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Column: Blame It on ‘The Boy From Oz’

Feb 15, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Everyone has a breaking point. Mine is Hugh Jackman, because even though I consider myself among the hardiest of broadband-video converts, I just will not miss the chance to see Hugh Jackman in high definition.
Hugh Jackman
So I’m coming back into the traditional television fold for one night only—the Academy Awards on ABC. What? You think I’m not strong enough, not tough enough, not committed enough to the cable-free cause? I remain a faithful cord-cutter, unencumbered by satellite or cable programming. In fact, I’ll be kicking it old school, watching good old-fashioned over-the-air TV on Feb. 22, the night of the Oscars. The movie fete won’t be carried live online, so I have no other choice but to watch it via broadcast TV.
I conducted some online research to figure out how to receive over-the-air TV in high definition without a cable or satellite box. When you have a hi-def set (mine is a Sony Trinitron), you need to purchase an antenna specifically to receive the digital feeds of broadcast stations.
I called on my favorite hi-def guru, Pete Putman, for antenna tips. He’s the editor of HDTVExpert.com and he pointed me to TVFool.com. The site analyzes your location to determine which broadcast TV signals are available in your area. I learned that I’m about 13 miles from the San Francisco ABC affiliate, KGO-TV, and that means most antennas should do the trick for my home. TVFool also told me that an indoor set-top antenna would be sufficient to pick up all the local channels in San Francisco.
Mr. Putman recommended three antenna options from Radio Shack.
I swung by the local Radio Shack and picked up the $34.99 model (I like Hugh, but hey, there is a recession going on and I don’t need the priciest one).
TV
But when I set up the antenna, I was greeted only with extremely fuzzy reception. I Twittered about my woes and checked alternate sites like antennaweb.org, which also told me that an indoor antenna should be all I need. My tech friends on Twitter said indoor antennas stink like rotten fruit and only an outdoor antenna could do the job.
So I called Radio Shack back so see if it carried outdoor antennas. The sales associate told me I could spend $20 million on an outdoor antenna and I still wouldn’t get good reception, because of a little topographical issue called a lot of hills. As in hills that are smack dab between my house and the TV towers in San Francisco.
Before I gave up, I asked my husband to test the antenna. Within 20 seconds KGO and all the other local stations were piping quite nicely into our home. Turns out I missed the step where you actually have to program the channels into the remote control.
To be fair, though, the local stations are just a tiny bit snowy. And guess why? Because my lovely hi-def TV set isn’t capable of receiving over-the-air stations in hi-def, according to the specs in the manual.
So I could buy a hi-def tuner for $150 or $200. Or I could just call my sister-in-law and go watch the Boy From Oz at her house, where she has real TV.

56 Comments

  1. If the ficture was “snowy” you should have immediately known you were not getting an HD signal. It continues to shock me how completely uneducated the public is about these issues. Apparently, idiocy is the new black.

  2. Whitney, there is at least one tuner on the market with component output for less than $100.
    http://reviews.cnet.com/tv-hdtv-tuners-receivers/coby-dtv-140-hdtv/4505-6487_7-32554734.html?tag=mncol;lst

  3. But Whitney… the only people that haven’t set this up already are those people too lazy to do so. Right? 😉
    I love listening to Alex’s opinion, but this is a case where his bubble has kept him from seeing the how amazingly well the feds (and in cases like yours, the TV manufacturers) screwed up the DTV transition, and potentially left a whole segment of limited-income people from having things up and running already. – Tim

  4. Daisy,
    A sad tale of woe, but charmingly told as always.
    How old is this HD-handicapped TV of yours? Are you saying it will display HD signals from other sources? All TV’s were supposed to have HD-ready tuners built in since, I think, 2001.
    You’re having better luck than I did with an indoor antenna here in LA. I haven’t tried it on the second floor but in my first-floor office I only get a fraction of the available signals. I’m planning to install a roof antenna but haven’t gotten around to it yet.
    Best,
    Arthur

  5. Been watching HD over the air for a couple of years now… We get just about 20 HD channels here in Toronto, uncompressed and clearer than cable.
    like others have said – If you see snow, it isn’t digital or HD. With digi, it comes in or it doesn’t.
    G.

  6. In my opinion, the best way to watch digital television is “over-the-air”. As Glen from Toronto mentioned, it’s the only way you’re going to get the finest, uncompressed signal the way God and the FCC meant it to be.
    Every other source, including satellite and especially cable TV will give you a compressed image that may or may not satisfy you.
    Over-the-air is the way to go, and you can forget about a monthly bill, just your initial set-up costs! The Academy Awards never looked so good!

  7. Early HD televisions were “HD ready”, which meant that they could display high definition pictures, but didn’t have a built in tuner.
    The mandate that televisions have digital tuners built in was a phased in requirement, starting for the biggest screen sized in 2003, but not mandating digital tuners in all televisions until 2007. So that’s why Daisy Whitney’s television can display high definition but lacks a tuner — it’s almost certainly an older model from before the digital tuner mandate kicked in.

  8. “It continues to shock me how completely uneducated the public is about these issues. Apparently, idiocy is the new black.”
    I wouldn’t be so quick to blame the public. The TV industry has turned what used to be a simple, easy technology into a deliberately confusing alphabet soup of different formats, resolutions and terminology. And electronic retailers are no help when it comes to educating consumers. The situation is so bad you’d almost think it was designed by politicians. Oh, wait…

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