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I Want my DTV
by Jon on Wednesday, January 2, 2008 file under: Technology

In the yesteryear of mid-2000 I bought, what was at the time, a big TV. Its a behemoth 32" CRT which weighs more than I do on most days. The power supply isn't properly shielded, providing a nice sine wave pattern in dark colors towards the left side of the display, the channel changes randomly after a few seconds after its been turned on, and the menu's don't display properly if the input signal isn't clean, but overall the picture is good, it was a decent deal, its the only TV in the house, and Kortney and I have no intention of getting a new TV any time soon.

We also don't have cable, or satellite, and in many cases, reception of any kind, without playing games with the antenna, which on the second floor (TV is on the first), so that we can get better overall reception. We've been toying with the idea of subscribing to a service; there are days when I miss Cartoon Network and Comedy Central, and Shark Week potentially makes the monthly fees worth it. The biggest win would be that we'd finally have a clear picture on our TV and we wouldn't have to monkey around with an antenna anymore. But that's all we really want - a clear picture - not 150 channels to veg out in front of. So instead, we've decided to get an ATSC tuner.

An ATSC tuner, what's that?! Most stations (at least here in the valley), have already started their digital broadcasts, which use a broadcast format called ATSC (classic television broadcasts in america were NTSC). The big difference between the two standards is that NTSC provides an analog picture and audio signal, while ATSC is digital. With NTSC if you got a weak signal, you got a weak picture. With ATSC you either get a picture, which is crystal clear, or you get nothing. There is never a degraded picture like with old style broadcasts.

In just over a year, all stations will be required to turn off their analog NTSC broadcasts and broadcast solely using NTSC. If you don't have cable or satellite, and rely on over-the-air broadcasts, you'll stop getting a signal, unless you buy an ATSC tuner, which will decode the new digital signals for you.

Unfortunately, ATSC tuners are both hard to come by, don't seem to be very good, and can be relatively expensive. The RjTECH RJ-1000ATSC is only $80, but the reviews are less than favorable. Samsung also makes the DTB-H260F but prices start drifting towards $200.

All is not bleak however. The government has heard the people's cry for free, over-the-air entertainment, and has started a program to help people ease into digital television. The department of commerce has created a program to give people a $40 coupon towards the purchase of up to two bottom of the barrel ATSC tuners, which will be available in a month or so. Since the MSRP of the boxes is estimated to be around $50, that means you could potentially get a ATSC tuner for $10!

Now, don't go thinking you can walk into your favorite consumer electronics store and plunk down your $40 coupon and get the Samsung tuner for $120. The eligible tuners can't have USB or Firewire outputs, or digital coax or optical audio output. But you will get standard features like program information (channel number and name, program name, time slot, and rating). If you're lucky, you might even find one with S-Video output. Some of the models that will be available shortly are the RCA DTA800, the LG/Zenith DTT900, or several from Magnavox/Philco. An article just popped up on Slashdot as well.

I like how several commenters on Engadget think that only your grandmother will need these converters. Note to the intarwebs: not everyone cares about (or had a TV which can accept) HDMI, component inputs, or getting a new TV every 36 months. I'm looking forward to finally getting decent reception at a great, non-recurring price!

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