Joining the Digital Television Revoultion (but not through Cable)

As you’ve no doubt heard, the US will be discontinuing Analog TV transmission in February 2009. They’ve actually already auctioned off the analog spectrum (and I’m not too happy about who ended up buying it, but that’s for another post). So, if you have cable TV you don’t need to worry about this and if you have satellite TV and you get local channels via satellite, you also don’t need to worry. If you currently get the nice, free, over the air (OTA) channels, then you need to worry – unless you have a new HDTV. But, for some reason, I don’t see the HDTV crowd overlapping with the OTA crowd. If you bought an HDTV, I assume it was to watch your cable or satellite provider’s HD sports package or HD HBO or HD Discovery Channel (which is beautiful, by the way). So you probably need a converter box.

I have no desire to try my cable provider’s HD lineup. Why? Because it costs more money, I don’t have an HDTV, and I would need to rent a cable box from them. But, as you may NOT know, HD and Digital TV are not the same. All HD is Digital, but all Digital is not HD. I got shafted because although I only bought a TV a few years ago, it wasn’t HD ready (because I didn’t want to drop big money on a flat screen TV), therefore, to get digital channels I also needed a converter box. Plus, I’m thinking of dropping cable because there really isn’t much worth watching on TV nowadays.

So, first I popped over to TitanTV to see which Digital OTA channels should be available in my neighborhood. So, I should be able to pick up ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, TFA, MNT, PBS, The Tube, and CW. Not only that, but each of these channels also has sub-bands a great new feature of how efficient digital TV signals are. If you’ve heard commercials about HD Radio and how one can get “extra” channels, it’s the same thing. As an example of what they might do with broadcast television, they could broadcast in 16:9 (HD ratio) on sub-band 1 and 4:3 in sub-band 2. Or they could have one sub-band always showing the news or alternative programming. The possibilities are endless. But basically, instead of only having 9 channels to tune, as with analog, we have 39 channels. So it’s roughly 4 times as many tunable channels.

So my $40 converter box coupons arrived today and I went to go pick up my converter box at Best Buy. The only brand they had was Insignia. (So I saved the other coupon to see if I might want another converter box if this one is lame) I also bought two antennas, one amplified. The unamplified one was only $13 while the amplified one is $50 so I’m hoping I can get all of the channels in the unamplifed one so I can return the expensive one.

I decided to try this out on my computer room TV since it was close to the computer and would allow me to easily write while I test it out. First I tried out the cheap antenna. It found 7 channels. And it could only tune about 5. And they kept breaking up and not showing. Because, with digital the picture’s there or not, there’s no snowy picture. My wife was impressed with the clarity of the picture when it actually came in, and this is on my crappy TV that I’ve had since I was like 11 years old. Now let’s see how the amplified antenna does.

This one found 16 channels! Much better, I guess you do get what you pay for. I’m blown away by how nice the channels look. ABC comes in so much clearer than via Comcast Cable. (And I was sending it via RF, not via Component Cables, which would be even better quality)

So, for now it looks like I’m going to have to give this a trial period on one of my TVs and see if I can live with the quality.  I need to test how it is affected by rain and what room in the house affords the best reception.  If it works well I’m going to probably cancel cable and convert my MythTV box to receive ATSC signals.  (That’s the standard for broadcast digital TV)

Author: Eric Mesa

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