Fast Forward's Help File

Connecting a Computer To an HDTV; Replacement System-Recovery Discs

By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, March 1, 2009

QWhen I plug my laptop into my HDTV, the computer's screen image gets stretched weirdly across the TV's screen.

AThis can happen when you connect a computer with a standard-proportion display to a high-def TV, with its wider screen.

If you're lucky, the computer will detect and set the right resolution for the TV on its own (for example, a Lenovo netbook running Windows XP had no problem with a Sony LCD TV's screen), but if not you'll have to tweak video settings. That can get tricky.

For instance, when I tried plugging a Dell laptop into a Vizio LCD last year, I had to run an Intel graphics utility to set a screen resolution somewhat close to the TV's proportions, and even that left the onscreen image bracketed by narrow gray bars. (Yet the same laptop had no problem picking the correct settings for the HDTV when I booted the computer into the Ubuntu version of Linux.)

Some users report better results with a $29.95 shareware program called Power Strip (, which provides a finer level of control over video options.

On a Mac, you may have to open the System Preferences application after you connect the computer to the TV, click its Displays icon and try the resolutions listed under the Arrangements heading to find one that fits.

Can I use the recovery disc from one laptop on another of the same brand?

That's a bad idea. Recovery CDs and DVDs shipped by computer vendors (which, on most new PCs, have been replaced by system-recovery partitions on hard drives) include drivers customized for individual models. So you might wind up with a laptop that doesn't recognize its WiFi receiver or some other component. Plus, these copies of Windows are only licensed for use on the computer they were sold with.

In this case, contact the manufacturer to ask about buying a replacement recovery disc.

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or Turn to Thursday's Business section or visit anytime for his Fast Forward column.

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