This is how you connect your television correctly

4k television

Connecting a television, can’t it be difficult? HDMI cable in and ready. But does every HDMI connection deliver the same functionality and quality? And what about multi-channel audio? Would you better opt for apps on the TV or for an external player? And does that have consequences for your connection? We explain it.

Although there are sometimes other connectors on a television, HDMI has become the standard connection when it comes to consumer electronics. This digital connection delivers image and sound in the best quality, and in some cases can even ensure that you operate all devices with one remote control. Yet there are still some things to look out for.

HDMI versions

Hdmi has been around for a long time (since 2003). In the meantime, there are quite a few different versions. Explaining the differences in detail goes too far, but these are the main lines. Since version 1.4 there is support for arc and 3D and 4K can be used, but only to a limited extent (24 Hz with a color depth of 8 bits). Since version 2.0, HDMI also supports HDR and more variants of 4K. The latest version 2.1 offers a whole range of new functions, but is not yet widely available.

HDMI connections are always backwards compatible, so you can connect older versions to newer ones, but then of course you are limited to the functions of the oldest version.

The right cable

HDMI cables come in two major versions: Standard and High Speed. The Standard cables support a maximum of 720p and 1080i resolutions, which cables are best. Buy High Speed ​​cables that are suitable for everything up to 4K. Both versions exist in two variants: with and without Ethernet. Buy the variant with ethernet, because it is necessary if you want to use (e) arc.

HDMI cables with the Premium High Speed ​​designation are identical to High Speed ​​cables, but have been subjected to additional testing to ensure that they deliver the maximum bandwidth (18 Gbit / s, for example for 4K with 60 fps, color depth 8 bit and 4 : 4: 4 chroma). They are provided with a special logo. In practice, almost all High Speed ​​cables can, but they have not been tested for it.

Ultra High Speed ​​cables have been developed for extremely high resolutions (such as 8K). They have been proposed together with hdmi 2.1, but are not yet officially available. They will in any case be compatible with your existing equipment.

In theory, cables may not be referred to as HDMI version numbers (an HDMI 2.0 cable does not exist), although unfortunately this often happens in practice. When you purchase, pay attention to the logo (so we recommend High Speed ​​with Ethernet), and look into the features (4K60p, 2160p, hdr, etc.) if necessary. For long cables (10 meters or more) you can consider using an active cable, which uses fiber optics to cover longer distances.

HDMI high speed
Look for an HDMI cable with the “High Speed ​​with Ethernet” logo. Premium High Speed ​​cables deliver the same performance, but have been tested more extensively.

Cheap cable or expensive cable?

An HDMI cable should not be expensive at all, and expensive cables definitely do not improve your image quality. So no deeper black, better detail or more intense colors with an expensive cable, that is completely impossible. If an HDMI cable fails, you will see one of the following three things: “asterisks” in the image, occasional image failure or no image at all. “Asterisks” are random pixels that flash on and off, which is usually immediately visible. If you have one of these problems, switch your source to a lower resolution or frame rate. If this resolves the problem, it is almost certainly the fault. With longer cables the chance of problems is slightly higher, therefore they require slightly better quality and are often somewhat more expensive.

Activate HDMI functions

Hdmi does more than just transmit image and sound. For example, you can control some devices with the remote control of your TV thanks to CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). You have to activate this function often and manufacturers unfortunately all use their own name for it. Look in the menus for: Philips EasyLink, Sony Bravia Link, Samsung Anynet +, LG Simplink, or Panasonic Viera Link.

Some functions are not available on all HDMI connections of your television. For example, Arc (Audio Return Channel), with which the sound is transmitted from your television to your external sound system or soundbar, can only be used on one HDMI connection in many cases. It is then labeled with “ARC”.

Game specific functions

Gamers switch their TV to game mode to ensure the lowest input lag. But on the latest TV models you can also find a number of HDMI 2.1 functions that are of interest to them. ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode) and VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) must in some cases also be activated separately via the menus. HFR (High Frame Rate, concrete frame rates higher than 60 fps) is supported on some top models. For the time being, that is only important for console gamers, since these are the only sources of HFR content.

Game mode settings
Gamers have a range of HDMI functions especially for them, such as ALLM and VRR (Freesync).

