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Television Media

DTV Is Coming and I'm Not Ready 376

Posted by kdawson
from the set-top-box-advice dept.
(arg!)Styopa writes "As an early adopter, I have an HDTV-ready set without an integrated tuner. Analog television ends next February. My suspicion is that the $40 set-top box at Walmart has the minimum functionality to get by — i.e. simply a D-to-A converter and not an HDTV receiver. Three years ago I bought a UHF super-antenna (I'm about 40 mi. from the towers: borderline fringe reception) and searched for an HDTV converter to pull down HDTV OTA broadcasts. These were extremely hard to find — none at Radio Shack, Best Buy, Circuit City, or Ultimate Electronics (all the local bigboxen). I ended up buying a SIRT150 from eBay, which never found a signal, despite confirmed reception (on the set's normal tuner) of both VHF and UHF channels. So — any advice on what to look for in a set-top box? Is it going to cost me an arm and a leg, or is it not too far from the $40 Walmart special? Can I use Uncle Sam's $40 coupon towards it? I'd like very much to be able to find a physical store where I could go see the signal, before I decide if HD is worth the up-charge (if any) over simple DTV."
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DTV Is Coming and I'm Not Ready

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  • by Reed Solomon (897367) on Saturday April 26, 2008 @08:14PM (#23210114) Homepage
    You're just being cheap, which is what got you into this situation in the first place. You want to use the stupid coupon, which is your first mistake, as those aren't for HD, only for Digital TV, which are two separate things. You can buy a DVD recorder many of which come with ATSC tuners built in and HDMI output. You can't use the coupon for that, but, you know what, that's not the point of the coupon.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      It's the truth, which can sometimes be harsh. He's summed up the guy's problem and offered a solution.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Reed Solomon (897367)
        I may have been overly harsh, if he did truly buy the TV back when they didn't have HDMI/ATSC tuners. His story seemed contrived in some manner, however, as others have pointed out, if you're willing to spend big money to be an early adopter, why would you be stressed about the price of an ATSC tuner? I personally believe he bought a Wal-Mart TV or something.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          When I bought mine a couple years ago, there was a couple hundred dollars difference between the monitor (tunerless) and TV versions of the Toshiba I bought. I planned to hook up a computer, so I went tunerless. I can see how someone might've been confused and/or cheap and done the same.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by fyngyrz (762201) *

            I went tunerless because it is my experience that things change over time, and that the odds favored more features, capability, compatibility, etc. if I got the tuner later.

            While I waited for DTV, my actual HDTV, which was a high end component design, went essentially obsolete -- the 1080p it was capable of became forbidden unless it was HDMI, which, the TV being very early, it didn't have.

            So now I have yet another system -- a projector, actually -- which does support HDMI, but, and I'm sure you've a

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by tomhudson (43916)

          ... and that's why, when it comes to hardware, you try not to be an early adopter. Software is a LOT easier to upgrade.

          He could very well have shelled out big bucks at some specialty store for an early model HDTV w/o all the bells and whistles that are standard today, simply because they didn't have them "way back when" - 3 to 4 years ago.

          What does someone who bought a 60" Sony projection TV 3 years ago do? Same thing - big bucks out, lack of "standard features" 3 years down the road, and "obsolete" to

        • by Albanach (527650)
          There's also going to be scores of folk who went to BestBuy etc and were sold on an HD CRT television, on the promise that they were future proofing themselves. Of course the salesperson would never mention the lack of a tuner.

          Personally I'm surprised at the lack of these tuners in a standalone format. There may be more demand than manufacturers realize.

          And why shouldn't the government coupons be used as part payment? They're to allow folk who can no longer get an analogue signal receive a digital one. Why
    • by Eagle7 (111475)
      I have searched and searched for a DVD recorder that has HDMI output that provides the true HD (720/1080) signal to the TV. Every one I have seen first down converts to 480, and then provides that signal out. If there is one out there that doesn't do this, can someone please post a link? Thanks!
    • Samsung DTB-H260F (Score:2, Informative)

