You are What You Eat
Feeding Your HDTV a High Definition Diet
Dick De Jong
August 23, 2006
A new Vizio 42" LCD recently arrived at our testing facility. The box reads, "This TV is optimized for HDTV; without an HD source, it's just ordinary TV!" That's a startling statement from a manufacturer. The fact that the sentiment has to be proclaimed on your packaging reflects an even more mind-reeling reality. "Currently, only one-third of US households with HD-capable TV sets are actually using them to watch HD programming," reported In-Stat in their "HDTV Service Expands" research paper. In other words, two out of three households who own HDTVs do not view HD programming.
Two out of three? As they retort on Grey's Anatomy, "Seriously?" Let me say it again, HDTVs are made for HD programs. I might be preaching to the choir here, but it seems that two thirds of you are only lip-synching. Two out of three! Seriously!
I realize that for those HD Milli Vanilli's or Ashlee Simpsons out there, you have your reasons for not singing the high definition tune, HDTV + HD program = HD heaven. But with the Fall season of new shows, NFL football and the World Series right around the corner, now would be a great time to acquire an HD source and transform your ordinary hdtv into an extraordinary HDTV. Believe me, beyond all the hyperbole; you will see a qualitative difference.
If your HDTV has a built-in ATSC digital tuner and you are close enough to your local TV stations' antennas, perhaps the fastest and cheapest way to hook into HD sources is with an antenna of your own. Most local stations are broadcasting HD OTA (Over The Air) signals and if you are lucky, you might be able to capture them with an indoor antenna hooked into the digital tuner on your HDTV. (To check what is available from your house, go to http://www.antennaweb.org/aw/Address.aspx.) If you live too far away, you will need an outdoor antenna. (You can read more about OTA signals in our article, "Local HDTV by Antenna.")
If you can tune in a good OTA digital source, then you can see how much better your HDTV looks in high definition. But remember most of the programs that you receive through this digital method are not HD. So don't judge your HDTV by how Judge Judy or Judge Hatchett looks because those shows are not broadcast in HD. Try House or Medium or Gilmore Girls instead.
Also, this digital antenna method is only pulling in traditional broadcast stations, CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, UPN, and WB ? no TNT or HGTV. But as you can see from our HDTV Programming page, there are plenty of HD Primetime shows to test the waters and the upcoming season promises even more.
Of course, if you live in the boondocks or don't have a digital tuner on your HDTV or you desire a wider HD programming selection, then you need to consider your cable or satellite options. I don't dare wade into a cable vs. satellite debate. One big plus for both of them is their expanded HD lineup, including all HD channels like HDNet and InHD, and the availability of premium movie channels like HBO and Showtime in HD. Perhaps the king of HD programming providers right now is Dish Network because they swallowed up the old Voom HD channels. But with the advent of telephone giants like Verizon and ATT entering into the fray, the marketplace is fiercely competitive and constantly changing, which can be a good thing for consumers.
Once again, you must remember, just because you are subscribed to cable or satellite service doesn't mean that you are receiving HD signals. You have to specifically sign up for the HD tier, which probably will include upgrading your set top box. Once you are hooked up, you will be able to experience the bone jarring tackles on Monday Night Football on ESPNHD or awake to the sublime Sunrise Earth on DiscoveryHD.
Even if you want nothing to do with broadcast television and you only bought your HDTV to watch movies, you still should think about what you are supplying it. I'm not rehashing what others like my colleague, Evan Powell, have written about the new high definition DVD players. You should refer to his highly informative commentaries. But if you decide to leap into the high definition DVD troubled waters, it's comforting to know that online movie rental companies like Netflix and Blockbuster are now offering films in both HD DVD and Blu-Ray formats.
If you opt to deprive your new HDTV of HD programming, then, in the quiet of the night, you may begin to hear the dulcet tones of "Feed Me," from your malnourished television as it channels the spirit of Audrey from the Little Shop of Horrors. If you continue with an SD diet, that soprano voice may turn into a Levi Stubbs basso "FEED ME!"
So, for your HDTV's sake, put up an antenna or subscribe to HD programming. Come on join in. "I'd like to teach the world to sing / in perfect HD harmony"