Feeling a bit uncertain as you stare at the back panel on your new Blu-ray player? Wondering what all those terms in the Settings menu really mean? Fear not. We're here to help. Here are five tips to help ensure that you've set up your Blu-ray player correctly for your system.
Tip #1: Use an HDMI Cable
An HDMI connection will provide the highest quality picture and sound you can get from your Blu-ray player, plus it allows you to transmit both high-definition video and high-resolution audio over one cable, for a clean, easy setup. If you are connecting the player directly to a TV, just run an HDMI cable from the player's HDMI output to one of the TV's HDMI inputs. If you're adding an A/V receiver (or perhaps a soundbar) to the mix, you'll need two HDMI cables: Run the first one from the Blu-ray player's HDMI output to the receiver's HDMI input (ideally the one that's already labeled BD/DVD), then run the second one from the receiver's HDMI output to your TV's HDMI input. Make note of exactly which HDMI input you used on the TV (they are usually numbered). After powering up all your devices, make sure that the receiver is set to the BD/DVD source and/or make sure that the TV is set to the correct input. Your TV remote should have a button labeled Input or Source that lets you scroll through all of the different inputs. If your TV is on and you're getting a blank screen or "No Signal" message, you are probably on the wrong input.
If your HDTV or receiver is older and does not have HDMI inputs, the next best option for video is the Blu-ray player's component video output. It's the set of three colored outputs labeled Y, Pb, and Pr (or maybe Y/Cb/Cr), and it requires a cable with three RCA plugs on each end). Make sure to match the correct color and letters between your player and TV/receiver (Y to Y, Pb to Pb, Pr to Pr). Please note that many new Blu-ray players only have HDMI video outputs; don't buy one of these players if your TV or receiver doesn't have HDMI inputs. As of January 1, 2011, Blu-ray manufacturers are no longer allowed to output an HD signal from the analog component video output (older Blu-ray players could output 720p/1080i high-definition through component video). If you own a Blu-ray player produced after this date, then it will only pass a maximum resolution of 480p from the Blu-ray player to the TV through component video. You can still watch high-def Blu-ray discs, but they will be downconverted to a lower resolution. The same is true if you use the basic yellow composite video output; it will only pass a standard-definition 480i signal from the player to your TV.
Tip #2: Choose the Correct Video Resolution and Frame Rate
Most new Blu-ray players are set by default to an "Auto" resolution setting for the HDMI output that automatically displays the image at the best resolution that your TV can accept. If it's a new TV, that resolution is probably 1080p. This Auto setting should be fine for most people; however, if for any reason you want or need to change the player's output resolution, you will find in the setup menu a sub-menu likely called TV Setup, where there will be an option to change the HDMI resolution. The options are usually 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. If you're wondering what resolution is being fed to your TV by the Blu-ray player (or any other source, for that matter), just hit the Info button on the TV remote. Somewhere on the screen, the TV will show you what resolution it is receiving.
Some higher-end Blu-ray players also include a Source Direct mode that allows you to output all video discs at their native resolution: DVDs will be output at 480i, and Blu-ray movies will usually be output at 1080p. This mode is desirable if you own an external scaler or a receiver/TV/projector that has a better internal scaler than the one in your Blu-ray player.
Within the same TV Setup menu, you should see an option called "24p output" (or something similar). This function might be turned off by default. Most films are shots at a frame rate of 24 frames per second; to watch them on a standard 60Hz TV requires a conversion process called 3:2 pulldown that repeats frames. This process adds a stuttering quality to motion called judder, and some people don't like judder. If the "24p output" setting is turned off, then the Blu-ray player will add the 3:2 process to your Blu-ray movies to output them at 60Hz. If you turn on the "24p output" setting, then the player will output Blu-ray films at 24 frames per second, the way they were originally filmed. Why would you do this? Well, many new HDTVs offer a refresh rate that's higher than 60Hz. These TVs can refresh at 96Hz, 120Hz, or 240Hz (all multiples of 24), and they can include a variety of modes to reduce judder. With this type of TV, it makes more sense to feed the 24fps movie from the Blu-ray player into the TV and let the TV handle the frame-rate increase.
Tip #3: Set the Proper Shape (Aspect Ratio) for Your TV
Also within the TV Setup menu, you'll find an option called TV Shape or TV Aspect Ratio. For an HDTV, you'll want to choose a 16:9 (rectangular) shape, not a 4:3 (squarish) shape. However, there are often multiple 16:9 choices within the setup menu, and your choice will depend on how you want to view square, 4:3 sources on your rectangular 16:9 TV. Most older TV shows and some older movies were shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio. When watching these shows on disc through your Blu-ray player, do you want to view them with sidebars that preserve the correct shape of the image in the center of the screen, or do you want to get rid of the sidebars by stretching the image to the screen's edges (which distorts the shape) or zooming in on the image (which cuts off information at the top and bottom)? For instance, in my Panasonic Blu-ray player, I can set the TV shape for just 16:9 (which automatically puts sidebars around 4:3-shaped content) or "16:9 Full" (which stretches the square content to fill the 16:9 screen). This is a matter of personal preference, and all of the persons in your household may not have the same preference. Your HDTV's remote will also have a button called Aspect Ratio or Picture Size that can make these same changes.
