Fast Forward columnist Rob Pegoraro was online to talk about The Washington Post's special report on digital television. A transcript follows.
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Rob Pegoraro: I was joking earlier today with a source that digital TV amounts to a full-employment policy for tech journalists--it's confusing enough that I could write "how it works" stories every week for the next year and I'd probably still have material. In the real world, of course, I can't do that--but I do have this forum. So let's see what kind of sense we can make of DTV today...
DC Metro Area:
Earlier this year I gave into temptation and finally bought a 46" widescreen TV. I was working on a limited budget and went with projection (which I now regret - looks much bigger in my house than it did at the store! But the flats seemed so expensive).
Anyhow, I got an HDTV because there was no reason not to. I wanted a widescreen/big screen primarily for watching DVDs. But now that I have a TV with this great technology, I'm antsy to use my high definition signal. I live 25 miles from DC and yet still no HD is offered in my area. How long am I going to have to wait? I only have basic cable, how much more will I have to pay?
Rob Pegoraro: Who's your cable provider? Adelphia? They seem farthest back in providing HD service. Given the, ah, issues it's dealing with, I don't know how quick it's going to be able to remedy that shortfall. You might want to look into satellite service--or put an antenna on your roof.
In your column, you made the following assertion:
"This format, still a big step up from analog TV (which uses 480 interlaced scan lines), is often marketed as "Enhanced Definition."
Last time I checked, -and I could be wrong] NTSC standard for TV was 252.5 lines of resolution, not 480. True or false?
Rob Pegoraro: False. You can't have a fraction of a scan line of resolution, AFAIK... don't know where that number you cited came from. The closest format to that is lowly VHS, which only offers 240 scan lines.
I recently bought a 50" Sony WEGA HDTV LCD. My HD service provider is Comcast. I have the new DVR box from Comcast but the DVI is not activated on the box. Do you know when they will activate the DVI and what resolution am I running now without it and how much better with the DVI make it?
Rob Pegoraro: Good question--my contributor Jim Hawk, who wrote about his experiences with Comcast's HD service, didn't mention any issues getting the DVI port switched on in his receiver. But he does live in Montgomery County, and Comcast still issues different hardware in D.C./Md. versus Virginia.
Virginia Beach, Va.:
Rob: A comment first. I'm getting great "free' HDTV here in Va Beach using an attic-mounted XG42 Extreme Gain UHF Yagi antenna with a Samsung DirecTV HD receiver and Samsung 50" DLP.
Here's the question. When it's fully available, just how much better than LCD is the new LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) supposed to be? I'm sold on DLP but if LCoS is as good as DLP and the price is equivalent I may start recommending it to my friends who want a wall mount. Thanks.
Rob Pegoraro: If you think this question has an excess of abbreviations, wait til I get to some of the other questions here :)
LCoS is a technology we didn't mention in the story, mainly because it's been such a bust in the market. Only one major manufacturer, Philips, has any LCoS sets on the market, and Intel--which announced in January that it would make a big push into manufacturing cheaper LCoS chipsets--recently said it was going to have step back from that effort.
From what I've been told, LCoS would offer DLP quality at a lower price (people in the industry have occasionally grumbled about the prices that Texas Instruments demands for the DLP technology it invented). But it wouldn't make a set so much thinner that it could be wall-mounted--you'd still need to put in on a stand of some sort.
washingtonpost.com: Special Report: Decoding Digital TV
Las Vegas, Nev. (bwo Alex, Va.):
Digital OTA reception is going to be a problem, at least for those of us who subscribe to satellite tv and need to get the local HD channels OTA. The reception of these signals is not as easy as advertised, the antenna must be aimed at the station, and there must be direct LOS. I talked to an installer and a couple friends who had major difficulties getting OTA reception. Personally, it wasn't much of a problem for me here in Vegas where most of the broadcast antennas are on the same mountain, but I read reports on the web from people in towns like San Diego, where the antennas are all over the place, making it impossible to get all the OTA channels with a fixed antenna. Why are we going back in time to motorized rooftop antennas?
