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How to Fix Poor Video Quality on Home Theater System

Authored by:
Support.com Tech Pro Team
This Guided Path® was written and reviewed by Support.com’s Tech Pro team. With decades of experience, our Tech Pros are passionate about making technology work for you. We love feedback! Let us know what you think about this Guided Path by rating it at the end.

Introduction

You've just brought home your brand new television, added it to your home theater system, powered everything on, and the picture looks nothing like you expected. Maybe the picture is blurry, stretched, or even compressed into a square. Regardless of the specific issue, it just doesn't look right for an expensive home theater system, and certainly nothing like you experienced on the showroom floor.
This is a more common issue than you may think. Unfortunately, picture quality issues can stem from a long checklist of different items: sources that aren't up to snuff, media that isn't being broadcast or sent to the television in the correct resolution, etc.
In some cases, there is no real way to "fix" the picture quality you're experiencing, because there is a specific reason things look the way that they do. In this guide, we'll help you understand what may be causing the picture on your screen to not look as good as you expected, and how to go about making sure you're getting the best picture quality possible.
A blurry television

When we watch anything on our televisions and wonder about the quality of the image we're seeing, the term "quality" can be boiled down to the resolution of the content that's on the screen, and the maximum resolution of the screen itself. That being said, the quality you will experience is based off of a number factors:

  1. The maximum supported resolution of your TV screen.
    • Previously mentioned, this is a hardware limitation. Your TV was made to display picture up to a certain resolution. These days, most flat-screen TVs can have maximum resolutions of 720p, 1080p, or 4K.
  2. The maximum output resolution of the source device you're watching.
    • Whatever device is sending picture to your TV, whether that be your cable box, DVD or Blu-ray player, game console or something else - that device will only be able to transmit a picture up to a certain resolution. Just like your TV, this is a hardware limitation and all depends on what resolution it was manufactured to output.
  3. The resolution of the media you are watching.
    • Just like very old photos can't be re-taken using today's technology, the media we watch suffers in the same way. Watching a very old show that was recorded in lower resolution years ago on new equipment will not look very good. The same goes with older DVDs or games that were produced at a time when resolution standards were much lower than they are today.

The level of quality you see on your screen will be limited by the weakest link between all these items.

1 What is the Television Capable of?

A 4K television will always have a more clear, crisp picture than a 1080p television. While a 1080p television can play a 4K movie, you won't get the full 4K experience.

Similarly, a 4K television can play a 1080p movie but it won't look nearly as good as a 4K movie. For example, it may have blurry playback because it isn't taking advantage of the full resolution. It may even appear in a black box to avoid that blurriness.

Example of HD and 4K with batman. Hello Batman

Knowing what your television is capable of is the first step to getting the best picture. You'll want to be using media that can take advantage of your television's maximum resolution.

1080p

Nearly every television on the market now is capable of 1080p resolution. The "p" stands for pixels, meaning there are 1080 rows of pixels across your screen. This is the industry standard right now and most video is produced to support it.

You most likely have this type of television.
Contrasting high definition and standard definition television signals.

4K

A newer contender has entered the television market, bringing the resolution up to "4K". These used to be super expensive but have come down dramatically in price these last few years. While the promise of 4K is tempting, the resolution isn't truly 4K. 2160p is closer to the truth as there are 3,840 columns and 2,160 rows of pixels on the screen of these televisions.

2 Be Aware of the Quality of What's Being Watched

The Resolution of the Media You're Watching

Some TV shows are recorded or broadcast at a lower resolution. There is nothing you can do to change this. However, most movies are available for purchase in varying video quality formats.

When shopping for movies, you'll see regular DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K UltraHD formats. Some are even packaged together. This will all depend on the movie. For streaming media services such as Netflix or Hulu, the limitations will be based on what each service offers quality-wise for the movie or show you're trying to watch. Most will have information available about the quality of video you'll be streaming for that particular service.
DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K movie packaging differences. Illustration.

