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I just signed up for DirecTV, and have a big HDTV connected via HDMI to the HR21 in the living room. I also hooked up my old VCR to the composite outputs from the HR21, which then sends a SD signal via coax to other TVs around the house.

The problem is, if I tell the DVR I'm watching a 16:9 TV, then the SD signal is also in 16:9; that means on my old TVs hooked up via the coax, which don't have a 16:9 mode, the picture gets all squished up. Nothing I do to change the format has any effect whatsoever on what I see on the 4:3 TVs.

The only way I've found to get it to look "normal" on those sets is to tell the DVR I'm using a 4:3 TV, and then the format options will let me letterbox or crop or whatever I want, which is great. But then the HDMI output in the living room is also in 4:3, and that picture is squashed down. So if I'm wandering around the house watching the TV on whatever set is in the room I'm in, which I often do, then I have to keep switching back and forth between 16:9 and 4:3.

...which is a complete pain, because you have to go to the Menu, then scroll all the way down (five or six clicks) to the bottom for setup, then scroll down two more clicks to setup again, then down six clicks to "HDTV", then up and right to finally get to where you can (finally!) change the aspect ratio of your TV.

So, here are a bunch of questions:

Is there a quicker way to change the aspect ratio for the TV on the HR21?

Is there a better way of sending the signals I want to both the HDMI output and the SD composite outputs on the HR21 at the same time? I'd love to be able to have a 16:9 picture on the HD outputs and a letterboxed 4:3 signal on the SD outputs, but I can't see how to do that.

Is there some other method of quickly changing the formats or some other setting on the DVR to give me something close to what I want?

Finally, is there some device I can attach inline to take a 16:9 picture (regardless of resolution) and letterbox it into a SD 4:3 480i signal? I'm not opposed, in principle, to swapping out the old TVs themselves, although it would be best if they could still take a coax input, because rewiring everything is something I'm unlikely to do anytime soon.

Thanks a lot,
 

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As long as the HR21 is set for a 16:9 screen, there is no other format setting that will letterbox the picture on your 4:3 TV’s. I have this same issue with a 16:9 plasma in the living room and a 4:3 CRT on the back porch connected to the same HR20. I have just learned to live with the distorted image on the TV on the back porch. To me, it doesn’t look as bad as watching 4:3 content stretched horizontally to fill a 6:9 screen.

If you set the HR21 to use a 4:3 screen, it will then letterbox any 16:9 content and then you can use your HDTV’s “zoom” setting to make it fill the screen. Of course that’s not going to give you very good picture quality on your nice HDTV so it’s not really on option. You could buy a programmable remote and code the HR21’s menu setting sequence to one button to make switching it easier.

I can’t think of anything else to offer as in any equipment that would re-letterbox the image. There may be something out there, but it could be expensive. Honestly, I’d replace the 4:3 TV’s before investing in additional equipment to reformat the image. Just make sure that the new TV’s have two features: an NTSC tuner and a horizontal stretch/fill function. NTSC is the old “analog TV” type input that you will need to get the channel 3/4 output from your VCR. I would think most do, but there are some “monitor-only” sets that don’t have any OTA capability. Since NTSC is being phased-out in about 6 months, it’s conceivable that some sets might drop that functionality.
 
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