Rob Pegoraro: Well, that wasn't what we found in our own tests here. My writer--whose previous TV was an RCA with a first-generation tuner, and which generally offered lousy reception--had pretty much universal success in a variety of locations around town. It was just a matter of pointing an antenna in the right direction (which sometimes took some fiddling) and then not moving it.
I've been a skeptic for years about over-the-air reception of DTV, but I have to admit that it seems like the engineers have done their job with the latest batch of tuners.
Capitol Hill, Wash., D.C.:
Will you be doing your annual review of cellular telephone providers in the DC metro area again this fall? My wife and I are interested in switching carriers and would love to see a comprehensive review. In the meantime, are there any websites where we should look for reliable information about wireless service in DC?
Rob Pegoraro: Yes, we will--should run in early October. In the meantime, Consumer Reports and Washington Consumer Checkbook have both done their own surveys of cell-phone service.
While I'm on this topic, I want to throw out this question to you all: With AT&T Wireless scheduled to be assimilated into Cingular in the coming months, should we review them at all?
washingtonpost.com: Recordings Match the Show, With a Key Drawback
I have a question about this FCC digital signal "deadline". It sounds like after this deadline, all broadcasts will need to be digital and the older analog signals will be sold off. Does this mean a non-digital TV will be useless after this deadline without some sort of digital adapter? Will non-digital cable still exist, or will everyone be forced into digital cable if they want it at all? I'm trying to bide my time on getting a DTV until I really need it.
Rob Pegoraro: Yes, whenever the FCC does move to reclaim the analog spectrum, analog over-the-air broadcasts will end and you'll need a converter box to keep using your old TV. But that "whenever" is very much up in the air. By law, the FCC can only take this step when 85 percent of viewers can get a digital signal over the air, and we're a ways from this just yet. The bigger obstacle is that nobody in Congress wants to be accused of killing grandma's TV set.
So while the statutory deadline is Dec. 31, 2006, nobody expects that to survive reality. At an industry conference this spring, the president of the Consumer Electronics Association, Gary Shapiro, made his own guess of when analog would be turned off: 2012.
Do you know if Apple plans to announce the new iMac this week?
Rob Pegoraro: Yes--allegedly, tomorrow a.m. at the Apple Expo in Paris.
OT"A" for DirecTv?:
Can DirecTv users access HD signals with only the dish? I convinced my wife last year to get the dish which has been great (football WOOHOO) but no way would she go for another antenna on the outside of the house - even some of the smaller ones I have seen. Can network HD stations be picked up with just the dish?
Rob Pegoraro: No, unless any of your local network stations are owned by the networks themselves. In that case, you can get a distant HD feed--i.e., some other city's signal. That's a rough paraphrase of what DirecTV told me... in any case, this doesn't apply in the D.C. area just yet.
FYI, you can buy an antenna that mounts right on the dish, so you don't see any more hardware from outside the house.
Chesapeake beach, Md.:
I have both the Samsung 151 HD tuner and the Dish PVR921. While the Samsung will show the program guide, it's extremely slow and can crash the unit. And only WBAL in Baltimore and MPT bother with providing the programming data; all of the other channels are blank.
The DVR921 doesn't show any program data for any of the off-air channels, and you can't set it to record a channel without data. So you can only record the handful of HD channels that Dish carries, and none of the networks. Why bother? And Dish tech support is clueless on this.
I was also surprised that the article in the Post on various displays didn't mention front-screen projectors. Clearly that's the best way to view HD, although it requires a lot more setup effort than hanging a plasma on a wall. Also, while it's a common belief that LCDs don't have burn-in, I have seen this happen with a Christie 40" Bobcat LCD, although no where near as bad as with a plasma. And no one I know can explain how this is possible...
Keep up the great work. I love my Treo600 thanks to you!
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the posting... Daniel Greenberg, who reviewed the Dish (and DirecTV and Comcast) digital video recorder, often sits in on these chats, so I'll see if he has a response to this one.