      by Nirvelli (851945)
      The Samsung DTB-H260F is exactly what you are looking for.
      For some reason basically nobody else has made one of these things, but it's ok, because the price isn't that bad, and it's a really good tuner.
    • by Kalecomm (926735) <klindsey@kalecomm.com> on Sunday April 27, 2008 @12:02AM (#23211390)
      Well, I don't have an HDTV but three analog TVs. I'm unemployed and have been for awhile now. I also resent the heck out of having to pay for television. So, I went to Circuit City and bought a digital to analog converter and also a 4-port S-video switcher box along with a S-Video cable. Total cost: $110.00. If I had waited 2 more weeks, I could have used one of those two coupons from the U.S. Government, but I jumped the gun. Oh well. I'll use them for the other two TVs in my home. I installed it with our main TV and behold! The picture quality is perfect for an analog TV! Upon occasion it does pixelate when the signal drops, but it's quite livable. I immediately canceled my basic cable TV service, as I was only paying for a pretty picture and I get a better picture now than I did with basic cable. Further, I'm picking up TV signals (digital TV signals) from Belton, TX (I live in Round Rock, TX, about 1 hour away by car). I'm even picking up Pentagon TV from Fort Hood and I have four PBS stations, which I tend to watch a lot. I can also take my wireless laptop and connect the S-Video port to my S-Video Switcher Box and watch Television shows over the internet from CBS, ABC, NBC and Discovery/TLC/Animal Planet. I have no intention of buying cable or satellite TV in the near or distant future, not when I've got a pretty picture and everything is free. So it's not AS pretty as HDTV, so what? It's still very good and free, which is important to me. Hope that helps. Best Regards, Kalecomm
  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Saturday April 26, 2008 @08:16PM (#23210126)
    Get cable or satellite tv and you will get more HD then you can over the air.
    • Re:Not real HD (Score:2, Insightful)

      by xkr (786629)
      I get over-the-air HD and cable HD. The aren't even close to the same quality. Cable HD is rarely "real" HD. They get away with calling it that because neither the government cares nor the content owners.

      Slashdot has some posts a while back with links to content comparisons you could see yourself.

    • by westlake (615356)
      Get cable or satellite tv and you will get more HD then you can over the air.

      The broadcast signal may deliver the better picture. In this town, reception of U.S. and Canadian border stations is quite good - worth the investment even if you have a dish.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lumpy (12016)
      Too bad the CATV HD channels majorly suck compared to the OTA channels quality.

      my OTA PBS,CBS and NBC channels look 500% better OTA than the compressed to hell HD signal that Comcast gives out. Cripes I see motion artifacts and nasty green blockies on comcast. Switch to the Antenna and they are not there.

      • by rsmith-mac (639075) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @02:16AM (#23211972)

        Comcast's carriage agreements (and apparently the FCC as well) prohibit them from recompressing any OTA-originated signals. What you'd be seeing on Comcast is exactly the same thing you'd be seeing OTA (interference notwithstanding). Hook up a device that can read the bitrate of the signal, you'll find that it's exactly the same on Comcast as it is OTA. The rest of their HD programming(non-OTA) is indeed rather compressed depending on the time and channel, but all the OTA stuff is exactly the same.

        If you're seeing a difference, either your local Comcast office is not following their own agreements, or you're getting some interference on the frequencies used. IIRC the AVSforum guy who was doing quality testing last month even confirmed this.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ScrewMaster (602015)
          either your local Comcast office is not following their own agreements, or you're getting some interference on the frequencies used

          It's worse than that. Comcast buys their content from a variety of sources, and from what I understand that programming is often compressed all to hell (to save bandwidth charges, I suppose) before it even gets to Comcast's head end. That goes for any other cable company and/or satellite for that matter. Try watching a Stargate SG-1 re-run on Sci-Fi, for example ... they look
  • TV? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Khomar (529552) on Saturday April 26, 2008 @08:23PM (#23210164) Journal

    I personally have no plans to upgrade any of my TV's. Call me whatever you please, but I simply do not find anything worth watching on TV anymore. Sure, I will miss my football games, but really, it just isn't worth it anymore. I can still watch my movies on my DVD player, and I get all of my news from the Internet or my local radio station (for severe weather alerts).

    So, why do we need to upgrade again? Without content that is actually worth watching, I see no reason to waste the money.

  • The early HD-ready sets were all flawed. Plasma? The resolution will be fairly low, burn-in will be a problem, and its lifespan will be low anyway. LCD? Yucky contrast ratio. CRT? Ew. Projector? Double-ew.

    Just consign this set for watching in the garage, and get something new for your entertainment center.
    • CRT HDTV is Great (Score:3, Informative)

      by crow (16139)
      I have a Sony CRT HDTV from 2004, and it's great. It's larger than the old TV it replaced, even when not counting the extra width. It's solid technology that should last much longer than anything else that was available at the time. The color is perfect. There are no viewing angle issues. What's not to like about it?

      Except that it doesn't have a built-in ATSC tuner, that is.