Bandwidth and image quality

There are two versions of HDMI 2.0 connections: with 18 Gbit / s bandwidth and with 9 Gbit / s bandwidth. Why is that important? Because only 18Gbit / s connections support 4K with hdr. Connections with 9 Gbit / s are limited to 4K with 24 fps, without hdr. Unfortunately this is not always clear in the specifications of a TV, but you can discover it. For example, of the four HDMI connections, only one or two can deliver the full bandwidth. If the manual or specifications state that you can deliver up to 4K at 60 fps on a particular HDMI connection, then you can safely assume that it is an 18Gbit / s version.

On some models, you have to switch the HDMI setting to “enhanced mode” so that the TV can “tell” a connected player that it supports the best possible HDR quality. This happens automatically on a lot of TVs, but for this too you sometimes have to dive into the menus. Of course you can only adjust that setting on an 18Gbit / s connection. And here too, manufacturers often use different names.

Please note, some older devices (especially some digital TV set-top boxes) no longer deliver sound if you put the HDMI connection in “enhanced” mode. So only put the connections to which you connect an HDR-capable device in “improved” mode.

External players or internal source?

For the best quality, is it best to use the built-in streaming apps on your TV or an external player? In most cases this makes little difference. Often the built-in apps of a TV are the easiest choice. If the built-in Netflix 4K hdr delivers (possibly with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos), then you will certainly not get a better result from an external player. YouTube must be able to deliver 4K HDR10 and 4K HLG.

If you connect an external player, take the recommendations from the previous section into account. If you use an external audio system, be sure to read the following section. Set the player to 4K resolution (or Auto).

If you have the option to choose a certain Chroma subsampling scheme, choose 4: 2: 0, because almost all video is saved this way. With 4: 2: 0, color information is compressed, so that less data passes through the cable. Only choose 4: 4: 4 as subsampling if you are sure that your player’s chroma-upscaler is better than that of the television.

Arc and earc

Arc (Audio Return Channel) and earc (extended arc, new since HDMI 2.1) deserve some extra attention. The concept behind arc is simple: if you opt for better sound and use a soundbar or av receiver, connect your sources to the soundbar or av receiver.

But what do you do with the sound from sources on your TV (built-in tuners, Netflix, USB and so on)? Normally you need a separate cable for that, often a digital optical cable from your TV to the soundbar / reciever. With HDMI Arc this is not necessary: ​​the TV uses the HDMI cable that runs from your audio system to your TV (and that only brings video to your TV) to transfer the audio from internal TV sources to your audio system. For this, both your TV and your audio system must have an HDMI port with the arc function. You connect them with an HDMI cable with ethernet (High Speed ​​with Ethernet) … and you’re done!

Here too you sometimes have to look into the settings to guarantee the correct and best configuration. In the TV sound menu, select that you are using an external audio system, and if possible, select the option to output “bitstream” audio. In this way you guarantee that any processing will be done by your audio installation. Do not choose “PCM”, because in that case all processing will take place in the TV, and you may lose surround information.

Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos is a new surround format where sound even seems to come from above. Although some TV models can play Atmos tracks themselves, the result is usually poor. For maximum effect, use an Atmos soundbar or AV receiver. Always ensure that your audio source (TV or external player) outputs “bitstream” audio, not “PCM”. For example, your audio system can take care of the decoding of the Atmos information.

Preferably connect players directly to the audio system. If you still need to connect your blu-ray player to the TV because there are not enough connections on the soundbar, you can only send Atmos tracks that are included in a Dolby True HD stream via earc. If you only have arc, you can only listen to Atmos in Dolby Digital Plus streams.

Older connections

You will find older analog connections on many televisions. This concerns composite video (yellow tulip plug) and component video (red, green and blue tulip plug). You only use those connections if it really cannot be otherwise. The quality of composite video is very poor (maximum SD 576p, with a lot of image errors), component video still gives reasonable results (can go up to full HD). You can use a VGA connection if you want to connect an older computer or laptop, also up to full HD with decent quality.

In all these cases you are dependent on analogue stereo (red and white RCA plug or stereo mini jack) for audio. Again, only use these connections if there is no other option.

The only older connection that may still be important is the digital optical audio output. Some sound bars do not have HDMI and can therefore only be connected to the TV via this type of connection.


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