Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ask Kensington: What will the switch to digital mean for my TV reception?

We've all seen those ads on TV. Some of them seem honest and helpful, others seem like a scare tactic from Cablevision. The question is very real though... what will the switch to Digital TV mean for me? This may seem like it's not really a Kensington-specific question, but airwaves vary based on many things, and one of them is location.

Dawne writes:
With the big transition to digital coming up, I would love to see a discussion on whether anyone in our area has had any luck with HDTV antennas, particularly indoor antennas. I live in a 6-story apartment building on Cortelyou, just west of Coney Island Ave. For those of us who are still trying to resist signing up for cable....
Now I have some experience myself with the new ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee -- the new acronym replacing our old NTSC standard) signal, so I'm going to try to share what I know. I've been using a cheap $25 Terk TV-5 Digital antenna for about 3 years now to receive free HDTV over the air (OTA). You'll get the big networks in crystal clear HD beauty... technically even better than cable or satellite. Why? Because the cable companies compress the signal so they can redistribute it more easily. Is the difference noticeable? Usually not. You'll also get a few other channels that you'll probably never watch and some things you may not have known existed. Did you know that NBC offers NBC Weather Plus? It's an all-the-time weather channel from NBC 4. This brings me to another topic...

Channels - A slightly simplified list
  • 2.1 - CBS
  • 4.1 - NBC
  • 4.2 - NBC Weather+
  • 4.4 - NBC US (seems to be a national feed with a lot of sports/news)
  • 5.1 - FOX
  • 5.2 - MyTV (non-HD stream of 9.1)
  • 7.1 - ABC
  • 7.2 - ABC Plus (infomercials!)
  • 7.3 - ABC Now (news, weather)
  • 9.1 - MyTV
  • 11.1 - CW
  • 11.2 - Latin
  • 13.1 - NET (PBS)
  • 13.2 - NET (Non-HD)
  • 13.3 - NET Latin
  • 21.2 - PBS
  • 21.3 - PBS
  • 21.4 - PBS
  • 23.1 - Latin
  • 25.1 - PBS
  • 31.1 - ION
  • 31.2 - QUBO
So yeah, lots of channels, and they changed around all the numbers too! Basically the channels x.1 are the regular HD channels. The x.2, x.3, etc are generally of lesser broadcast quality.

But how do they look for real?
In short, really, really good. My antenna is pretty small, but aside from having to occasionally turn it 90° for certain channels or adjust to follow a drifting signal, most channels come in flawlessly. If you have a giant old antenna sitting on top of your building you should DEFINITELY use it. It absolutely should work. Don't let the guys at J&R tell you that you need something fancy. All you need is a TV, an ATSC tuner and a UHF-VHF antenna. New HDTVs include the ATSC tuner, so if you have one just plug in to the antenna and you're all set. If you need a tuner, check out the coupon program the feds are offering here: https://www.dtv2009.gov. Fill out the form and they'll mail you a $40 coupon card to use at Radio Shack or Best Buy or wherever you buy your batteries.

So, Kensington, anyone else out there soaking up the digital goodness? Tell us how it's working for you or fire away with some questions below. I'm gonna go watch American Idol now.