Q. My TV box shows standard-definition versions of channels, not the high-definition copies I’m paying for. How can I change that?
A. The black bars that bracket a standard-def channel on a high-def screen should be a badge of shame in the subscription-TV industry, but they’re a common sight when you punch in a channel’s traditional number on a cable or satellite remote.
SD televisions vanished from retail years ago — the Consumer Technology Associationlast bothered counting their shipments in 2007 — and it should be an exceedingly safe bet that when subscribers tune into channels available in HD, they’ll watch it on HDTVs.
You can often fix that with some clicking around settings screens, but your odds vary depending on your TV provider and the age of the box you pay $5 or more a month to rent.
• At AT&T’s U-verse you can only avoid SD duplicates by using your remote to create a list of favorite channels. You can’t set the guide to show only HD channels either, although spokesman Brett LeVecchio offered one tip: Channels between 1000 and 2000 should usually be HD. The DirecTV satellite service that AT&T bought last year is smarter, offering an option in its Settings screen to “Hide SD duplicates” from the program guide.
• Charter, the cable company that recently acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House in a $79 billion transaction, has an “HD Auto Tune” option on its Spectrum boxes that automatically switches you to the HD version of a channel if you select its SD offering. But if you’re in one of the small minority of Charter households with an older box, you may have to cobble together a favorite-channels list instead.
• A similar situation exists at Comcast, the nation’s largest cable firm. Its X1 boxes — the Philadelphia firm says half of subscriber households should have them by the end of this year — automatically selects HD versions of channels when available. Older boxes don’t do that but should present a “Watch in HD” button if you tune in an SD version of a channel.
• Cox’s boxes include an “Auto-tune to HD” option — but its Contour boxes based on Comcast’s X1 software do not.
• Dish Network’s Hopper digital video recorders automatically hide SD channels when HD counterparts are available. Its older boxes have an option to show only HD channels.
• Optimum’s boxes automatically display high-definition versions of channels. This subsidiary of the European cable firm Altice has gotten this right for years: When I looked at this issue in 2012, the company then known as Cablevision was the only firm among those I eyeballed to offer an HD auto-tune option.
• Time Warner Cable’s boxes also show HD editions of channels by default.
• Verizon’s Fios TV boxes have an auto-tune option unmentioned in its online documentation or hardware manuals–I only saw it in a post on its tech-support forum. Press the Menu button on the remote, scroll up to Settings, select System, scroll down to Television, and scroll down to select “Auto tune to HD.” Spokesman Raymond McConville said the company hasn’t made this the default because earlier changes to the Fios TV interface were “met with a lot of confusion from customers.”