We didn't mention front-screen projectors--where you put the projector on a tabletop to project the image onto a wall--because they're not as widely useful. You are going to want a darkened room and a large expanse of uninterrupted white wall (or a screen to roll down in front of your wall) to get the best picture of these things.
I have been looking at the DLP TVs and so far I'm very impressed with the picture quality. At one store the DLP TV that was on display had one pixel out. I was told this can not be fixed. How often do individual pixels go out and can they be repaired or replaced? Other than the light bulb going out, are there any other problems with DLP technology?
Rob Pegoraro: The biggest problem I've heard about with respect to DLP is simply its cost. Otherwise, though, a few people complain that they can hear a high-pitched whine from the spinning color wheel inside the DLP assembly (visit www.dlp.com for details on how this works). And a few others say they can see a rainbow effect on the screen, another side effect of the color wheel.
Just wanted to comment that we recently purchased a CRT 30" HDTV widescreen, are using it through Comcast's receiver, and are very happy with it. Yes its big and clunky, but I still think the picture is superior to the LCD and Plasma and it was only $900.
ps its a bit hard to find the CRT HD's in stores, they hide them!
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the posting. I agree about the obscurity of CRT HDs; at this January's Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, nobody wanted to talk about them!
We get great OTA HDTV reception down here in northern Calvert County with a Radio Shack UHF corner reflector with mast-mounted preamp feeding a Sony KD34XBR-2 HDTV set. We also have Comcast and the HD cable box (SA-3100) feeds into one of the component video ports on the Sony TV.
We recently bought a Phillips 30" HD-ready CRT set and a DirecTV RCA HDTV receiver for a vacation condo in WV and it works great too. The Phillips set was a real bargain at Costco last month for $599.
HDTV is great!
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report. How much did that antenna cost?
In the article you mentioned broadcast flags. You stated these were intended to stop illegal copying of programs and would mostly be annoying to the law-abiding citizens. Can you explain how?
Rob Pegoraro: Please have a look at the column I wrote about the flag last winter.
The perfect solution to prevent the burn-in of network logos, is to take the stupid logos off the screen. Duh!!!!
In addition, why would anyone want to spend that kind of money to watch the garbage that's on TV today?
Rob Pegoraro: Can't say much in response to your second point... HD will not make Fear Factor any more tolerable.
Jersey City, N.J. :
Wayne Rash's August 29 review of antennas for digital reception surprised me because it seemed so favorable ("Antenna Tests Show that Digital Reception Travels"). A few years ago, digital reception tests with the U.S. system showed a great deal of distortion similar to FM radio-type multipath distortion -- I mean signals being bounced around in heavily built up, mostly urban areas. Have those problems been cleared up by modifying the system? Or was I reading about tests using the ATSC (Advanced Television Standard Committee) digital tuner your reporter mentions in the antenna article?
Rob Pegoraro: As I wrote before, Wayne's seen over-the-air reception at its worst. The answer simply seems to be that the manufacturers went back to the drawing board enough times to make a real improvement in reception. I mean, if they can get OTA to work in Georgetown, that's a major accomplishment.
washingtonpost.com: Antenna Tests Show Digital Reception Travels
Update... the DVI Port is active in Arlington, Comcast doesn't sell the DVI cable. When I buy the DVI Monster cable what resolution will I be running vs. the standard coax cable?
Rob Pegoraro: Resolution should be the same, but you won't have any artifacts from the signal being converted from digital to analog for transmission over the component-video cables. How noticeable will those artifacts be from typical couch distance? You tell me...
Del Mar, Calif.:
I have an old 19 inch RCA that is too small for the room I have it in. I've been waiting to see if HDTV's come down enough in price, but it still looks far off. I could get a nice analog Sony, but I'm concerned it will be obsolete well before it dies. Any thoughts, hints, etc?
Rob Pegoraro: If you want a cheap(ish) HDTV, you'll want to get another CRT. You should be able to find many decent-size sets for under $1,000.
Wouldn't it be wiser to let the cable box do all the work, and just have a HDTV display? If standards change or improve, you just swap out the box for the latest.
