Saturday, August 23, 2008

TV high-def for free

We got a new TV but no set-top box. It's fun to explain it to people.
"We watch high-definition TV programs."
"No, we don't pay for cable or a satellite"
"We use a technology where we get digital TV for free"
"No, there's no box, just a metal gizmo on the roof"
"We own the metal thing, there's no monthly fee"
"The technical term for the metal gizmo is 'rabbit ears'"
I've gone for 10 minutes before people realize what I'm talking about:
On a recent TV, you can watch high-definition digital TV signals sent over the air by existing TV stations for free.
I wonder how many people have a recent TV and just assume they have to pay someone to watch TV. Must be nice for cable and satellite companies! In February 2009 the regular analog TV stations will disappear, leaving only the digital signals, but despite all the public service announcements people don't understand broadcast TV will continue to be free.

Each TV station has one to five digital TV channels. The first tends to be their regular analog broadcast in better quality. The others are all over the place. Fox's Channel 2-2 shows LATV, which is cheesy Latin music videos along with a scroll of incoherent text messages. The CBS and NBC affiliates rebroadcast their nightly news over and over. PBS has a world channel, an all-British TV channel, and a kids channel. So it's almost like having basic cable with 57 channels (and nothin' on – Bruce Springsteen).

Each station must be transmitting a coded representation of the day's schedule, because you can find out more info about what's on each digital channel and see what's on later in the day. But before you can scroll through the day's programming for all channels, you have to tune in to each channel to receive this. So it's sort of like a cable box's interactive program guide.

Almost, sort-of. But it beats paying a company money every month for the rest of your life.

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