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20 FREE TV channels beat cable, satellite

By Caleb Frey -   Mar 08, 2007

St. Charles Parish residents can get 20 to 25 TV channels on their home TVs for free - a price that beats the pants off monthly fees for cable and satellite services - with a special antenna available in discount department and electronics stores for $30.

Local channels are offered in both high definition and standard format, and the quality of the “high-def” is described by experts as being two to three times the quality of standard, non high-def cable.

While 20-25 stations are accessible with just an antenna, some are duplicates. But a selection of eight to 15 different stations are available depending on where you live.

Idea whose time has come

Think back to January when the Saints were one win away from the Superbowl. Remember how exciting it was to think of seeing the black and gold play in their first championship game. Unfortunately for loyal customers of Cox Cable, they were more worried that a pricing discrepancy between the cable conglomerate and CBS who were scheduled to air the big game would prevent them from watching the biggest sporting event of the season.

Many people who had already embraced television's newest technology, High Definition Television, were prepared for the possible CBS blackout with a simple antenna and some knowledge of how to receive the signal for free over the air. It's much simpler to do than people may think.

Leichtman Research Group, a well-known technological research firm, showed in recent studies that at least 25 percent of all HDTV owners believe they are watching programming in high definition. But without the right equipment, which many people already own, that gorgeous new screen placed in the entertainment room is simply an over priced novelty.

By 2009, all broadcast companies will be required to carry their signals in high definition, which is a digital format. Currently they are only required to broadcast in the traditional analog format, something many consumers have traded in for the quality and convenience of cable or satellite.

Across most of the country, major affiliate broadcasters for CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX and PBS all broadcast in the digital format and the only equipment necessary to enjoy their signal in high-def is a regular antenna and a HDTV tuner which is found built in on many new LCD and plasma television monitors.

In fact, any TV over 25 inches produced since June 2006 is required to be HD ready, although the tuner may have to be purchased separately. In March of 2007 the same requirement will be implemented for all TVs 13 inches or larger.

Unlike current analog signals, digital improves on the quality of broadcast immensely. The difference comes from the improved resolution, something that is only available when working with digital signals.

Analog is a dead technology and has been improved as much as possible. Cellular providers and moviemakers switched from analog years ago. Digital phones are the new standard and DVDs, which are recorded digitally, replaced videotapes. Digital networks allow for much more information to be passed at faster speeds that in the end mean a step up in quality from previous technologies.

Television will soon follow those footsteps and convert entirely to a digital signal, improving picture quality vastly. In the meantime, though, it may confuse the average user who is used to simply removing their TV from the box and hooking up their cable of choice, be it satellite, cable television or the intrusive antennas many use to pick up local stations.

So you say you've already purchased a TV with a built in HD tuner and you want all the goodies digital offers but you have no idea where to go next. First, you must consider what type of television watching you do most often and how much you are willing to spend.

In the New Orleans metro area, which will include St. Charles parish for our purposes here, CBS, FOX, ABC, PBS, UPN and the WB all offer their programming in digital format over the air at no charge to the consumer. The digital signals are normally broadcast from the same location as their analog signal, meaning if you can pick up one of those stations with just the help of an antenna, you can receive their signal in digital as well.

When shopping for an antenna, first it's best to know the proximity of your home to where the signals are broadcast from. Website www.antennaweb.org allows you to input your zip code and find exactly what is available in analog and digital signals and where they are being broadcast. This will help you greatly in choosing which antenna will work best with your TV.

Most people in the river parishes should be able to pick up digital stations with little difficulty by using a normal antenna on a television with an HDTV tuner built in. The technical term for an HDTV tuner is an ATSC tuner. Analog stations are broadcast via an NTSC tuner. If you want to refrain from having to purchase a tuner separately for digital stations, be sure your TV has an ATSC tuner.

Many enjoy the variety that can only be found on cable or satellite systems and are under the misconception that if they have "digital" cable or satellite and an HDTV that they are automatically receiving high definition. Both DirecTV and Cox Cable offer certain stations in high-def, but they normally require you to purchase or rent their equipment or pay an additional fee to receive the signal in HD.

On the other side of the coin, if you have a high-def ready TV, which means that it can receive digital signals but only with an HDTV tuner hooked up separately, the cable and satellite companies offer their digital set-top boxes with an ATSC tuner built in. Normally the cost is literally only a couple bucks more per month than the regular digital cable tuner required to receive the extended programming lineup (channels 100-900).

Once you've gathered all the necessary equipment to receive signals in HD, it's as simple as hooking up the antenna to your television and referring the manufactures guide on the channel setup process. On most TV's it's a simple feature that's easily accessible and automatically finds programming available in your area.

Circuit City carries a rather inexpensive and unobtrusive antenna that would be ideal for someone looking to watch local channels in high-def. It's made by the company Terk and resembles a small spike, not the usual rabbit ears you would think of when a TV antenna is mentioned. For only $30, it has a built in amplifier to help you receive those HD channels in all their high-resolution glory. The one downfall is there isn't much of an adjustable factor on it like traditional antennas, but with HD, there is no adjustment needed. You either pick up the signal or you don't. No fuzzy pictures, no rolling screens, just a flat out gorgeous picture that blows cable away.

Those who are looking for a more traditional antenna that can be adjusted but will still pick up HD signals with ease, circuit city also carries the Philips Indoor UHF/VHF/FM Antenna which runs about $40.

When making any purchase like this it's best to make sure the item can be returned after you open it in case it doesn't offer the quality expected. Normally that isn't a problem at most major retailers.

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