If you are watching off-the-air TV using an antenna or watching cable-TV without a cable set-top box, first try changing the channel. If the picture looks bad only on one channel, then the problem is because of that particular channel. You may find a remedy for this in the section entitled Automatic TV Settings or Limitations of Using HDMI Cables.
If the picture size is consistently wrong on more than one channel no matter how the TV is connected, it's probably because a button got pushed on the TV remote control by mistake. To resolve this, first grab the remote control that came with the television. If you have a universal remote, don't use it because it may not have the buttons needed for this procedure. Look for a button labelled "WIDE", "ASPECT", "P SIZE", or "ZOOM". When you push this button one time, the TV should display the mode in which it is currently set. Remember this setting - you may need to return to it! Next try changing the setting. Depending on your make and model, this will be done either by making a menu selection or by pushing that same button more than once. See if you can find the setting that will cause the picture to fill the screen like it did before the mishap.
If the TV remote does not have any buttons like that, then go to the TV’s menu and look for an option called "Picture", "Options", or "Screen". Select this option. Now look for another option called "Aspect", "Screen Size", or "Aspect Ratio". Select that option. You should now see the current setting displayed on the screen. Remember this current setting before you make any changes. Next, change the setting until you find one that will fill the screen properly.
If none of those procedures help you obtain a picture that fills the screen properly then the problem is not the TV, but rather the cable box, satellite receiver, or DVD player that is feeding the TV. But before you continue make sure the settings on the TV are back the way they were before you made any changes.
Next, we will consider the culprit being the device connected to the TV, such as a DVD player, cable set-top box, satellite receiver, or streaming internet media adapter. If there is more than one device connected to the TV, we are assuming that only one of them is causing the picture size problem; make sure the TV is switched to that source. Grab the remote control that came with that device. Look for a button on the remote labeled "WIDE", "ASPECT", or "ZOOM". When you push this button one time, the TV should display the mode in which the device is currently set. Remember this setting! Next, try changing the setting, either by a menu selection or by pushing that button a few times, and see if you can find the setting that will cause the picture to fill the screen like it did before the mishap.
If the remote does not have such buttons, go to the menu and select the option with either the word "Options" or "Set Up". Then, look for another option called "Aspect", "Screen Size", or "Aspect Ratio”. Make note of the current setting, and then change it and see if you can find one that will cause the picture to fill the screen like it did.
If you haven't solved the problem yet, one more thing you can try is to look for an option containing the word "Format" or "Resolution". It should be set to either "720p", "1080i", or "1080p" for a wide-screen display.
Automatic TV Settings
If you can get the picture to look right for some programs, channels, or movies, but not for others, you may be dealing with the way it is being broadcast or the way it was recorded. Some TVs have ways of adapting to this by automatically changing the picture size according to the incoming format. This feature goes by many names depending on the brand. To see if your TV does this you will need to explore the options available in your Picture menu. The owner's manual can also tell you if the TV has this capability.
Limitations of Using HDMI Cables
When using HDMI cables resizing the picture may not always be possible. Devices connected via HDMI cables can cause high definition channels to look fine while producing black pillars on either side of the narrow standard definition channels. You will learn in the next section that this is the way standard definition pictures are intended to be viewed.
The reason this happens is that the picture format and aspect ratio (as defined by the program or broadcaster) is an integral part of the signal that travels through the HDMI cable, and the television must abide by the signal. Consequently, the picture will always be framed the way both the broadcaster and TV manufacturer want it to be framed.
To deal with this problem, one way of enabling the TV's picture sizing feature is to use a different means of connecting the device to the TV, such as using the component video input or composite video input on your TV. The downside of this, however, is that you will loose some picture quality. See How Is My TV Hooked Up?.
Why does my TV picture not fit the screen?
(A brief history of high definition TV)
Why are TVs so complicated these days? Why is the TV capable of displaying a picture incorrectly? To answer this question we need to go back a few years to the time when high definition television was first being developed. There were many factors the inventors had to consider in the design of the system. Among the considerations was that they did not want the new wide-screen way of framing video to replace the original shape. So they included the old-school format among the new formats. The intent was to provide options so that broadcasters, DVD manufacturers and streaming video providers would have the freedom to choose how they wanted their picture to be framed. In fact, the original specification allowed for up to 18 variations of picture formats (although many of them are not used).
The existence of these options, however, has brought us the delema we now face today. Depending on how the video content was originally produced and the device upon which it is viewed, the dimensions of the image on the screen may not always be consistent from one source to another, or between TV channels, programs, or even commercials. The bottom line is that not every source of video is meant to completely fill a wide TV screen.
This brings us to the other piece of the puzzle, namely the shape of the television screen itself. Today, you cannot purchase a TV that does not have a wide screen. The term high definition refers to today's high-resolution video dispayed in a wide-screen format. The width-to-height ratio of a wide TV screen is 16-by-9. This is called the aspect ratio. In contrast to wide screens, the old-school analog TV screens along with TV programs that were produced back in the 1900's had an aspect ratio of 4-by-3. This original, narrower format is known as standard definition. As we explained above, today's modern digital TV system accomodates both of these formats.
It should be no surprise that when a standard definition broadcast is properly displayed on a wide, high definition screen, the picture does not fill the screen horizontally. There will be a gap on both sides of the picture - this is known as pillarboxing.
The flip side of this happens when a program or signal source having a wide-screen format is viewed on a 4-by-3 display. The picture will appear in the middle of the screen sandwiched between a layer of black on the top and on the bottom. It will be as if the picture was being viewed through a letterbox on the front door of a house. This technique of format accommodation is known as letterboxing, and it is the only way that the whole wide screen picture can be viewed without distortion. This technique is also utilized for films originally shot with a super-wide format (like Super Panavision).
In spite of how the inventors, the broadcasters, and the film-makers intended to have TV viewers watch their stuff, some people will still insist that their wide TV screen should be completely filled all of the time, regardless of the incoming picture format. To satisfy this need, many TVs (and some set-top boxes) have a setting that will "stretch" the pictures when they are narrow so that they fill the screen all of the time. You would have come across this feature while preforming the instructions at the top of this article. This feature will cause all 4-by-3 material to be horizontally stretched, or what is known as anamorphic. Some viewers may find this to be visually disturbing, while others will not be bothered by the distortion at all.
There is another zoom setting on some TVs called justified. This setting stretches a narrowly-framed picture to fit a wide-screen, but only on the far-left and far-right sides leaving the center of the image unstretched. It may make a talking head on a news channel look good, but reveals its unnatural distortion when the camera pans a scene horizonally.