Rob Pegoraro: Sure, but then you're paying cable-TV prices, which aren't always the most competitive around. (Granted, the gap between cable and satellite is narrower at the HD end of the market, but there's still a real difference.)
What is hdtv? Could u tell me the differences to PDP?
Rob Pegoraro: PDP is an abbreviation used to describe plasma displays (because, y'know, saving three letters of type is totally worth confusing people with a meaningless abbreviation).
Great Falls, Va.:
I am getting great reception over the air in HD. Using a Zenith digital tuner with a 120GB hard disk which records off-air NTSC and HDTV just fine. A TV schedule is downloaded automatically each night without any telephone connection and setting up a recording is simple. Olympic opening ceremony was great in HDTV.
Ralf Kuehnel ralf-anent.com
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the note. What sort of antenna do you have hooked up to your Zenith tuner?
Many HDTV sets are coming with QAM-in-the-Clear tuners. How do I find out what digital channels Comcast sends unencrypted and which ones will be encrypted? Also, when will cable providers be selling the "cable ready cards"?
Rob Pegoraro: Theoretically, you'd be able to watch any non-premium channels with a QAM tuner--but lots of cable systems might do things differently in one way or another.
As for CableCards, they're all supposed to be offering them, but not everybody publicizes them equally well.
Very informative articles! Last year I bought a 52" Panasonic rear projection monitor with a separate HD (ATSC) tuner. Using my 30-year old combination UHF/VHF attic antenna, I get superb pictures of CBS/NBC/ABC & Public TV HD programming via local channels. Using my Direct TV dish and HD tuner, I get equally great Hi Def broadcasts on HD Net, HD Movies, and Discovery HD. The down side? On the big screen system (HD Receiver and 53" monitor), analog broadcasts are almost not worth watching because they are not very sharp too blurred. My other analog set provides a much more viewable picture for stations broadcasting non-HD. Question One: when can we anticipate additional broadcasting in HD over the wide range of cable/satellite channels? Question Two: Is there anything I could do to improve the non-HD image on the big screen system now?
Rob Pegoraro: The supply of HD content keeps going up, although it never seems to happen fast enough, and there are always "if" and "buts" (for instance, ESPN launched its HD channel last year, but didn't start airing SportsCenter in high-def until a couple of months back).
Any suggestions for Fairfax on improving SD picture quality on the big screen?
The UHF corner reflector is a Radio Shack model 15-2160 which sells for $23.99 and the mast-mounted preamp is a 15-2507 retailing for $59.99.
From down here that combination picks up most of the analog VHF stations as well, although 2 and 4 are a little snowy.
It's interesting to note that the digital signals for all the local stations are on DIFFERENT UHF channels. The HDTV tuners read the "housekeeping information" on the digital data streams and link the digital transmissions up with their analog "parent" channels.
So WMPT in Annapolis shows up as 22.0 for the analog signal, and 22.1, 22.2, 22.3, 22.4 and 22.6 for the digital "channels" even though WMPT-DT is really transmitting on channel 43.
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the extra info. The receivers we tried worked in the same way--made things a little simpler, once the receiver had memorized the lineup of digital signals.
What is the status of HDTV around the world? Will we have the SECAM/PAL/NTSC problems again?
Rob Pegoraro: Yes, there are different systems in use overseas. A hard thing to avoid--especially when one of the original goals of digital television was to give the U.S. television industry a leg up on foreign competitors by requiring a home-grown, all-digital system at a time when other HD systems were still analog.
Your test did not include a 5th generation receiver.
If you want to do your readers a favor tell them to wait for 5th generation receivers. If you consider your test successful I have a couple of bridges to sell you.
We tested a 5th generation receiver and it is far better than all previous receivers. Instead of picking locations at random you might try to pick locations with known reception problems like New York.
All current receivers are obsolete and should never have been sold in my opinion. The digital transition is stagnant because of these problems. You do not help by suggesting everything is OK when it is not.
