The Problem Stated – Paying Too Much for TV
When it comes to the present state of the faltering US economy, people are eagerly looking for ways to make their hard earned money go further. For a large portion of the US population, the first step is to look at lowering any recurring monthly costs. Of the essential services such as electricity, water, and gas utilities, there is usually very little the consumer can do to make a significant impact on these costs. But when that cable or satellite bill comes in the mail, the first thing that comes to mind is: „Why am I paying so much? There must be a better way.“ For most people, their ‚pay for TV‘ bill is typically the highest monthly expense they have other than credit cards, car payments, and the mortgage. To make matters worse, these pay TV prices are rising, with bills going up 3.5% or more per year.
A report released by Centris in Q1 of 2009 showed the average monthly cable bill in the U.S. to be $71. That’s a whopping $852 per year, not including any pay per view charges! For those who subscribe to cable or satellite and don’t watch much TV, the financial impact is even worse.
Knowledge Before Action – What Can Digital TV Do for You?
Many consumers are unaware of the upcoming demise of analog broadcast TV on June 12, 2009. Equally amazing is that most people don’t realize that the digital format TV (DTV) being broadcast today is not only totally free, but offers a higher quality high definition picture than cable or satellite! The reason for this is the over the air digital format is sent uncompressed, while cable and satellite providers must compress the data to get their desired bandwidth to meet the number of channels they must support. Broadcast DTV also offers programming not available on pay TV. For instance, in addition to the standard big local stations like CBS, NBC, ABC, there are many local channels available in both English, Spanish, and other languages. Also, since the broadcast format is digital, stations can multicast, or transmit multiple programs over the air. In the Los Angeles area, NBC (Channel 4) broadcasts 3 separate channels 4.1, 4.3, and 4.4, the later two being 24 hour local weather and sports.
Most people have these images in their mind of when analog TV was the only thing available, and how the picture was snowy and ghosty, and what a pain it was adjusting those rabbit ears. Those days are now gone with the advent of broadcast DTV. The picture is sharper and clearer than ever before in high definition resolutions up to 1080i (1080 lines of vertical resolution, interlaced). That’s better than cable or satellite, who will charge you extra for their HD programming.
Another caveat to DTV is the fact that there is additional data available in the transmission such as program schedule information, similar to your pay TV provider. On most analog to digital converter boxes and HDTVs, a feature called Electronic Program Guide (EPG) on your remote control allows you to view program information, schedule times, title and genre…just like a TV guide.
What You Need to Get Broadcast Digital TV for Free
You may not realize it, but if you currently subscribe to a cable or satellite service, you a just steps away from getting broadcast TV, totally free. There are several factors that will contribute to your success.
First, determine how your location will affect your ability to receive digital TV stations. Your expectations on picture quality and the number of stations you can receive may be heightened, only to find out that you live in a generally poor reception area. If you live in a valley, or other area with geographical or physical obstacles, your reception may not be ideal. Ask neighbors that have indoor or outdoor antennas how their reception is. Of course this has also to do with the type and quality of antenna they are using, but this feedback will give you an idea of what is achievable in your location. Valuable tools, antennaweb.org and antennapoint.com, help you to determine reception characteristics in you area. By entering your zip code, you can determine each stations distance, suggested antenna type, and aiming direction relative to your location. Also, TitanTV’s on-line TV guide allows you to enter your zip code to see what broadcast programming is available in your area, and it will also show you a program guide of show times and which shows are broadcast in HD, or high definition.
If your reception capability looks good, the next step is to pick the type of antenna that is best suited for your situation. In a good reception area, an indoor antenna will work well in most cases, and there are several on the market that provide good performance for under $70. Indoor antennas install quickly and allow for easy adjustment to pick up most stations. It is highly recommended that you get an amplified antenna for indoor use, since the added signal boost will help dramatically to pick up stations that you would not be able to receive otherwise.
The other option is to use an outdoor antenna to get better reception. Outdoor antennas will optimally give you a line of sight unobstructed path to the broadcaster’s tower, and therefore, much better reception. If you are located in a poor reception area, this is probably the best solution for you. The cons to outdoor antennas are: many homeowners associations do not allow them for aesthetic reasons, the installation is more complicated (some requiring roof or attic installation and cable routing), unless you have a motorized version the direction of the antenna will be fixed and you may not be able to receive all the stations in your area.
The next thing to address is the type of TV that you have. If you recently bought a flat screen TV, whether LCD, plasma, or LED, you will most likely have a digital tuner that can be hooked directly to an external antenna. The key buzzword to look for is ‚ATSC‘, which is a North American standard for digital broadcast TV. All newer digital flat screen TVs are now required to support ATSC. All that is required to watch free TV off the air is to connect the cable from your new antenna to the input to your TV — where your current cable or satellite box hooks to. You simply hook up the cable, go to your setup menu and select the signal input to be ‚Antenna‘ instead of ‚Cable‘, and start the channel scan mode. The scan typically takes several minutes, but once it is done you can immediately start watching over the air (OTA) TV.
If you have an older analog TV, you will need to get a digital to analog converter box. These converters have the ATSC tuner inside which receives the digital format signal, and converts it to an analog signal that can be viewed on you older TV. Keep in mind that the picture quality will be limited by your TVs resolution, which is typically around 500 lines. Even so, you will receive a crisp, clear picture with none of the snow or ghosting effects of the old analog broadcasts.
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