 2 is SD, whereas channel 1002 is HD. This is also true for Netflix and other streaming services. For example, with Netflix you can only get 4K if you're paying for the most expensive streaming tier. If you're curious what you need to get 4K content to your TV, check out: Where can I get 4K Ultra HD TV shows and movies today?

Amazon Fire TV 2017
Sarah Tew/CNET

You can also get free HDTV with an antenna.

As I discuss in my article on whether to upgrade your home theater gear, if you have a new 4K TV, you should consider getting a 4K Blu-ray player. A good 4K Blu-ray will look better than any streaming source. 

If you're trying to get sound from your TV to your soundbar or receiver, there are some specific steps you need to take. If you bought a 4K TV, you may need to get a new receiver.

If you're looking to connect your 4K TV to a computer, here are some things to think about.

Settings

Once you have everything plugged in (see the slideshow above for images of typical inputs and outputs), take a moment to check your TV's settings. Most modern TVs will ask upon initial startup if the TV is being used in a home or a store. Pick the one most appropriate to your environment (hopefully "home"; I'm not sure why you'd be living in Best Buy).

A good place to start is What's the best picture mode. Even if you don't want to adjust anything else, selecting the right picture mode will go a long way in getting your TV to look its best. Here's the CliffsNotes version: The TV will be its most accurate (in other words, most realistic) in its Movie or Cinema picture mode. It will appear brighter in its Sports or Vivid mode.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Going further, check out TV settings. A few highlights: The Contrast control adjusts how bright the bright parts of the image are, and Brightness controls how dark the dark parts of the image are. Beyond that? How about: Beyond basic TV settings.

Also check out CNET's TV setup tips and Five tips for a better picture. These same adjustments will be on all 4K TVs as well. 

Turning down your TV's Sharpness control actually improves its image. It's counter-intuitive, but true. Here's why.

A similar simple fix is to adjust the TV's overscan so you can see the entire image. Yep, your TV might be cropping off the edges!

The initial settings for modern TVs are largely quite good, but none are perfect. Some fine tweaking, either by eye or using one of the great setup Blu-ray discs, will be worth the time spent.

If you want to get every possible amount of performance out of your TV, consider having it calibrated. I describe this process in my What is TV calibration? article.

Flat panel TVs are also more susceptible to reflections than CRTs, so if you're having an issue with light washing out the picture, check out How to rid your TV screen of reflections.

Lastly, if you're putting your TV on a stand check out How to keep your TV from falling over.

Editors' note: This article was originally published in 2011 but has been updated to include additional relevant links, and more on setting up the television.


Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics like why all HDMI cables are the sameTV resolutions explainedLED LCD vs. OLED and more. Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff then check out his travel photography on Instagram. He also thinks you should check out his best-selling sci-fi novel and its sequel.