      I watch most everything through MythTV, so my solution is a (now cheap) ATSC tuner card.
    • by fruitbane (454488)
      For all the "ew" you attribute to CRTs, the early HDTV CRTs had excellent contrast, color, and resolution. They also have a good reputation for durability. Keep in mind that computer monitors that matched modern HDTVs were made for years and years using, effectively, the same technology. Their only flaws were lack of integrated tuners in many models and the size and weight issue.

      Even now CRT still holds many advantages over LCD, plasma, and projection, but nobody is willing to produce them any longer.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by StreetStealth (980200)
      The early CRT HDTVs weren't bad at all -- unlike plasma and active-matrix LCD, CRT was a highly mature technology at the time.

      The only really serious problem with one of those would be trying to actually move it to make way for a new one...
  • Seriously, just search "HDTV tuner" on ebay and you'll see plenty of high end and low end tuners. The price range is $50 to $200, from a quick glance.

    And you don't need a new antenna, just use the old one--should work fine.
  • What you need depends a lot on your TV. If your TV really is HD ready, then it probably has at least one HDMI plug on it. You'll need a receiver that outputs to HDMI, and the $40 coupon boxes probably won't. The two I've bought don't. I know that Samsung makes a receiver that does have HDMI output and costs around $170 at Best Buy, though I don't have the model number.

    The $40 coupon will buy you a converter that operates much like a cable box. The ones I bought have a coax output and three wire AV outp
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      None of the early HDTV sets had HDMI, for either financial or temporal reasons. However, nearly all HD sets DO have either component or VGA inputs.
  • What you need... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by subreality (157447) on Saturday April 26, 2008 @08:34PM (#23210236)
    ... Is called an ATSC tuner. The cheap converters are only going to output NTSC. You need one that has progressive component outputs, and is advertised to support at least the resolution of your TV (720p, 1080i, 1080p, in order of increasing bandwidth). If the box doesn't specify that it does one of these, you're getting 480i, which is good old standard def TV.

    The difference is noticeable, but it's largely individual taste whether it's really worth it. Some people like to see fine details in the wide shots in football, and they'll like it more than people who are only interested in the plot of a drama. AV gear forums will be a better place if you're interested in the details. If you just want to see them in action, wander into anywhere that sells TVs, and they'll have a whole bunch of HD sets next to SD sets, and you can see if it matters to you.

    If you've had an HD set this long but haven't bothered to pick up an ATSC tuner before now, why do you suddenly care? It seems odd that you plopped down that much cash for a TV but then never bothered to buy the extra accessory to actually use it.

    • Re:What you need... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by taniwha (70410) on Saturday April 26, 2008 @08:38PM (#23210280) Homepage Journal
      more importantly - grab that old PC you were going to throw away because Vista requires a Cray 9.0, throw a couple of ATSC tuners in it, drop a recent linux on it and load up MythTV ... bingo you have an HD PVR
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kawahee (901497)

      If you've had an HD set this long but haven't bothered to pick up an ATSC tuner before now, why do you suddenly care? It seems odd that you plopped down that much cash for a TV but then never bothered to buy the extra accessory to actually use it.
      It's in the title, "DTV Is Coming". When analog TV is shut off he will have to buy the extra accessory to actually use it.
      • by tomhudson (43916)

        If you've had an HD set this long but haven't bothered to pick up an ATSC tuner before now, why do you suddenly care? It seems odd that you plopped down that much cash for a TV but then never bothered to buy the extra accessory to actually use it.

        It's in the title, "DTV Is Coming". When analog TV is shut off he will have to buy the extra accessory to actually use it.

        Not true. There are plenty of uses for a TV besides over-the-air programming.

        It's still going to work fine as a display for a Wii, an X

    • by Jordan Catalano (915885) on Saturday April 26, 2008 @08:57PM (#23210408) Homepage
      They're BOTH ATSC tuners. The one this guy wants will output component video, the cheap ones everyone's gonna need next year will output composite or NTSC RF.

      Where would the "cheap coverters" get the signal from if they DIDN'T have ATSC tuners?
      • That's why I pointed out the difference between the cheap NTSC-only ones and the ones with progressive out.
  • by gc8005 (733938) on Saturday April 26, 2008 @08:36PM (#23210268)
    It's awesome! It doesn't require any sort of external antenna. It has a series of carbon nanotubes that resonate at the Tesla frequency to pull in all HDTV signals. It has a built in 2TB Seagate disk, dual quad-core Intel processors, and a laser keyboard. It runs a special version of Apple OS X developed by the NSA for the Church of Scientology. It even streams non-DRM content (in 4096x1920 HDTV gen-3 format) over the air - all for $99. Released date is mid to late summer. If I were you, I'd wait just a few more months. They're even accepting down payments to reserve your Phantom HDTV console at this time.
  • Samsung (Score:4, Informative)

    by Trip Ericson (864747) on Saturday April 26, 2008 @08:38PM (#23210290) Homepage
    Samsung makes an HD-capable box, the DTB-H260F or something like that. It's something like $180 but it has HD outputs that your TV will need (component, most likely) and the tuner in it is supposed to be MUCH better than the SIR-T150. I remember that tuner, it wasn't very good as far as reception goes.