Capabilities of Cable Boxes and Source Devices (Blu-ray and DVD players)

Even if your TV is one of the latest and greatest that supports 1080p or even 4K, be aware of the cable box that you've had for years, or a standard DVD player that's also been around for awhile may not have the same capabilities. Chances are, the resolution these boxes are capable of outputting is quite a bit lower than your HD TV is capable of displaying. Even if your cable box advertises 4K resolution the source may have been recorded at a lower resolution. For example, if you're watching an old movie on an HD channel, you won't have HD quality on the movie, but you might have it on the commercials.

This low-resolution picture is being stretched to fill your high-resolution screen, and will look very blurry. You want to ensure that you have a high-definition cable box and/or Blu-ray player that is capable of producing a high-resolution picture designed to match the resolution of your TV. Luckily, these items are easily replaceable now.

Ultimately, the highest resolution your TV supports will determine the best viewing quality you can potentially achieve. For instance, if you have a TV that supports a maximum resolution of 1080p, but purchase a 4K Blu-ray player, your Blu-ray player will only output a 1080p picture to your TV to display. In order to take advantage of your 4K Blu-ray player, your TV would need to be capable of displaying a 4K image.

Contact your television service provider or the manufacturer of any source device if you are unsure of what resolution a piece of equipment it capable of outputting.

3 Tips for Improving Video Quality

Before moving your equipment or checking any cabling, make absolutely sure that your A/V Receiver and any other components that are currently on are fully powered off.

  • After checking your television and desired media and finding no luck in fixing your poor video, you should make sure your cables are seated correctly. A loose cable could cause static in the video. Check the following cable connections to ensure that all devices are connected properly and securely.
    • The connection from your TV to your home theater receiver.
    • The connection from your Home theater receiver to the source device you want to watch.
  • If you're using HDMI for one connection and component for another, the component video quality will be noticeably less than the HDMI.
    HDMI Type A connector and cable
  • Make sure to check the cables you're using for damage as well. If your cable is damaged it is possible it won't carry any data and your system won't even read it.
  • You can upgrade your equipment. If you're using a DVD player, upgrade to a blu-ray. If you're using a cable box, ask your provider for a newer more up to date version.
  • If watching cable, check the channel you're watching has an HD channel, change to that for a better picture.

4 If It Still Doesn't Work

Please contact the product manufacturer for further assistance.

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You've just brought home your brand new television, added it to your home theater system, powered everything on, and the picture looks nothing like you expected. Maybe the picture is blurry, stretched, or even compressed into a square. Regardless of the specific issue, it just doesn't look right for an expensive home theater system, and certainly nothing like you experienced on the showroom floor.
This is a more common issue than you may think. Unfortunately, picture quality issues can stem from a long checklist of different items: sources that aren't up to snuff, media that isn't being broadcast or sent to the television in the correct resolution, etc.
In some cases, there is no real way to "fix" the picture quality you're experiencing, because there is a specific reason things look the way that they do. In this guide, we'll help you understand what may be causing the picture on your screen to not look as good as you expected, and how to go about making sure you're getting the best picture quality possible.
A blurry television

When we watch anything on our televisions and wonder about the quality of the image we're seeing, the term "quality" can be boiled down to the resolution of the content that's on the screen, and the maximum resolution of the screen itself. That being said, the quality you will experience is based off of a number factors:

  1. The maximum supported resolution of your TV screen.
    • Previously mentioned, this is a hardware limitation. Your TV was made to display picture up to a certain resolution. These days, most flat-screen TVs can have maximum resolutions of 720p, 1080p, or 4K.
  2. The maximum output resolution of the source device you're watching.
    • Whatever device is sending picture to your TV, whether that be your cable box, DVD or Blu-ray player, game console or something else - that device will only be able to transmit a picture up to a certain resolution. Just like your TV, this is a hardware limitation and all depends on what resolution it was manufactured to output.
  3. The resolution of the media you are watching.
    • Just like very old photos can't be re-taken using today's technology, the media we watch suffers in the same way. Watching a very old show that was recorded in lower resolution years ago on new equipment will not look very good. The same goes with older DVDs or games that were produced at a time when resolution standards were much lower than they are today.

