Friday, May 25, 2007

Free HDTV -- Telecommunications' Best Kept Secret

Cable television companies and Satellite TV providers have managed to grab such a large percentage of the TV viewing market that people have forgotten free Over the Air (OTA) transmissions exist. It still wouldn't be worth mentioning *if* the FCC weren't forcing TV stations to switch to a digital signal. What it means for consumers is that if you're willing to put up with a 1960s style outdoor antenna you can get free HDTV.

Since we are deep into the transition phase (analog is set to go away completely by Feb 17, 2009) most stations seem to already be broadcasting a digital signal. Actually, most of the stations in Montgomery, AL and Columbus, GA are broadcasting at least 3 digital signals. There is typically a High Definition version, a Standard Definition version, and an all weather version for each station.

Still not convinced to put up an antenna? Consider this. Our local cable company charges several dollars extra per month for the HD package. They have a total of 6 possible HD channels, none of which are as clear as that provided via an OTA antenna. The cable company doesn't distribute the "extra" channels which stations are broadcasting. The Satellite providers offer more HD channels at an even higher price, but my ignorant legistors won't let me waste my money on local channels at all, let alone HD versions. To top it off, the best looking channel on our TV, bar none, is Alabama Public Television. It's shocking, when you consider I'm comparing to the high end HDTV signal offered by Dish Network...including HD Discovery.

FWIW--I bought a Samsung DLP TV from because it was relatively cheap and I had no expectation of getting an HD signal. Even the TVs at Best Buy looked pretty crappy relative to our old Standard Definition set (as in, they didn't look much better...Standard Def on a widescreen can even look worse!). It seemed like it'd be a waste of money to get a really nice tv and then feed it a crappy signal. Well...(especially) with the OTA antenna...the Samsung looks as good as any I've seen, including sets that cost much more and are fed a paid-for signal from the cable company. If you pass a rusted mobile home and think how well off you are, check to see if there's an antenna. They just might be laughing at YOU! Now you have 2 reasons to be ashamed.

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