HDTV setup guide: How to prepare for the arrival of your new TV

HDTV cables HDTV setup guideThose of us who have had children know that you can’t just bring a baby home from the hospital and hope it all goes OK. You have got to be ready! You need infant diapers, multiple bottles, receiving blankets, back-up formula – the list goes on for ages. And if you don’t have these things, you can bet on making multiple trips to the store to get them, which will result in at least one very unhappy person in the house, and likely more.

Similarly, it behooves you to get prepared to set up that new TV you’re about to purchase. The last thing you want to do is get home with your slick new flat-screen, only to wind up making last-minute trips out to the store, blowing all the money you saved with that sweet TV deal in the process by purchasing overpriced essentials.

To help you dodge such a debacle, we’ve created the following guide to help make sure your new HDTV is ready to rock and looking its best shortly after you pull it from its box.

HDTV wall mount hdtv setup guideWhere are you going to put that thing?

It might seem silly, but people make significant purchases such as this without thinking through something as simple as placement. Don’t be that guy. Figure out where you’re going to put your display first, then plan accordingly. More than likely, your placement plan will fall into one of two categories: wall-mount or stand mount.

  •  Wall mount: Wall mounts can be simple or complicated, depending on where you want to put them. A TV mounted to an actual wall near a power outlet and the rest of your equipment is the least complicated scenario – just make sure you get hardware that will support the size and weight of your TV. Those wanting to mount a TV above their fireplace, for instance, have more to consider. There may be masonry to deal with, which will require special drill bits and bolts. And if you want to hide wires running from the TV to your equipment, you’ll need run them behind the walls or have some other clever tactic worked out. Don’t be too proud to call an installer. This TV is going to be there for a while and you want to be happy with the installation.
  •  Stand mount: If you are going to use your TV’s included stand, then make sure the TV you get is going to fit into the space you have in mind, or that put it in your plans to make that space available.. Measure the TV’s stand, measure the TV, measure your furniture – measure everything, for Pete’s sake, and make sure it’s all going to fit. 

Roku LT streaming media HDTV setup guideSort out your source

There is perhaps no greater buzz-kill than having a shiny new HDTV, but no HD content to feed it. Standard definition cable and satellite signals tend to look pretty terrible, especially on large HDTV sets. If you can, contact your cable or satellite provider and get yourself set up with HD equipment and an HD programming package ahead of time. If you can, do this well before you’ll be setting up your new TV. But, if that isn’t possible, here are some other ideas for HD sources that will let you show off what your new set can do the moment you set it up:

  •  Over-the-air antenna: Depending on where you live, there is a good chance all of your local TV stations are broadcasting in HD and all you need to view them is an antenna. Go here to find out what sort of antenna might work best. If an indoor antenna is approved, consider checking out one of our favorites: The Leaf.
  •  Blu-ray player or upconverting DVD-player: Blu-ray discs offer the best possible HD picture and sound right now. If you haven’t already purchased one, now is a very good time to do so. Don’t worry if you don’t have any Blu-ray discs just yet – you can rent them on the cheap. Blu-ray players also make your DVD collection look much better on your HDTV through a process called upconversion. Plus, most Blu-ray players also offer access to HD content through Internet apps. Speaking of which…
  •  Streaming media set-top boxes: If you’re looking to “cut the cord” and get away from traditional service providers, a set-top box that streams content from online services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Vudu might be what you’re looking for. Basic media streamers can be had for as little $50 now and can provide HD-quality video. Note that many services require a subscription.

HDMI cable input HDTV setup guideMaking the connections

The first order of business here is to figure out the cable type, quality, and length you’ll need. Since HDMI is the connection of choice for high definition, you’ll most likely be purchasing at least a couple of HDMI cables. Count up all of your HDMI sources and measure the distance from each component to the TV (or A/V receiver). If any of your devices are limited to a component video connection (identified by red, green and blue RCA jacks) count and measure those too. You might also want to purchase a digital optical cable to send a digital audio signal from your TV to a sound bar or A/V receiver.

We recommend very strongly that you do not use an S-Video cable or composite (yellow RCA) cable for video with an HDTV unless you have no other choice. Neither is capable of high definition and the look is disappointing. Even when high-definition video isn’t part of the equation, connecting via component video is still a better choice. For instance, the Wii game system comes with a composite video cable, but a component video cable can be purchased as an accessory. Get the component cable. The difference between the two is substantial.

Purchasing the connecting cables you need ahead of time and from the right vendor can save you some considerable cash. The cables sold at most electronics stores are seriously marked up and rarely of better quality than what can be found from online specialty retailers (Monoprice and Parts Express are good examples).

smart tv HDTV setup guideTapping the Internet

Whether you purchase a smart TV, smart Blu-ray player, or streaming media set-top box, you’re going to need access to the Internet. Many of these devices are coming with Wi-Fi adapters built right in, so you just need to have a Wi-Fi network set up at your home. However, it is entirely possible that you might end up getting a smart device with no wireless Internet capability. In that case, you’ll need to need to either run an Ethernet cable from your home’s Internet router to your entertainment center’s location (it’s more difficult, but usually offers a faster, more stable connection) or invest in a wireless bridge to access your home’s Wi-Fi network. A wireless bridge provides the added benefit of providing more than one Internet connection, so that multiple devices can be served at the same time. Priced between $40 and $100, they provide a good return on investment.  

Final adjustments

If you’ve followed along with us this far, you should have your TV in its place, successfully connected to all available sources, and at least some of those sources can feed your TV with HD content. All that’s left to do now is dial in your TV’s picture.

While your TV may look very good out of the box, trust us when we say it can look even better. Even simple and speedy adjustments will yield a better-looking picture than most factory presets. And, if you are willing to put in a little more time, you can even dial your picture in to comply with some exacting image standards. For a comprehensive guide to calibrating your TV, check our TV Calibration 101 tutorial.

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