In a soon to be released survey of US households by Frank N. Magid Associates, 34% of respondents* say they have not arranged to connect their HDTVs to a High Definition source! Just because you have an HDTV, doesn’t mean you have HD. We don’t know the reasons, but to assure our readers get to see the HDTV signals the set makers intended, we have prepared this guide. Standard Definition to High Definition in 5 easy steps.

Step 1) The Signal – Using Cable and Satellite

The first step is to make sure you have access to the HD programs provided by your cable or satellite service. The HD channels may not be included with your current subscription package. Of course, this may mean an additional charge. For most providers this is minimal. Contact your program provider  to order the HD channel access.

Step 2) The Box

Basic cable and satellite boxes aren’t capable of outputting HD only standard definition. If you’ve had your box for a while, it likely isn’t HD compatible. An easy check is to see if there’s an HDTV logo or “HD” written on the box itself. Another giveaway is if there are no component or HDMI connections on the back (more on this in a moment). If there’s no logo, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not HD capable but the lack of outputs labeled HDMI or component video on the back confirm your set top box will only output low resolution standard definition signals. If you’re not sure, contact your cable or satellite provider. Without an HD capable box, you can’t get an HD signal.  When contacting your cable or satellite provider about adding HD channels, they’ll likely be able to tell you if your current box is HD ready.

Step 3) The Connection

Once you’ve made sure your provider is sending you HD signals and that your set top box is capable of outputting them, the next step is to make verify the connection to your TV is HD capable. If you’re connecting to your TV with the single yellow cable (called composite video), a single cable with multiple pins (S-video), or the thick screw-on cable (coax), you aren’t and can’t get HD channels on your TV. S-video, composite, and coax are all for Standard Definition (SD) 480i content only. Again, if this is all your cable/satellite box has, you will need to upgrade to an HD capable box. (NOTE: the coax cable wire from the wall to your box can carry HD. This is different then what is coming out of the box to your TV)

In order to get HD to your TV, the best and easiest solution is HDMI. All HDMI TV connectors are HD capable. Nearly all TVs sold in the last few years have at least one HDMI input. This is a single cable that does HD video and audio. It’s a flat near rectangle looking connection, and doesn’t appear like anything else on the back of your box/TV.  See drawing below.

The next best option is a component video connection. This is three cables, colored red, green and blue. Don’t confuse this with composite, which is one yellow cable for video, and red and white (or sometimes black) cables that are just for audio. Component is only video, the audio will have to come separately either via red and white (again, sometimes black) cables or by digital audio connections like coax (orange) or optical (looks like lasers!). Though component is capable of the same resolutions as HDMI, it isn’t quite as pristine of an image as the entirely digital HDMI.  Please Note: Retail stores usually charge $30, $40, up to hundreds of dollars for an HDMI cable depending on length (Here’s a link to our HDMI cable article). You can purchase a high quality high speed cable from Amazon for as little as $5.00. Use our Amazon [amazonify]B001T9NUJE::text::::link[/amazonify] for great deals on HDMI cables.

Step 4) Settings

Ok, so if you have the right cables (component or HDMI), your box is HD capable, and you’re getting/paying for HD content. The next step is making sure the box itself is outputting HD. It is in the “settings” menu for each box. To make it easy, just set this to 1080i by following the instruction manual or call your provider to learn how to set your box for 1080i HD output. Your TV will then convert the signal to whatever it needs to display an image with no further effort on your part. This step is very important as the wrong setting will give you a wide screen image that not in crystal clear high definition.

Step 5) Channels

One last step. You need to select the HD channels from your provider. For example, on AT&T’s U-Verse, channel 2 is the local CBS channel in standard definition. To watch CBS in HD, you have to choose channel 1002. Each provider will be different, and they’ll likely provide a list of the HD channels when you sign up for HD service. Check out their website for a list of the HD channels they offer or call you provider for further assistance.


Ok, to sum up, you need to add HD channels to your service with your cable or satellite provider. In the process you/they’ll likely determine if your box itself is capable of outputting HD. Then you’ll need the correct cables to your TV (HDMI or component). Lastly, you’ll need to surf to the specific HD channels supplied by your provider.

If you haven’t seen HD on your TV before, and if you haven’t done all these steps you likely haven’t, you are going to be AMAZED at how good your TV looks.

Other Options

You can also get HD over the air. All you need is an antenna. Nearly every TV sold in the last few years has a built in ATSC (HD) tuner. All TV stations in the US are broadcasting digitally over the air now, and most are in HD. So you can likely get network TV in HD free with just an antenna. Check out for more info.

The last, and honestly best option for movies are [amazonify]B0044XV3QY::text::::Blu-ray discs[/amazonify] and a [amazonify]B0038KN114::text::::Blu-ray player[/amazonify] . DVDs themselves are not HD. They are 480i. Nearly all modern DVD players and all Blu-ray players can “upconvert” these to mimic HD, but even the best upconverted images do not look as good as real HD. Blu-ray, on the other hand, is the best quality HD available. You can add Blu-ray to your Netflix subscription, and most other rental providers offer it as well. You’ll need a Blu-ray player, though, as Blu-ray discs don’t play in DVD players. The best connection to the TV  from a Blu-ray player is an HDMI cable.

*Survey conducted on-line with 1200 households.

By Geoff Morrison

Edited by Gary Merson

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