Tuesday, 27 January 2009

From the department of colossally bad ideas (aka Congress)

Our beloved Congress, having spent the last year or so steadfastly ignoring reports from the FCC regarding potential problems with the upcoming digital television transition, has finally decided to do a 180 and delay the mandatory transition date at a point so late in the process as to invite unmitigated chaos.

I’ll gladly concede that Congress needed to fix the accounting rules that made the converter box coupon program “run out of money” (on paper at least) but fixing those rules easily could have been done anytime over the last year (when Congress was doing exactly nothing worthwhile that I can remember) without any impact on the transition date. Instead, now we have a situation where a billion-dollar public education campaign—still ongoing as of today—that has been drilling into Americans’ skulls the date “February 17, 2009” for months will be rendered moot because a small percentage of the population can’t find it in their annual budgets to find $50 for a box to make their TVs still work and can’t plan ahead enough to get a coupon to shave that down to $10.

The best part of this bill, however, is that it’s going to create a 120-day “half-transition” period during which some stations will switch off their analog signals and some won’t. So the folks without boxes are still at least partially screwed, since there’s a good chance they will need the boxes anyway on the 17th, and folks with a box or a digital TV will get to play the fun game of “make the TV rescan for channels” every time over the next few months a local station decides it’s had enough of spending $20k/month broadcasting its analog signal and goes digital on its own whim.

At least there are some winners. The cable and satellite industries must be loving every single minute of this nonsense.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Technology run amok

AVSForum user DigaDo describes a high-tech new antenna technology for digital television. This advanced device, however, is not recommended for use outdoors or in damp environments.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

CECB mini-review: LG/Zenith DTT900

To continue the CECB mini-review series, I picked up an LG/Zenith DTT900 at Circuit City in Southaven this evening with one of my two digital converter box coupons (and $24ish of my hard-earned money at Sam’s Town’s blackjack tables).

With essentially the same setup and conditions (same television and el-cheapo VHF/UHF indoor antenna) as the RCA DTA800B tested before, the initial channel scan found the same 17 channels/sub-channels. However, the Zenith’s ability to manually add channels meant that I was able to add WMC-DT/NBC 5 (RF channel 52) and with some fiddling get a reasonably stable signal, something I was unable to accomplish with the RCA—this isn’t that surprising, since the Zenith is based on LG’s ATSC digital tuner chipset, which is known for its superior reception capabilities over most other silicon. In addition, other channels (WHBQ-DT/Fox 13, WPTY-DT/ABC 24, and WLMT-DT/CW 30) that were less-than-stable with the RCA were rock-solid with the Zenith. Bear in mind that WMC is running on a different frequency (and lower on its tower) than it will after the transition is complete in nine months, so indoor antennas in Shelby County at least should cope better with WMC when it is back on VHF channel 5.

The built-in guide is a little weaker than that included on the RCA model; the Zenith’s only shows program data for one channel at a time. The Zenith, however, has more functionality accessible from the remote control, including a “favorite channels” feature that would be useful for the compulsive surfer who isn’t interested in switching past the news and weather loops on 3–2 and 5–3 when doing the Letterman/Leno (or Conan/Craig) shuffle, and a sleep button. I also thought the Zenith’s menus were a little more polished and better organized.

On the antenna front, the Zenith, unlike the RCA, does not provide an attachment for digitally-steered “SmartAntennas,” which may be a consideration if you already have one of these (they are apparently uncommon at present) or have hard-to-tune channels in multiple directions which might benefit from this high-tech solution. The Zenith’s better signal-handling may reduce the need for a fancy antenna, however; either way, you should probably check out TVFool’s antenna aiming guide or the somewhat less-friendly CEA/NAB-sponsored AntennaWeb website to determine what sort of antenna solution is going to be necessary for you before spending money on one.

