TV Picture Doesn't Fit The Screen

Problem

  • 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 is surrounded by wide black borders
  • The TV picture looks narrow, it doesn't completely fill the screen, or there is space on either side of the picture
  • The TV picture looks stretched horizontally, or width-wise, so that everything is too wide, or people look fat

Solution

If you are watching 1.) off-air TV using an antenna, or 2.) cable-TV without a cable set-top box, first 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 for this in Automatic TV Settings or Limitations of Using HDMI Cables.

If the picture size is wrong on more than one channel no matter how the TV is connected, it's probably because a button got pushed on a remote control by mistake. 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 to which the TV is currently set. Remember this setting - you may need to return to it later! Next, change the setting. If a menu is displayed, press the "Direction Down" key to make another selection. If you don’t see a menu, that means you need to push the other button again to make another selection. By selecting each mode, see if you can find the one 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 as was mentioned above, then go to the TV's menu and look for an option called "PICTURE", "OPTIONS", or "SCREEN". Select this option. Now look for a menu item containing the word "ASPECT", "ZOOM" or "SIZE". Select that item. 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 cause the picture to fill the TV screen properly (if a menu is displayed press the "Direction Down" key, otherwise push the other button again to make another selection).

If none of that resolves the issue, then the problem is coming from whatever is feeding the TV, such as a cable box, satellite receiver, DVD player, digital media player, or even the original source. (If you made any changes to the TV settings, be sure to set them back the way they were.)

Assuming that it is coming from a device connected to the TV input, grab the remote for that device and look for a button labeled "WIDE", "ASPECT", or "ZOOM". Push this button one time. The text on the screen should indicate the mode to which the device is currently set. Remember this setting! Next, change the setting either by making a menu selection or by pushing that button a few times. 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 with either the word "OPTIONS" or "SET UP". Then, look for another option containing the word "ASPECT", "ZOOM" or "SIZE". Make note of the current setting, and then change it and see if you can find one that will cause the TV picture to fill the screen like it did.

If none of these procedures resolve the issue, navagate to menu and 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 the one you want, it may be because of the way the TV is dealing (or not dealing) with the particular digital format of that source. To resolve this, some wide-screen TVs have a switchable feature that can recognize the non-wide-screen format and 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", and "NATIVE". To see if your TV has these modes you will need to explore the options available in your 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 resizing the picture may not always be possible. Devices connected via HDMI cables can cause high definition channels to look fine while producing a pillarbox picture (with black pillars on either side) for the narrow standard definition channels.

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. For more information, read Why does my TV picture not fit the screen?

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 even capable of displaying pictures 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 framing size among the new formats. The intent was to give broadcasters, DVD manufacturers and streaming video providers the freedom to choose how they wanted their picture to be framed. By the way, the original specification allowed for up to 18 variations of picture formats (although many of them are not used).

With variety comes complexity, and it is this variety of formats that 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 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.



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