The 5th generation receiver from LG is the fist plug and play receiver that will work for most with an indoor antenna. This is a REQUIREMENT for the US OTA DTV transition to be successful.
Would you ask LG for a 5th generation receiver and do a real test against current receivers in problem locations and report on that? That would be a big help.
Rob Pegoraro: Well, first, we didn't test in New York because this is, in fact, the *Washington* Post. I mean, if we really wanted to set up a challenging test we also could have put the receiver at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Second, the test worked even on existing hardware. I've heard good things about this upcoming generation of hardware too--but we had to run the test with what was on the market at the time. And it actually worked with indoor antennas.
Rob, one question: Should I buy a digital/HDTV now, or wait a couple more years?
Rob Pegoraro: I was asked this question this morning by an anchor at NewsChannel 8, and my answer was basically this: If my TV blew up today, I'd most likely buy a digital set to replace it--but I'd be annoyed at missing the chance to benefit from another 6 months of declining prices and improving technology.
For Fairfax RE: improving RPTV results:
Get yourself an Avia DVD that will let you properly tune the settings on your TV. Most sets you see in the store are so jacked up on Contrast and Brightness that they are unwatchable in a home environment. Properly tuning the Sharpness setting in addition will make the picture much better. There are technicians that specialize in tuning RPTVs as well. It cost me $300 or so, but I did it two years ago, and he walked me through what to tune and how often to tune it. My boyfriend was amazed (OK mortified) when he came home one afternoon to see I have opened the back of the TV and was focusing the color guns. Believe me, it will make the TV worlds better if you spend a little time tuning it up.
Rob Pegoraro: Here's one suggestion for Fairfax. Keep 'em coming...
washingtonpost.com: Video: Rob on NewsChannel 8
The Post's HD articles did not mention the JVC DILA technology which is now being rolled out to the consumer market, but it has been used commercially (like in stadium Jumbotrons) since 1997. It is a propriety technology so that's why only JVC carries it.
DILA uses three chips coded with colors as opposed to DLP's use of one chip with a rotating color wheel, which causes some viewers to experience "the rainbow effect".
DLP monitors use micro mirror technology. JVC's DILA technology uses Liquid Crystal on Silicon (or LCOS), covered by an inorganic layer. The LCOS is much more condensed than DLP's micro mirrors, which gives it a better resolution. From a numbers standpoint DILA offers 4.4 megapixels per square inch as opposed to DLPs 3.37 megapixels.
In the pecking order of television systems, Plasma probably gives the best quality, DILA is right up there. Then there would be DLP and LCD monitors
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the informative post...
In the several articles in the Sunday Post about HDTV, why was there no mention of DLP or LCD front projectors? I have one, it cost less than $1000, and it gives an outstanding (and enormous) picture. It's not true HDTV at that price (mine is 480P), but you can get 720P projectors for under $2K. They're also extremely portable, usually weighing less than 10 lbs, and when you mount it to the ceiling, it takes up zero floor space. It's a mystery to me as to why someone would spend two grand on a 34" HDTV when they could have gotten one with a 120" (or more) screen for the same amount of money.
Rob Pegoraro: Well, the problem, as I mentioned, is that a lot of people don't have that much uninterrupted wall space. In my living room, for instance, we have too many windows--the only open wall space is at the corners.
If HDTV is soo much more sharper than current, then why hasn't the various theater chains begun showing movies in high def? To comment, my home 5.1 surround sound gets little use due to not all movies our in 5.1. It seems most movies dated from 03' up our being shown w/5.1 yet still the availability good be greater. As for the 7.1 dolby, I can't say I've had a movie produced with meeting those sound qualities. I say spend money on upsizing your sound quality and wait several more years for a lcd hdtv. I think sound makes more of an impact than a 480 to a 720 resolution.
Rob Pegoraro: What you in the movie theater is high-definition in my book--the resolution there is far above what you get on TV and has been for decades.