The only real problem I encountered in testing was that the “zoom” setting seemed to behave oddly; at first, letting it decide on its own seemed to work OK on some channels, but then I ended up with some bizarre “squeezed” pictures on several HD channels. Expect to manually fiddle with the zoom setting when channels switch between showing native 16:9 and pillarboxed 4:3 programs. Those who use closed captioning will also find that it seems to forget the CC setting when you switch channels, although I think there’s a menu option to leave closed captioning on all the time.

Finally, caveat emptor: many manufacturing runs of this converter, and its near twin sold by Best Buy under its Insignia house brand, apparently have an audio problem that certain TVs seem to be more susceptible to than others. The converter I purchased had a manufacturing date of April 2008, which has been reported to be the run in which this problem was fixed, and I observed no audio problems during my testing (on an admittedly low-end CRT stereo television/VCR over RCA cables).

Overall, I’d assess the LG/Zenith DTT900 as a better option for those who are planning to use the converter on a regular basis; however, if you’re simply buying a converter to serve as a “lifeline” when cable or satellite television is disrupted, or if you would like to take advantage of the SmartAntenna connectivity on that unit, the RCA model is probably adequate for most needs and seems to retail for about $10 less.

Monday, 19 May 2008

CECB mini-review: RCA DTA800B

Mom and I went to Wal-Mart today to pick up two digital converter boxes (specificlly coupon-eligible converter boxes, “CECBs”) as emergency backup for Comcast’s frequently-incompetent cable service in Memphis. It took about 15 minutes for the assorted checkout staff figured out how to ring up the converters and use the government coupons for them, but eventually we escaped with two RCA DTA800B converters.

I found the box relatively easy to use and hook up. The boxes included quick start guides in English and Spanish and full user manuals in both languages, as well as a programmable remote control (with batteries) and a short push-on coax (F-type) cable for attaching the box to a TV over the “antenna” TV input.

Both boxes worked moderately well in southeast Memphis with a rather lame RCA unpowered indoor VHF/UHF antenna I picked up a while back, which is no Silver Sensor but a bit more compact to haul around, less likely to attract quizzical stares from airport security, and better than nothing at all. Neither box was able to scan WMC‘s rather weak digital signal (authorized at 394 kW but clearly not transmitting at anything close to that power) and there’s no manual tuning option. I’d imagine if I’d brought a decent directional antenna like the Silver Sensor I’d have gotten WMC and a more stable signal on some of the other channels.

So, overall, I have no real complaints about the boxes themselves, except for the lack of a manual tuning feature available on other converters, and the SmartAntenna feature will be nice for folks with hard-to-tune channels in multiple directions when you can actually buy one again. I’ll probably examine some of the other CECB models before settling on one, however, particularly now that it appears that the reported Zenith DTT900 audio problem is fixed in newer boxes.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

CECB Reviews

AVS Forum poster “10frog” has posted a detailed side-by-side comparison of the Digital Stream DTX-9900 and Zenith DT900 digital television converter boxes, which may be useful for those of you who have taken my advice and gotten your government coupons. Both boxes are available at RadioShack (but typically each RS only carries one of the two—most of the RS’s around New Orleans seem to carry the Digital Stream box); the Zenith is allegedly available at Circuit City and the apparently-electrically-identical Insignia NS-DXA1 is on the shelves at Best Buy.

Meanwhile, Slashdot is claiming that at least one of the CECB peddlers on the Internet is a scam artist.

Friday, 22 February 2008

HD DVD is dead, long live HD (upscaled) DVD

You know, Toshiba won’t exactly be helping Blu-Ray adoption anytime soon by dumping a raft of players on the market that, in addition to playing HD DVDs, are extremely good upscaling DVD players in their own right, including being the only dedicated players I’ve seen that handle pillarboxing of 4:3 DVD content over HDMI correctly. At sane viewing distances, I suspect most non-videophiles couldn’t tell the difference between an upscaled DVD and high-def anyway—Jennifer Morrison doesn’t look any different in HD and upscaled DVD that I can tell.