    http://www.tvfool.com/ [tvfool.com]

    That site will help you out with your signal levels. It depends on where you are as to what kind of antenna you need. While an outdoor antenna is always better, the Zenith Silver Sensor (or whatever they're calling it these days) is one of the best indoor antennas, and I would definitely recommend you look into that one.

    http://www.rabbitears.info/ [rabbitears.info]

    That's my site. It can help you figure out what programming is available.
  • SIRT150?! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I hope that you didn't pay too much for your SIRT150. That is a truly ancient model from the early years of DTV; and most of the myths about poor DTV performance comes from it and other early DTV receivers. To get it to perform at all, you need a rooftop directional UHF antenna with a rotor, and very likely a pre-amp.

    Modern receivers, including the $40 box at Wal-Mart, perform much better. However, the $40 box is not HDTV; it outputs an analog 480P signal on channel 3 or a composite video signal.

    I shou
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lumpy (12016)
      no the $40.00 box at walmart is utter crap. Get the Zenith or the "digital stream" brand. those are the only 2 that are worth a damn. All the rest have signal strength problems and the LG one get's worse as it heats up.

      I've tried them all, and only the digital stream brand at rat-shack was the one that pulled in as many stations as my high end Scenium set and tuner. it also was the ONLY one that has a feature that is incredibly important. a signal strength meter.
  • If you want to be an early adopter, be prepared to suffer the pains of doing so. If you simply wait a few months (years for MS... kidding) you can surf on the backs of the experience of other early adopters.

    This is what I do. I do not care normally to be the guy who works out all the problems for you. I know that you are asking here hoping someone else did the work for you... in which case, stop calling yourself the early adopter per se'.

    There is no silver bullet for HDTV yet. It's ALL smoke and mirrors, hy
  • by The Man (684)
    Take the transition from analog to digital as an opportunity to pull the plug on TV. Sell your TV now while it's still worth something and don't buy another one. Go to the park or the beach, go hiking or biking, or read a book instead. If you would spend $1000 on a TV once every 10 years, you could instead set aside that money and spend $121.44 a year on other entertainment, like seeing movies in the theater, going to live shows, or seeing local sporting events. If you really want to see a sporting even
    • Actually, your point made me think - TV is actually pretty cheap, entertainment wise.

      Most sports games I've seen will suck up your $121 in a single event, for one person, much less a family.

      Theater wise, tickets are up to $10 in some places, that's be one movie a month, not including any refreshments. Meanwhile at home I can use the airpopper and bagged corn for a bowl that costs me less than a buck.

      I have an antenna hooked up to my TV, but I mostly use the DVD functions, as it's cheaper than going to the
  • I, too, thought that DTV was broadcast only on UHF, but this is not true.

    I, too, bought a UHF-only "HDTV" antenna. I was suckered.

    It is temporarily true, but in 2009, when analog broadcasting is discontinued, some of the stations that are currently broadcasting analog on VHF and DTV on UHF will move their DTV broadcasts to the VHF band.

    One example is WHDH-DT in Boston, which is currently broadcasting DTV on channel 42, but next year will change its frequency assignment to VHF channel 7, according to antenna [antennaweb.org]
  • Take an old computer, put a ($129) pcHDTV [pchdtv.com] tuner card in it, and install a copy of Mythbuntu [mythbuntu.com] on it. You'll need a video card with component out, but those are fairly cheap ($40) or so.

    Having had a DVR since 99 or so, I can't imagine using a TV without one.
    • I agree, although my current PVR doesn't have OTA/HD capability. My big worry is that cable companies are eventually going to go all-digital as well, which will generally leave people like us out in the cold because the content cabal has CableCARD wrapped up tight, and they refuse to let hardware developers produce a retail PCI/PCI-E device that lets you access encrypted cable signals via CableCARD.

  • C band,KU band.

    Those things are cool.

    cooler than directTV.
  • I picked up a 1080i HDTV tuner for around 50$. Even has DVI and VGA outputs so I can just plug it into my KVM switch to use it with my computer monitor.
  • CECBs (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    First you cannot use the $40.00 coupon for anything other than Digital to Analog Coupon Eligible Converter Boxes (CECBs). More information is available here: http://www.dtvtransition.org/

    Also for the best antenna orientation I use www.antennaweb.org.

