If you’re looking to save the thirty, fifty, or even hundred dollars you spend for cable or satellite TV each month, you just might want to consider investing $20 in an antenna and possibly another $20 on a DTV converter box. This is a smart thing to do between now and February 17, 2009, when analog TV signals will be turned off and only digital TV signals will be transmitted over the air. (Check out the DTV Transition Info Center for all the details.) Converter boxes change new digital signals to analog signals your old TV understands and they are super easy to install. Continue reading for the skinny on dumping your cable.
1. Programming and Picture Quality
When we hooked up our old analog TV to the converter box and antenna we were amazed by what we saw. Gone was the fuzzy, snowy picture replaced by a sharp and clear image. The best part was the price. We used a coupon from the government and ended up spending $19 on a converter box we bought at our local Best Buy.
You’d be surprised by how many of your local TV stations are available for free, over the air, and better yet, most all of them offer digital versions with the few remaining, going digital by February 2009.
When the signal is strong enough, as it is in most metropolitan areas, the picture you get with digital TV is sharp and clear. If you have a newer TV with a digital tuner, you won’t even need a converter box and better yet, if you have an HDTV set, you can get HD programs over the air including HD coverage from all the major networks and it won’t cost you a dime!
2. Letter Box Format
Non-digital programming is typically displayed in a 4:3 (almost square) aspect ratio. Movies and many new high definition programs are produced in 16:9 or letterbox format (panorama). DTV can display programming in letterbox format on your analog TV so you can see the program or movie as it was intended to be viewed
3. More Channels
Broadcasters can squeeze additional channels into what may have been an old analog channel. This is called multicasting. As a result, many stations including most PBS stations offer two, three, or even four channels. Often, these channels aren’t even available on cable or satellite services.
4. On-screen Guide
On-screen guides, similar to what you get with cable or satellite services, are available for free on DTV. Program and System Information Protocol (PSIP) is used to transmit programming information to create Electronic Program Guides (EPGs) on converter boxes and some digital TVs. You even get extra goodies like a signal strength meter.
5. Audio Quality
DTV can deliver CD-quality sound from an over the air signals and with over the air HDTV you can even get 5.1 channel Dolby Digital surround sound.
6. Save Money
It’s hard to argue with the economies of over the air TV. Once you have the gear, it’s free! If you have an old analog TV you can get up to two, $40 coupons per household from the government to apply against a converter box. If you have a new TV set with an ATSC (digital) tuner all you need is an antenna and you’re good to go.
7. Watch TV on the Internet
If you’re worried that cutting the cable cord will leave you deprived of your favorite shows, you can supplement your over the air programming with your high speed internet connection. Between sites like hulu.con and services like Netflix many households are now watching their favorite shows and movies for free or just a few dollars a month. Add a $99 set top box for Netflix downloads and you can download and watch HD movies as part of your monthly Netflix fee.
By Andrew Eisner