That said, I can’t figure out why you’d even spend $50 at this point on an XBox HD DVD add-on, since it doesn’t upscale DVDs any better than the built-in DVD player on the box.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Get digital: a Signifying Nothing PSA

If you rely on an old-school antenna to get your television fix like a surprising 15% of my fellow Americans—or me during the two weeks it took Cox to get their crap together this summer when I moved to New Orleans—it’s time to get your digital television converter box coupons from the government. While you wait for your coupons and for the boxes to show up at your favorite retailers, use this website to figure out how to get all your free-to-air digital TV with an antenna. Even if you use cable or satellite, I’d consider getting one of the boxes just to have for when your cable or satellite service goes out during your favorite sporting event or other TV show.

Of course, if you want high-definition television (or at least the full benefits thereof, since the coupon boxes will only give you downscaled HDTV at best), you’ll need to just junk the old TV and get a new one.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

High def, cheap

Today’s Woot is the Pinnacle HD Pro Stick; I can attest that I have one of these and it’s pretty cool. Presumably Elgato’s EyeTV, which works really well on my MacBook, is bundled with the Mac version—the PC software is pretty lame, in my experience, but maybe they’ve figured out the crashing problems it had. It also works under Linux with the right patches—not sure if they’ve made it to the latest Linux kernels yet or not.

So, check to see if you can get some HD television over the air, and if you can then pick up one of these babies. If you miss the Woot deal, you can get it (or the more Mac-happy Elgato model that’s basically the same, but lacks an antenna and includes the full version of EyeTV) at Amazon.com instead.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Digital TV coverage maps

Find out what digital stations you can get with just an antenna and a new TV (or other ATSC tuner, like a TiVo HD) here.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

WDSU-HD back on Cox cable

If only they’d done it a day sooner, I’d have been able to avoid scheduling manual recordings for Earl and The Office. All zero of my NOLA readers can see the announcement here.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Sugar Bowl in LoDef

Mobile’s Fox affiliate needs to boost its digital signal—it’s the only channel I can’t get indoors at the hotel. And, of course, it’s also the only one I want to watch tonight…

Saturday, 18 November 2006

St Louis HDTV Survey

One of the regulars at the St. Louis HDTV forums at AVSForum.com has put together a rather lengthy survey for HD viewers in the region, with the hopes of getting results from local broadcasters. So, if you have HD in St. Louis, go forth and help out.

Monday, 17 April 2006

Figuring Time Warner out

Now I’ve figured out the internal logic of Time Warner’s local HDTV channel numbers here in Durham, I guess I’m a little less confused:

  • WRAL (CBS) 5’s HD stream is channel 255.
  • ABC 11’s HD stream is channel 211.
  • NBC 17’s HD stream is channel 217.
  • Fox 50’s HD stream is channel 250.

It leaves the choice of 201 for PBS still somewhat arbitrary, but what can you do?

Thursday, 16 March 2006

Rhetorical NCAA question of the day

Would it kill CBS Sports to buy a couple of HD cameras for their New York studios? Considering they could ammortize the cost across their NFL and NCAA operations, this seems like a no-brainer.

That said, I am somewhat impressed that WRAL and Time Warner are giving us two HD feeds (which may be the only HD feeds they’re transmitting, knowing CBS’ cheapskate ways) and all four regions in SD. If only I really cared about basketball…

Actually, it’s a HD sports bonanza today: World Baseball Classic on ESPN HD (although I could have lived without seeing Bud Selig in hidef), the NCAA tournament on CBS, and an NBA double-header on TNT. No hockey, but what can you do?

Tuesday, 14 March 2006

Anamorphisize this

You know, if you were going to go to the trouble of remastering a movie for DVD, including adding 5.1 Dolby Surround sound, you’d think it would be trivial to master the DVD in anamorphic mode so I’d get more than about 300 lines of effective vertical resolution on my 16:9 HDTV. Grr.

TiVo Series 3 HD speculation

PVRblog links a post by Dave Zatz that takes note of a new TiVo contest in which the grand prize is the long-awaited Series 3 HD TiVo; Zatz has started a side contest in which readers are asked to speculate on a release date and price for the unit. Although the official word from TiVo is “second half of 2006,” the betting money is apparently on “early September” at this point.

Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Easier decisions

The news that the Duke-UNC game is available in high-definition on ESPNHD, but will be blacked out in Durham in favor of Jefferson Pilot’s craptacular standard definition broadcast (which, no doubt, will be poorly upconverted to HD on our CBS affiliate), has tipped the balance in favor of me watching House on Fox (in HD) at 9 rather than via TiVo delay.

This is one of those days I wish I were a Nielsen family.

Saturday, 28 January 2006

Another reason to get NFL Network

Maybe the news that NFL Network will show eight regular-season games in the upcoming season will finally get Time-Warner here in Durham off their collective asses. High-def would be nice, but even the standard-definition channel would make me happy (or happier, at any rate).

Wednesday, 25 January 2006


So long as they keep Veronica Mars on the air, I’m fine with the proposed merger of UPN and the WB into the oddly-named CW Network. I’d be happier, though, if it showed up in high definition.

Speaking of high def, Universal HD is just a week away from arriving on cable in Durham, which means Battlestar Galactica in all its high definition 1080i glory. Wee hee!


I ran into Nick and one of my devoted band of lurkers yesterday and was reminded that I have been insufficiently social this, er, year or so. So, in order to rectify that, I’m proposing the first annual “Hang Out With Chris and Watch the Super Bowl on his Spankin’ New HDTV Party.” It probably needs a more catchy title, but I’m working with nothing here.

If nothing else, at least it will serve as an excuse to clean up my living room.

Friday, 6 January 2006

TiVo Series 3 (HD) announced at CES

PVRblog and MegaZone have the scoop on the upcoming HDTV-capable TiVo, which will include over-the-air and cable HDTV tuners. Although no retail price has been announced, I probably should start saving my pennies now.

Tuesday, 6 December 2005


Apropos the previous post, now I’m leaning towards this model from Westinghouse, which has the twin virtues of being slightly bigger than the Samsung and about $150 cheaper at retail; it also looks pretty comparable in person, seems to be getting good reviews at AVSForum, and has all the same inputs—well, except it has DVI-HDCP instead of HDMI, but I can live with that.

On the other hand, it may be prudent to hold out until March, when the digital tuner mandate kicks in for 25-inch and larger TVs, although it’s unclear how many of these TVs will include CableCARD too—the newer sub-$1000 models seem to be only including over-the-air ATSC (digital TV) tuners, since apparently slapping a PCMCIA slot in a TV is more expensive than you’d think.

Sunday, 4 December 2005


It must be the season for HDTV; in addition to a big InstaPundit post, both my parents have asked me about HDTV stuff over the past couple of months. I’ve been thinking of getting an HDTV set myself, but I have a rather annoying constraint: my existing entertainment center won’t hold anything much wider than my existing 25-inch Philips 4:3 TV, which I bought when I went off to grad school in Oxford in 1998, and I really don’t feel like replacing the entertainment center until I move elsewhere.

This really limits my HDTV options, as most HDTVs are 16:9 (and I probably wouldn’t bother with a 4:3 screen anyway), and most of them have side-mounted speakers, so most 26-inch LCDs won’t fit, including the el cheapo off-brand ones with lame picture quality that Costco and Sam’s have. My current prime candidate is the Samsung LN-R2668W or one of its same-sized brethren (LN-R268W and LN-R269D), which has the speakers on the bottom and thus will fit my entertainment center; it also looks very pretty in the store (not that I’m going to pay retail at Best Buy when I can save $300 and tax at Amazon). And it has enough connections for the TiVos (yay, 480p, at least for the Humax), the Xbox (yay, 480p), and an HD cable box from the good folks at Time-Warner (so I can see Al Michaels’ lip sweat in glorious 720p)—which will do me until the CableCard HD TiVo comes out sometime next year.

With the big holiday road trip coming up, however, it’ll probably be January before I pull the trigger on the purchase, since if I get it now I won’t have much time to enjoy it. (On the other hand, I could toss it in the car and bring it with me…)