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How to Get True HDTV Content On Your New TV

by February 25, 2008
HDTV really does make a difference

HDTV really does make a difference

Many people bring home a new HDTV and look forward to the excitement of viewing a true high definition picture. But is it really that simple? Well it can be - if you follow a few guidelines and understand the nature of real HD content and where it comes from.

An HDTV doesn't give you high definition content - it simply means that you have the pixels to display high definition sources in all their glory. Let's take a look at four types of high definition sources most commonly received by HDTVs:

Option 1: Blu-ray Disc (HIgh Definition DVD)

Blu-ray (or the now-deceased HD DVD) will provide 1080p source content for use on all high definition televisions and displays. Blu-ray is much different from a regular DVD in that it stores a much greater amount of information. As a result, Blu-ray can store high definition video which far exceeds the resolution of standard definition DVDs.

Tech Note: Blu-ray is now up to Profile 1.1 which Sony comically calls "Final Standard Profile" even though there is another profile around the corner (BD-Live or Profile 2.0). The current Profile 1.1 has 256MB of local storage, 64KB of persistent memory and mandates a secondary video and audio decoder for PIP functions. Profile 1.1 players do not have any Internet connectivity.

To connect a Blu-ray or HD DVD player to your HDTV you'll want to use an HDMI cable. This ensures that you get the highest quality picture available. If you have an HDMI-capable receiver, you'll need two (2) cables. One to connect the high definition disc player to your AV receiver (this pulls the audio and video from the HDMI output) and one to go from the AV receiver to your HD television.

What You Need:

  • High definition television or display (should have HDMI inputs for best results) | Shop
  • High definition disc player (Blu-ray or HD DVD) | Shop
  • High definition disc player (Blu-ray or HD DVD) movie | Search Online

Option 2: High Definition CableTV

High definition broadcasts have been available on CableTV for over 3 years now. Each year it seems more and more channels and program material are added. In addition to this, more and more stations and television shows are producing their content in high definition. To get true high definition content out of your CableTV company, however, you'll need to ensure you have an HD set top box or a high definition television that has what's known as a QAM tuner capable of decoding unscrambled HD signals from the cable line. Most people have an HD set top box. Some of the most common set-top boxes are:

  • Scientific Atlanta 8000HD or 8300HD Explorer (includes a digital video recorder (DVR))
  • Scientific Atlanta 3250HD and 4250HD
  • Motorola DCT6412 and DCT3412 HD DVR

In theory, most CableTV companies offer an array of "free" (with digital cable subscription) HD channels, including most networks and PBS channels (plus channels like Discovery HD, TNTHD, and more). If you have (or request) a high definition CableTV set-top box, you should get these services automatically with your service. Additional HD channels are also available for a premium price.

Tech Note: Some advanced users may integrate a third-party set-top box or DVR like a TiVo which use what's known as a CableCARD. CableCARDs can be ordered from your local CableTV provider and allow the box to receive digital and high definition television channels. Recently, displays have started to come equipped with CableCARD ports as well, allowing you to forgo the set-top box altogether. A QAM equipped display cannot, without the addition of a CableCARD, receive premium channels.

Once you have everything set up from the cable company it's as simple as connecting the set-top box to your AV receiver and/or display via HDMI or component video. Keep in mind that some cable boxes have issues when connecting via HDMI through certain AV receivers. This is due to a firmware issue with the cable box and the workaround is to simply use the component video outputs which are capable of up to 720p/1080i resolution. For most people, however, HDMI from the set-top box to a compatible AV receiver is the way to go. The receiver can then output HDMI to your HDTV for the best picture quality possible.

What You Need:

  • High definition television or display (should have HDMI inputs for best results) | Shop
  • High definition digital CableTV service
  • High definition CableTV set-top box or DVR (digital video recorder) or a television with a built-in QAM tuner and/or CableCARD port.

Option 3: High Definition Satellite TV

This option is almost identical to the previous configuration for CableTV. HD broadcasts have been available on satellite for around the same length of time as their CableTV counterparts. To get true high definition content out of your satellite service you'll need to have both a high definition-capable satellite dish and a set-top box capable of receiving high definition channels.

Currently, satellite offers a tremendous amount of HD channel selection (much more than CableTV) but cable companies are slowly catching up and are capturing at least the major channels as fast as they are able. You may not get ESPN 17 in HD, but you're likely to have the SciFi HD channel by year's end.

Most satellite contracts come with some sort of installation and hardware and upgrades to HD are no exception if you score the right deal. After getting everything in place you'll simply want to connect the HDMI or component video output of the satellite receiver to your AV receiver and from there to your display.

Tech Note: QAM tuners only work with CableTV and do not work with satellite television.

What You Need:

  • High definition television or display (should have HDMI inputs for best results) | Shop
  • High definition digital satellite service
  • High definition digital satellite set-top box or DVR (digital video recorder)

Option 4: Over-the-Air (OTA) HDTV

If you live in a metropolitan area, chances are you can pick up most or even all of the major TV networks in high definition without subscribing to either cable or satellite. The only hardware you'll need, aside from a television with an ATSC tuner, is a standard indoor or outdoor antenna which typically runs from $75-$125. What type of antenna will depend on how far away you are from your local TV stations, and how far apart those channels are spread out. Go to http://www.antennaweb.org for an easy way to plot out the location of all digital stations in your local. Indoor antennas tend to have a very limited range, so for most applications we suggest outdoor.

