Sunday, February 25, 2007


DVD's and regular cable/satellite look acceptible on HDTV's. Some better than others. But for your HDTV to shine, you need an HD source. As we get deeper into 2007, more and more HD programming is becoming apparent.

ATSC QAM TUNER: Your old tube tv's has a tv tuner built in. That was how you could add an antenna and pick up tv stations over-the-air (OTA). An ATSC QAM tuner is the same thing, except for High Definition stations. If your area is within range to pick up HD broadcast signals over the air, and your HDTV has a QAM tuner, simply plugging an antenna in the back of the tv and running a scan will pick up whatever HD channels are available. Usually these are local channels. Using a tuner on an HDTV to pick OTA HD channels usually has better picture quality than HD offerings from satellite and cable, but your content is limited. Expect nothing more than local channels, give or take a few more. Primetime shows tend to be broadcasted in HD. So for most of the time, you're "HD" stations will be mostly digital, and then in the late evening, whichever shows are broadcasted in HD will be shown as such. You'll notice that most adverts are in standard definition, and then when "24" or "Prison Break" come back on, it switches back to HD.

One very important thing to know is that there is no "HD ANTENNA." A regular indoor or outdoor "UHF antenna"(what we've been using for years with our tube tv's) is capable of receiving both standard and HD programming OTA. Most are advertised as "HD" antenna's to let consumers know that you can use them with HD equipment, or to justify the markup. What this ends up doing is potentially causing more confusion and leaves consumers thinking they need a "different type" of antenna for their HDTV. What is important when buying an antenna for your HDTV is its strength. An "omni-directional" antenna is used when your area has good reception. It picks up signal from all over. A "directional" antenna is used when you have weaker signals. Depending on reception, you may even need two directional antennas or an antenna rotator. Directional antenna's and rotators allow you to fine-tune and better pinpoint signals. You can antenna's here.

Remember some areas have OTA HD channels and some don't. There are a few websites like where you can type in your US address and check if you have reception. But this has produced inaccurate results in two cases I know of personally. I would use their site as a guide and then buy in-store incase you need to return.

Satellite tv: The satellite company will plant a satellite dish on your roof and point it in the direction of their satellite to pickup the signal. They will run a coaxial cable around the house (make sure you're proactive in telling them where and how you want the cable run so you dont ruin your curb appeal) and drill a hole through the wall to run the cable directly into the house. They will also supply you with a receiver. The receiver may have a card in it which is removeable. This is the "programmable" part of the receiver. When you add channels, the infomation is written to the card to allow the channels to go though. In the case of high definition TV, you will need an HD receiver as a regular receiver will give you nothing more than standard definition channels. The HD receiver looks very similar except it picks up both standard and high definition programming. To be able to record satellite programming, you will need a Digital Video Recorder or (DVR). "Tivo" is a branded version of DVR. The DVR will replace your HD receiver as essentially it is a receiver with recording capabilities. Really it's just a hard drive in there. So you can subscribe to two things; the satellite HD package to get HD programming (which usually includes standard defintion programming also) and the montly charges for the HD DVR service which allows you to record both standard and HD programming. Within the US, the DirecTV channel listing is not as good as the Dish Network service. But DirecTV made a big announcement about their upcoming changes for 2007. We have yet to see anything.

Cable: Cable TV follows much the same premise as satellite. The big difference is that there isn't a dish involved. Instead they connect you to cables that have already been run throughout your local streets, and run a coaxial cable either to your cable box outside the house (if you have it), or by drilling a hole through the wall straight into your house. The coaxial cable leads to a cable box which sits ontop your tv stand and decodes your subscription. The cable box looks much like the satellite receiver and similarly can have a programmable card in it. Cable HD service in the US is very primitive. It really is no better than ota hd as far as selection. You get mostly local channels and a few additions such as Discovery HD. However, I've found picture to be far superior to satellite. If your tv has an ATSC tuner, you can run the cable straight into the back of the tv and run a channel scan without the need for a box. The disadvantage with this is that you don't get programming information or have the ability to order pay-per-view as the cable box "allows" these subscriptions.

To summarize, OTA HD channels can be had if you're lucky enough to live in an area where HD channels are broadcasted. In the US, Dish Network and DirecTV have HD programming on offer. As of February 2007, Dish Network lead the way with HD content as they aquired the VOOM HD satellite instantly giving them 13 exclusive HD channels as well as locals and a few others. DirecTV indicate that they would substantially increase their HD lineup in 2007. Cable HD channels are limited to mostly local channels such as FOX, ABC, CBS, NBC in HD but cable HD generally has better quality HD than both satellite companies.