- The TV picture is too big, or looks zoomed in too much so that you can't read the text crawling along the bottom of a news channel
- The TV picture is too small and doesn't completely fill the screen
- The TV picture height doesn't completely fill the screen, producing a letterbox effect
- There is space on either side of the picture, producing a pillarbox effect
- The TV picture looks stretched horizontally, or width-wise, so that everything is too wide, or people look fat
First, we need to identify the source of the problem. If you are watching either 1.) an off-air TV channel using an antenna, or 2.) a cable-TV channel without the use of a cable set-top box, try changing the channel. If the picture looks wrong only on one channel, then the problem is that particular channel. You may find a solution to this problem in Automatic TV Settings or Limitations of Using HDMI Cables.
If the picture size is wrong on many channels, it's probably because a button on a remote control got pushed accidentally. To resolve this, first grab the remote control that came with the television. Don't use a universal remote because it may not provide the buttons you need. Look for a button labelled "WIDE", "ASPECT", "P SIZE", or "ZOOM". Push this button one time. The text on the screen should indicate the mode in which the TV is currently set. Remember this setting - you may need to return to it later!
If you can't find the remote control that came with the television, there are TV parts suppliers that carry OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) remotes. See Replacement Parts For TVs.
Next, change the setting. If a menu is displayed, press the "Up" or "Down" key to make another selection. If you don’t see a menu, push the button more than once to advance the selection. See if you can find a mode that will cause the picture to fill the TV screen like it did before the mishap occurred.
If the TV remote does not have a button labelled as mentioned above, then go to the TV's menu, look for an option called "PICTURE", "OPTIONS", or "SCREEN", and select it. Now look for a menu item containing the word "ASPECT", "ZOOM" or "SIZE". Select that item. You should now see the current setting being displayed on the screen. Remember this setting before you make any changes. Next, change the setting until you find mode that will cause the picture to fill the TV screen properly.
If none of that resolves the issue, then the problem is coming from whatever source is feeding the TV, such as a cable box, satellite receiver, DVD player, or digital media device. (If you made any changes to the TV settings, be sure to set them back the way they were.)
If you've determined that the problem is due to an input device, grab the remote for that device, look for a button labeled "WIDE", "ASPECT", or "ZOOM", and push it. The text on the screen should indicate the mode in which the device is currently set. Remember this setting! Next, change the setting either by making a menu selection or by pushing that button more than once. See if you can find the setting that will cause the picture to fill the screen like it did before.
If the remote for that device does not have such buttons, go to the menu and select the option named either "OPTIONS" or "SET UP". Then, look for another choice containing the word "ASPECT", "ZOOM" or "SIZE". Make note of the current mode, and then advance the setting and see if you can find a mode that will cause the TV picture to fill the screen like it did.
If the above procedures do not resolve the issue, try looking for a menu option containing the word "FORMAT" or "RESOLUTION". It should be set to either "720p", "1080i", or "1080p".
Automatic TV Settings
Some TVs have an optional feature that can recognize a non-wide-screen signal, and will correct for it by automatically changing the picture size. This feature goes by many names depending on the brand. Many times the options will include modes such as "STRETCH", "CROP", or "NATIVE". To see if your TV has these modes you will need to explore the options available in the Picture menu, or read the owner's manual. For more information, read Why does my TV picture not fit the screen?
Limitations of Using HDMI Cables
When using HDMI cables, changing the size of the picture may not be possible on certain models. 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 abides by the signal. This problem is generally found on older models.
One way to enable 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. The downside of doing this, however, is that you will loose some of the 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)
Many people do not understand why the picture on their TV can sometimes fail to fit the screen. They may ask why TVs are even capable of displaying pictures like that. To answer these questions, one needs to go back in time to when high definition television was first being developed.
The inventors of high-definition television had to consider many factors in the design of the new system. Among their considerations was that they did not want the new wide-screen way of framing video to replace the original shape. They wanted the program material existing in those days to be diplayed properly. So they included the old-school framing size among the new formats. The intent was to give broadcasters, satellite service providers, DVD manufacturers and streaming video providers the freedom to choose how they wanted their picture to be framed. It is interesting to note that the original specification made available 13 terrestrial and 18 satellite formats (counting the formats earmarked for Europe and Japan).
With variety came complexity. And it is this complexity that has brought us the dilemma 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 the 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 terms high definition, as well as ultra high definition or 4K, refers to digital video displayed on a wide screen. The width-to-height ratio of a wide television screen is 16-by-9. This ratio is known as the aspect ratio. In contrast to today's wide flat screens, the TV picture tubes of long ago (as well as the TV programs produced in those days) had an aspect ratio of 4-by-3. The digital video counterpart to this is known as standard definition.
It should be no surprise, then, that when a standard definition broadcast is properly displayed on a wide, high definition screen, the picture will not fill the screen horizontally. Instead, originator will intentionally pillarbox the video image with a gap (usually black) on both sides. This is known as pillarboxing. The intent, obviously, is to keep the shape of the original picture even though it is being presented on a wide screen.
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 insist that everything they watch should be completely fill their wide TV screen 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 (you might have come across this feature while performing the instructions at the top of this article). The setting causes all 4-by-3 material to be horizontally stretched, or anamorphic. While some viewers may find this to be visually disturbing, others will not be bothered by the distortion at all. It is a feature that the television manufacturing industry was forced to adopt because of consumer demands.
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.