    -ac
  • "I'd like very much to be able to find a physical store where I could go see the signal, before I decide if HD is worth the up-charge (if any) over simple DTV."

    If you watch ANY of the major 'movie-like' series (Lost, 24, CSI, law shows, etc) or ANY sports then HDTV is well worth it, sight unseen, trust me, the first time you see Evangeline Lilly in HD you will forget about any money spent :) Or the Victoria's Secret show in HD, jesus, thank you Victoria!
  • Instead of wasting money on a new HDTV with a tuner, or an overpriced, low-demand HD tuner box, just buy a TiVo HD DVR. You will then have *dual* HDTV ATSC tuners and the ability to record everything over the air. Plus you can connect digital cable in the future if you wish. And with a broadband connection, it can even download content. Of course, you will have to pay for the TiVo service, but compared to cable, it is a LOT cheaper.

    Once you go HD, you can't stand SD anymore.
    Once you go DVR, you can't st
  • Picture a device that has two coax connections and power. You plug in the digital signal from the antenna on one port and your legacy analog TV on the other. The little box simultaneously converts all available channels to downgraded analog equivalents and 're-broadcast' on available frequencies and PRESTO your TV 'just works' as if nothing had changed.

    Okay, so that isn't feasible with modern technology but just imagine how awesome a solution that would be. No need to deal with another device to switch c
  • Where has Submitter been all these years? Certainly not with those of us who wanted HDTV tuners for the past few years, and had to deal with the high prices and a lower supply than the Wii. If you could find them, they were usually $200 or more, and the tuner sections weren't as good as in the current generation of "converter boxes".

    Although it's not quite that bad. There are some HD satellite boxes with ATSC tuners, and if you're lucky and know what to look for, you can find one at a thrift store for ten

  • I ended up buying a SIRT150 from eBay, which never found a signal, despite confirmed reception (on the set's normal tuner) of both VHF and UHF channels.

    That means one of a few things: 1) your antenna is crap (or you only used VHF rabbit ears without a UHF loop) 2) you didn't try rotating your antenna (especially important to tune out the multipath ghost signals when you're within 20 miles of the transmitter) 3) you tried it a few years ago when most stations were still operating their digital transmitter at low power, or more likely 4) someone sold you a broken unit.

    Usually in any given area there will be at least one or two stations that are hard not t

  • by Anthony Boyd (242971) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @02:45AM (#23212120) Homepage

    I'm viewing at a threshold of 4, and it's pretty much just people telling the OP how stupid he is. It doesn't seem helpful. So, maybe this will be of assistance.

    The COBY DTV 140 [alvio.com] is pretty bad-ass for people who are not on the HDTV bandwagon. It's ATSC. It will even downconvert HDTV signals to a standard old TV, if you're REALLY falling behind. It has a few outputs (DVI/Monitor, Component Video, S-Video, Composite Video). It used to be that the menus for the system would only display on a HDTV, so if you had an old SDTV, you'd have to borrow an HDTV to set it up. But newer versions have menus that work just great on SDTV, which I have, and I can confirm it works. I also have an Optoma HD70, which is a projector that can do HDTV if you can feed it a signal. The COBY works great with that too. My nearest signal comes from 39 miles away, and most are more like 45 miles away. It's able to catch a lot of those weak signals and get really good pictures. But not all.

    Also, since the COBY seems to be nearing the end of its run, there is a newer item that seems to get OK reviews, the Samsung DTBH260F [amazon.com]. It's about twice as much as the COBY and it cannot downsample to SDTV, from what I have read. However, it will upsample SDTV into 720, which I don't think my COBY does (it just delivers it at 480). It also can pull in signals from about 50 miles away, which is pretty great. The Samsung is more for people who got halfway -- like the OP -- and bought a HDTV that doesn't have a tuner. It supposedly has excellent capability for assembling a great image from over-the-air signals -- better than the compressed images you get from cable. I wouldn't know. I don't own it. I just know it has good reviews. Good luck.

    Also, for those of you admonishing the OP to just get cable or satellite, I would point out that I paid a one-time $80 fee to buy my product, and I've had crystal-clear free HDTV for a year now. How much have you paid for your cable or dish network over the last year? I'm pretty sure it was more than $80. So I don't think the OP is that stupid. He's aware that there are free signals out there, and he's trying to get them. That seems pretty smart, IMHO.

  • Not only... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NeuroManson (214835) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @05:25AM (#23212762) Homepage
    Will Wal-Mart be happy to take your gubmint subsidy chck, but they'll take you for $5 more.

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