I'm a DirecTV customer and I bought the HD TiVo box in May. I held off on getting an HD box for almost three years--I got my HD-compatible TV in 2001--because I didn't want to give up TiVo. I now swear by the HD TiVo. Wonderful stuff, and it has a jack on the back for an OTA antenna. I have a Zenith Silver Sensor sitting on top of the TV, which is on the bottom level of my three-level townhouse, and it works very well with minimal fiddling (just have to walk over and rotate it to the north to get WJLA-HD). HD programming recorded by the TiVo looks every bit as good as the real thing. If your readers can stand paying $1000 to buy the box, this is the one to get!
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report. I'm going to post a bunch of other HDTV stories, then stick around for a bit to catch up on some of these questions
We have a 27 inch, 4:3 HD-ready set with HD service(and box). Picture quality on the HD "broadcast" channels is so much better than on the regular broadcast channels (even when programming is not HD for that particular show). My question is, shouldn't there be a way on a 4:3 HD set to get the 4:3 shows to be full screen instead of black bars on ALL sides of the picture? With our 27" model, picture size is reduced to about 22" for regular shows on the HD channels. Nothing on the HD box will "stretch" the picture and we're frustrated.
Rob Pegoraro: Any solutions to suggest to Kensington?
I have a great 47" RPTV thats a few years old but still works great and looks fantastic. I think its a great, economical option for folks that want HDTV. It may require a little tinkering every now and then, but once you get used to it, its barely a few minutes. It was a great choice on our part.
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!
i use comcast digital HD set-top box and until recently was able to route output through an old analog vcr to record premium channels (quality not great but at least i got to see missed shows). Then a few weeks ago my "on-demand" capability started producing error messages. The technician rewired cable box output directly to tv and i can no longer record movies. Are they (on-demand and VCR) mutually exclusive ?
Second question: During peak hours (prime time) i am frequently unable to connect to on-demand and instead get error messages. My problem or a comcast problem ?
Third question: When routing HD cable box output through analog VCR (which is not recording), am i still getting a HD picture delivered to TV ?
Rob Pegoraro: Any help from other Comcast users?
Thanks for your article, although it is 2 weeks late for me as I just bought a 42 inch SONY WEGA LCD High Def Projection TV. I spent literally 4 months trying to determine whether to get the DLP, Plasma or LCD Projection, and went with my choice because I saw the DLPs had more problems in clarity when fast movement (sports) was involved, and for the same high quality resolution would had to have spent at least $6000 in the plasma realm.
Generally, what are the views in the tech community of Plasma vs LCD Projection vs DLP?
Rob Pegoraro: Rear-projection LCD and DLP look like they're going to be direct competitors for a while to come--the rpLCD and DLP owners I've heard from seem equally happy with their choice. (TI has said that its own tests show that rpLCD won't last as long as DLP, but just how long that would mean in normal use isn't clear to me.)
Is there a solution to fast motion pixelization? Which format handles it better - 780p, 1080i, 1080p? OTA, cable satellite ?
Rob Pegoraro: Everything I've heard tells me that a progressive-scan format is a better format for sports broadcasts or other shows that involve a lot of quick movement (note, for instance, that ESPN picked 720p instead of 1080i).
Very Important Beginner Question:
Should I buy my own digital tuner for my HDTV ready DLP television? The cable companies will rent me one, but does it make any sense to just pay the upfront fee and have my own?
Rob Pegoraro: A few digital sets include CableCard slots; if yours has one, you can definitely save some money by not taking the cable company's box (especially if you get Comcast, which doesn't charge for the CableCard at all). The one tradeoff is not being able to use interactive services like video on demand.
Otherwise, you pretty much have to get the HD converter box if you're going to get cable at all--certainly if you'll be paying for any premium channels.