Tip #4: Choose the Correct Audio Format for Your System
There are a number of different ways to configure the audio output on your Blu-ray player, depending on the capabilities of both the player and the device to which you're connecting it. If you're connecting the player directly to a TV via HDMI, you should get audio without having to make any adjustments in the setup menu - granted, it will only be stereo audio, regardless of how the player is set up, because that's all the TV can output. If you're connecting the player to the TV via the stereo analog audio output (if there is one), then you might need to go into the Audio setup menu and turn off the HDMI audio in order to activate the other audio outputs.
If you're connecting the player to an A/V receiver through HDMI, again you should be able to get audio without making any adjustments. The HDMI Audio setup menu generally has two options: Bitsteam and PCM. Bitstream is usually the default, and it means that the player is simply passing the audio soundtrack in its native bitstream form over HDMI to your receiver. All of the decoding will happen in the receiver; so, if you use this setting, you want a receiver that at least has Dolby Digital and DTS decoding to get surround sound for DVD and Blu-ray movies. Ideally, the receiver should also have Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding so that you can enjoy the highest quality uncompressed 7.1-channel audio offered on many Blu-ray discs.
If you own an HDMI receiver that does not have Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA decoding, then you can set the HDMI Audio for PCM. This tells the player to use its own internal decoders to decode the selected soundtrack on the disc, be it Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby TrueHD, etc. Most (but not all) new players have both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA decoders built in. So, set the player for PCM, and it will decode the audio and send it in the form of multichannel PCM to your receiver over the HDMI cable.
Finally, if you own an older receiver that does not have HDMI inputs, you have two audio options. One, you can send bitstream or PCM over the player's digital audio output to your receiver's digital audio input. Please note that you cannot send high-resolution audio in this manner. A Blu-ray player's optical/coaxial digital audio output does not support the transfer of high-resolution audio; basic Dolby Digital and DTS are the best you can get. If you want to enjoy high-resolution audio without HDMI, you need a Blu-ray player with multichannel analog audio outputs. If you have this type of player, you can set it up for PCM output to use the player's internal Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoders, configure the analog audio outputs, and pass the signal over analog cables to your receiver's multichannel analog inputs.
I want to address one other audio setting. One of Blu-ray's touted features is the ability to do picture-in-picture (called BonusView). Some Blu-ray discs might include, as a bonus feature, the ability to watch a making-of documentary that plays in PIP style over the movie. To hear the audio for this PIP content, you need to go into the Audio setup menu and turn on a feature called "Secondary Audio" (or something similar). Only activate this feature when you want to hear PIP audio; turn it off when you're done because it downconverts all high-resolution audio soundtracks to basic Dolby Digital or DTS in order to play the secondary track.
Tip #5: Connect the Player to Your Home Network
All new Blu-ray players must include an Internet connection. You don't have to connect your player to the Internet, but you should if you want to take advantage of everything the Blu-ray format has to offer. First of all, the network connection allows you to quickly and easily update your player's firmware. Manufacturers will often issue firmware updates to add functions and/or address any performance issues that have been reported. Some networked-connected players automatically inform you when a new firmware update is available; with others, you have to go into the setup menu and look for an option to check for a firmware update.
An Internet connection also allows you to access the interactive, Web-based bonus content that might be offered on some Blu-ray movie discs. This content is called BD-Live. Types of BD-Live content might include making-of featurettes, movie trailers, trivia, and games. Many Blu-ray players now offer a "smart" Web platform that allows you to access streaming video-on-demand from services like Netflix and YouTube, as well as music streaming, Web browsing, games, and more. Manufacturers also offer free iOS/Android control apps that let you control the Blu-ray player over your home network through a smartphone or tablet. You can even share content wirelessly between your tablet/phone and the player, as long as they are all connected to the same network.
Entry-level Blu-ray players may only offer a wired network connection via Ethernet, whereas mid- and top-shelf players often add built-in WiFi (802.11n) for a wireless connection. In some cases, a player is WiFi-ready, meaning it does not have built-in WiFi but it does support the addition of WiFi through a USB WiFi dongle. Choose whichever connection method works best for you. WiFi is often easier to set up, since you don't have to run an Ethernet cable to the player. However, if you plan to watch a lot of streaming video or your player is located a long distance from your WiFi router, a wired Ethernet connection may prove to offer more reliable performance, with less potential interference. If you would prefer to use wired Ethernet but don't want to run cable, consider an Ethernet-over-powerline solution that will extend your network over your home's electrical wiring.
November 14, 2013