If your television doesn't have an ATSC tuner you can pick up an external tuner box for under $100. These boxes can also come with additional advanced options such as an on-board QAM tuner or CableCARD capability. The options are endless, so shop around for something that meets your particular needs.

Once you find and install the right antenna - and for less than most people pay for a couple months of CableTV or satellite service - you're ready for free HDTV. The ATSC tuner in your television will take the RF input of the antenna and allow you to tune in the high definition networks and PBS channels. The advantage to OTA high definition is that it is uncompressed. That means it actually looks far better than HD provided by CableTV or satellite. Knowing this, you can see why OTA isn't just for people looking to save money - it's actually used by people who want better high definition quality than that offered by other sources. The drawback, of course, is that you are limited to the number of channels that are available.

What You Need:

  • High definition television or display with internal or external ATSC tuner | Shop
  • Indoor or outdoor antenna of sufficient range to pick up HD channels | Shop
  • Local HD television stations | Search on Antennaweb.org

Hopefully this clears up some misconceptions regarding HDTV and what you can expect when bringing a new television home. For those coming from a CRT-based, standard definition world, getting a new display is only the beginning. It's important to make sure you have the required high definition source content in order to enjoy the full potential of your new television. It's a worthwhile effort and one we know will change the way you view TV forever.


Audioholics posts on February 27, 2008 08:02
Honestly, from what I'm reading, I think there are some forum members who have no idea that Audioholics.com exists and think we're just a forum site… I will work to integrate the main site navigation into the forum site.

For anyone interested, we've got over 1 million readers per month (as audited by Google Analytics), making us much larger than Home Theater Mag, Stereophile or any other home theater review publication.

With that said, there's always room for improvement, but some people in this thread do indeed have a completely incorrect impression about how big we are, our demographic, and our reach.
The Chukker posts on February 27, 2008 03:10
A courteous rebuttal

I for one (without sounding too much like a kiss ***) really like how this site is set up. It doesn't take a genius to use the search function, nor is it too hard to find the A/V University and Tips & Tricks tabs at the top of the home page; both of which are likely to be the end destination of articles like these. Some audiophytes (also labeled neophytes here) are intimidated by posting in the beginners forum for fear of being ostracized and may never see an all encompassing FAQ located there. How many “I'm a nOOb what do you think about speaker A versus speaker B” threads do we see a day here? What pleasantly strikes me is how thoughtful and considerate the forum regulars (for the most part :rolleyes are in answering these questions with genuine tolerance. Some choose to answer the question. Some (if applicable) will gently prod the noob to use the search function. Some will just post the link to the appropriate article.
All are legitimate responses.
Some of the audiophytes are here to get quick answers and never return.
Some (like myself) are here to learn and stay to post both their personal experiences and their knowledge gained to others.
I have never found this site to be confusing or difficult to navigate; nor does it seem to foster an elitist perspective – at no time have I felt compelled to not post a question/topic that I desired an answer to.
That is the strength of this site; its members – not just the printed gospel of a/v.
Pyrrho posts on February 26, 2008 13:30
birdonthebeach, post: 380963
Hmmmm. Gene, Clint - I think you better look into this. This guy obviously knows what he is talking about, and since our site isn't well laided out, we could be in trouble…..

All sarcasm aside, I think he has a point. It is good and useful that there are “stickies” at the top of each forum, but it might be better to add a FAQ section that deals with basic issues, with a prominent link at the top of each forum to it. Of course, it is easy for someone like me to suggest that someone else does all the work making such an addition to the site, which would be quite a bit of work to write it all out and to organize it in a manner that would be easy to navigate and easy to find what one needs to know. And we all know that it will invite criticism from everyone who believes that some detail or other should be changed. Still, I think it would be a good idea, if someone at Audioholics has the time and ability for such a troublesome task. It is possible that it would be best for it to be done by more than one person, as, for example, one person might be better at writing explanations, and another might be better at organizing the FAQ section into something that is intuitive and easy to navigate. It is something to think about.

Anyway, I am glad the site exists. I know it is a lot of work that some people are doing to maintain it, and, no matter what is done, not everyone will be satisfied. And, possibly, no one will be completely satisfied.

As things are, this is currently my favorite of this sort of site. I have found this site to be more civil and populated with more reasonable people than I have found at some other sites that I will not presently mention. Perhaps there is some other site that I have not noticed that is better, or perhaps one that I looked at previously has become better. But I doubt it.
birdonthebeach posts on February 26, 2008 13:12
kleinwl, post: 380959
I've been here for a while and the general site set up isn't well laided out for the neophyte and I doubt that you have many. Site traffic is probably low as well, unless you have started advertising with google to get more hits.

Hmmmm. Gene, Clint - I think you better look into this. This guy obviously knows what he is talking about, and since our site isn't well laided out, we could be in trouble…..
kleinwl posts on February 26, 2008 13:06
If you really want to gain site traffic by courting neophytes then you are going to have to do alot more work than a simple article that tells the reader very little.

Why not run full bore and set up an neophyte faq? Any neos that visit this site would be hard put to find one of your articles once it is buried in old news. Linking all the neo articles and the recommendations would make this site much more user friendly to poeple that visit for the first time.

But honestly, I think you need to look at your demographics… I've been here for a while and the general site set up isn't well laided out for the neophyte and I doubt that you have many. Site traffic is probably low as well, unless you have started advertising with google to get more hits.
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About the author:
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Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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