January 29, 2009

HDTV is a snap

I haven’t owned a television in quite a while.  I do, in fact, have a home theater for watching DVDs, but I haven’t found that much need to watch television.  If anything good comes on, it inevitably comes out on DVD or is available on the Web.

But it turns out I am a bit of Steeler’s fan.  Arguably, live sports photography (both still and moving picture) is especially challenging and represents a high point of the visual arts.  And the elegance of skilled athletes can rival grace of classical dance.  I wanted to find a way to see the Superbowl this weekend.

Now, when similar situations have arisen in times past I have just wrangled myself an invitation to a friend’s Superbowl party, but none of my friends appear to be holding one this year.  Of course, I could go to a sports bar, but that just isn’t my style.

So I decided to bite the bullet and buy a television receiver to hook up to my home theater.  I had considerable doubts that it would work – I live near in hills just outside the city where I have a nice view but exceptionally poor radio reception.  All of my neighbors have either cable or satellite TV (but the idea of paying $50-100 a month for something that I almost never watch seems absurd to me. 

Still . . . the Steelers – how could I resist?

So I decided to make an experiment.  For about $100, I bought a Samsung digital receiver.  This receiver is especially nice because it has a digital (HDMI) output and claims to be able to receive all 18 digital television formats (ATSC Table 3).  I was reluctant to put effort into hanging an antenna on my roof, so I just bought a $10 indoor UHF antenna.

The results pleasantly surprised me.  Digital television – even in my hostile reception environment and even with my primitive antenna – proved remarkably robust.  In seconds I was receiving perfect high definition images from stations that 60 miles away and blocked by hills.  Indeed, I am now capable of receiving some 40-50 stations.

And, it turned out there was more on the air than I had suspected.  For example, I was surprised by the variety of different foreign language programming available on television substations.  The quality was so good (much better than what I have seen, for example, in televisions in hotel rooms or at my cable or satellite subscribing neighbors) that I wonder how pay television is able to stay in business.

Now, I am still skeptical that much of the multitude of different programming is actually worth watching, but the good news is that I am going to be able to watch the game on Sunday – and I’m looking forward to it.

And then, I’ll put away the receiver and cheap antenna until the next big event.

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