Free High Definition TV! (almost)

Beginning February 9, 2009, all local television stations must broadcast exclusively in high definition (HD). This will cause problems for many people who do not have an HD television, tuner, or converter box. To make the changeover more palatable, you can apply for a $40 coupon for up to two analog televisions that don’t have digital capability. The converter boxes will retail for about $50-70, so getting the coupon is worthwhile. If you have cable or satellite, or even an analog TV, you will not need a converter box. (Check with your provider for details.)

However, as broadcasters are making the transition to HDTV you can receive it over the air on a regular antenna. You can do this whether or not you have cable or satellite as you can access both.

What are the advantages of getting HD over the air? First, even if you have cable or satellite, the HD signal is being compressed so that it can be transmitted more efficiently. This means that the signal is somewhat degraded. Over the air, on an antenna, the signal is full strength, so that you are receiving full HD. Second, while cable and satellite provide HD, they do not provide all local channels in HD all the time.

You can get HD off the air right now with a regular UHF/VHF antenna, which costs around $25. If you already have one, and your TV has an HD tuner in it, you’re all set. Caution: Some places will try to sell you a special HD-enabled antenna, when any UHF/VHF antenna will work. The best place for an antenna is on the roof, but some people get excellent reception with an attic antenna or even “rabbit ears.” Most local broadcasters in the Cleveland area transmit from the southwest, so you will need to point your antenna in that direction.

Right now I get 17 HD channels off the air using my $25 antenna. The picture is excellent and it works with my satellite DVR. Yours can, too.

Mace Mentch is a 20-year resident of Cleveland Heights who assesses, evaluates, and researches learning technologies for Case Western Reserve University.

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Volume 1, Issue 6, Posted 1:06 PM, 06.23.2008