The level of quality you see on your screen will be limited by the weakest link between all these items.

A 4K television will always have a more clear, crisp picture than a 1080p television. While a 1080p television can play a 4K movie, you won't get the full 4K experience.

Similarly, a 4K television can play a 1080p movie but it won't look nearly as good as a 4K movie. For example, it may have blurry playback because it isn't taking advantage of the full resolution. It may even appear in a black box to avoid that blurriness.

Example of HD and 4K with batman. Hello Batman

Knowing what your television is capable of is the first step to getting the best picture. You'll want to be using media that can take advantage of your television's maximum resolution.

1080p

Nearly every television on the market now is capable of 1080p resolution. The "p" stands for pixels, meaning there are 1080 rows of pixels across your screen. This is the industry standard right now and most video is produced to support it.

You most likely have this type of television.
Contrasting high definition and standard definition television signals.

4K

A newer contender has entered the television market, bringing the resolution up to "4K". These used to be super expensive but have come down dramatically in price these last few years. While the promise of 4K is tempting, the resolution isn't truly 4K. 2160p is closer to the truth as there are 3,840 columns and 2,160 rows of pixels on the screen of these televisions.

The Resolution of the Media You're Watching

Some TV shows are recorded or broadcast at a lower resolution. There is nothing you can do to change this. However, most movies are available for purchase in varying video quality formats.

When shopping for movies, you'll see regular DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K UltraHD formats. Some are even packaged together. This will all depend on the movie. For streaming media services such as Netflix or Hulu, the limitations will be based on what each service offers quality-wise for the movie or show you're trying to watch. Most will have information available about the quality of video you'll be streaming for that particular service.
DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K movie packaging differences. Illustration.

Capabilities of Cable Boxes and Source Devices (Blu-ray and DVD players)

Even if your TV is one of the latest and greatest that supports 1080p or even 4K, be aware of the cable box that you've had for years, or a standard DVD player that's also been around for awhile may not have the same capabilities. Chances are, the resolution these boxes are capable of outputting is quite a bit lower than your HD TV is capable of displaying. Even if your cable box advertises 4K resolution the source may have been recorded at a lower resolution. For example, if you're watching an old movie on an HD channel, you won't have HD quality on the movie, but you might have it on the commercials.

This low-resolution picture is being stretched to fill your high-resolution screen, and will look very blurry. You want to ensure that you have a high-definition cable box and/or Blu-ray player that is capable of producing a high-resolution picture designed to match the resolution of your TV. Luckily, these items are easily replaceable now.

Ultimately, the highest resolution your TV supports will determine the best viewing quality you can potentially achieve. For instance, if you have a TV that supports a maximum resolution of 1080p, but purchase a 4K Blu-ray player, your Blu-ray player will only output a 1080p picture to your TV to display. In order to take advantage of your 4K Blu-ray player, your TV would need to be capable of displaying a 4K image.

Contact your television service provider or the manufacturer of any source device if you are unsure of what resolution a piece of equipment it capable of outputting.

Before moving your equipment or checking any cabling, make absolutely sure that your A/V Receiver and any other components that are currently on are fully powered off.

  • After checking your television and desired media and finding no luck in fixing your poor video, you should make sure your cables are seated correctly. A loose cable could cause static in the video. Check the following cable connections to ensure that all devices are connected properly and securely.
    • The connection from your TV to your home theater receiver.
    • The connection from your Home theater receiver to the source device you want to watch.
  • If you're using HDMI for one connection and component for another, the component video quality will be noticeably less than the HDMI.
    HDMI Type A connector and cable
  • Make sure to check the cables you're using for damage as well. If your cable is damaged it is possible it won't carry any data and your system won't even read it.
  • You can upgrade your equipment. If you're using a DVD player, upgrade to a blu-ray. If you're using a cable box, ask your provider for a newer more up to date version.
  • If watching cable, check the channel you're watching has an HD channel, change to that for a better picture.