Greatly enjoyed the articles on HDTV in the Post and agree its an industry that seems to enjoy confusing the heck out of us. Wouldn't you say to some extent the question of "To buy or not to buy" is much like a PC? If you wait, the price will go down on certain models, but new technology will have come out that make that model to some extent one step closer to being obsolete? I bought a 52" rear projection HDTV going on 3.5 years ago. Its a great set, still works like a champ, but yes the $2,200 tv back then is probably under $1,500 now. My friends always say hey if you had waited it would be cheaper - sure, but I also would have missed out on 3.5 years of fantastic TV/DVD watching. So shouldn't people just buy an HDTV already if they want one? I hate to see people (that can afford a set) waiting to buy because they think that either a huge price break is right around the corner or that "magic bullet" technology is about to come out.
No matter when or what you buy, new technology is -always- going to be right around the corner, and prices are -always- going to drop. If you were waiting for both of these things to stop happening, you would end up never buying anything.
Have you heard anything on whether Directv or Tivo is offering an HD version of their box that has large enough recording time to make a difference?
Rob Pegoraro: I wrote a column that tried to answer that question last winter--I'd submit that buying an HDTV is harder than buying a computer. With computers these days, you know that even the entry-level models will handle almost any home-use task quite well. The basic technology isn't going through any revolutionary shifts, just a steady increase in speed and capacity. And the government isn't handing down any regulations over what must or must not be included in the product.
HELP!!! Not a TV question, but we have until tomorrow to spend under $500 for a digital camera. I remember you did reviews not long ago. Can you please help???
washingtonpost.com: Guide to Digital Cameras
Rob Pegoraro: That link should send you to a collection of our recent digital-camera reviews... hope it helps.
One last thought - many stores do not show HDTV sets to their best advantage. To see what HDTV looks like at the very best find a store with a good 1080i tube set (like a Sony KD34xxxx) hooked to an OTA antenna and tuned to the PBS hi def feed in the evenings after 8 pm.
That's when you'll see the "through an open window" quality that "grabs you". A set hooked to Comcast's SA3100 box and tuned to "InHD" or "InHD2" gives a similar perspective.
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the shopping tip.
Is anyone making a digital TV for me? That is - for someone who cares very little about TV? We currently have a 21" set with rabbit ears. The picture isn't great but it does the job. At some point we'd like to switch to digital with an indoor antenna but we don't want to spend any more money than necessary.
Rob Pegoraro: There are under-$1,000, under-30-inch sets--but almost all of them are full-on HDs, even though you're not going to see the difference between 480p and 720p on a 25-inch set from the average couch. So the answer is probably "no," in that you'll wind up buying more than you need at the moment.
So if you had the choice of what kind of HDTV set to purchase, which manufacturer, type of display, size would you buy taking all factors into consideration as you wrote in your Sunday article?
Rob Pegoraro: I'd start by narrowing down the decision in a few ways. First, I can only fit a TV up to a certain size in my living room--maybe 40-ish inches tops. Second, it has to be relatively flat. A big rear-projection model is going to eat up too much floor space. Those factors point me towards either LCD (if I decide 30 inches is enough) or DLP or rpLCD (if I'd want something bigger than that). Beyond that, I just haven't thought this through, and I don't think I'll have to for a little while. My analog set has soldiered on for many years and I'm not expecting it to implode just yet.
Did I actually read you say that Cingular buying (and having to incorporate all of ATT's network into theirs) is going to be a good thing for Cellular users?
Rob Pegoraro: No, I just said it was going to be a fact! Not being a customer of either AT&T or Cingular, I can't say what the outcome is going to be. I do know that AT&T has had serious customer-service problems, and I know that many older wireless-industry mergers have been a mess (witness the debacle that was Sprint turning off the old Sprint Spectrum GSM service, then trying to migrate all those customers to new phones).
When analog TV finally dies and DTV takes over, do you expect that ALL (or at least most) programming will be in widescreen HDTV; or will a lot of stuff available still be in 4:3 standard ratio? The vast majority of HD sets are in widescreen, yet there doesn't seem to be much programming to support that format -- yet. While film is in widescreen, and the networks have made the switch, what's the future for all the rest of the cable channels? And, if widescreen/HDTV is indeed the definitive DTV standard of the future, how soon until it is ubiquitous? In other words, if I wait to switch, will I soon be watching everything in letterbox?
Rob Pegoraro: Possibly. Primetime shows have been airing in a widescreen format (think E.R.) for several years now, and once enough viewers have widescreen sets, there's going to be strong pressure for broadcasters to give them a "normal" picture.
A non-HDTV question ... What's the word on the HP-iPod deal? When are they coming out, are they going to be worth it, or is the Apple version perfectly fine for PC users? I'm currently in the market for a laptop and wondering if this is a good reason to go for an HP notebook over another brand.
Rob Pegoraro: The HP iPod--or, as HP labels it, the "Apple iPod by HP"--looks *exactly* like the real thing. The only relevant difference that I've come across is that HP's warranty runs for a year instead of Apple's 90-day coverage.
What DC channels are UHF or VHF? I'm trying to learn more in order to buy an indoor antenna.
Rob Pegoraro: VHF is channels 2 through 13; UHF is everything else--including all the digital signals.
Once the digital transition is complete--whenever that may happen--broadcasters will, in some cases, have the option of moving their digital signals back to their existing VHF channels. But I don't know if any of them will do this.
I'm considering the HDTV world. Assuming I use Comcast service, what's the biggest hardware mistake I could make? What should I do if cost is no object?
Rob Pegoraro: Buying a really big plasma set that's only capable of EDTV resolution.
Case in point: One of the restaurants in my neighborhood bought one of those big Gateway sets, but, last I checked, did not have it hooked up to an HD signal. Worse yet, the set hadn't been switched into the right aspect ratio, so the 4:3 picture was stretched to fit the 16:9 screen. Everybody's head looked a bit elliptical!
I just found out that HDTV will cost be an additional $10 a month from COX, with no additional payment for the converter. Is it worth it?
Rob Pegoraro: That's a question that I really can't answer for you. Just about all of the HD owners I've spoken to love their TV and are happy to pay the service (some almost embarrassingly so). But many people just don't watch that much TV, and I can think of plenty of other telecom services where we're happy with technology that offers the same quality today that it did 20 years ago. I mean, where's my HD Phone?
Do you think it's worth investing $300 in an OTA antenna based on the amount of HD programming that is available on the networks?
Rob Pegoraro: No. But you shouldn't need to spend that much on an antenna alone--are you talking about the tuner and the antenna? In that case, the answer is a qualified yes; if you're going to buy an HDTV at all, another $300 will be relatively minor to add to the bill.
DC Metro Area : Follow-up:
I have Comcast and use them for high speed internet as well - if I dropped the cable, I would incur a hefty rise in my internet access. Not to mention I doubt I could get approval to put a satellite on the roof of my condo building!;
Rob Pegoraro: Only if you got an apartment-wide satellite system! (They do exist; my old condo occasionally talked about getting one, but nothing was ever done about it.)
DC - Directv Dual tuner HD Tivo?:
Did I read that right that DirecTv offers a dual tuner, HD Tivo? Will this record both HD and non-HD? I am mostly interested in buying the box to be my HD tuner so as to avoid having my Tivo box PLUS a tuner sitting on top of it!
Rob Pegoraro: Yes, the HD DirecTivo, like other digital video recorders we've tried, can record both HD and SD programs.
My theory is that 'old' TV had become a commodity with no opportunity for windfall profits, so now we have 'new', buzzword-compliant TV, which just happens to require special (read 'expensive') signals from your friendly cable provider... I'm thinking seriously of dropping off the TV escalator.
Rob Pegoraro: There's some truth to this. Digital TV has turned television--for a limited period--from a commodity product to a specialty item. The electronics industry *loves* it when this happens, even though it never lasts. Eventually, HDTV will offer the same minimal profit margins as the VCR or the DVD player does today. Just don't know how soon that will be!
Is Comcast ever going to finish upgrading its system in D.C.? I've had the same lame service ever since I moved to Woodley Park in 2002, despite being told every few months that the upgrade would be finished "very soon". If I could, I'd dump Comcast for Starpower or satellite in a heartbeat.
Rob Pegoraro: Uh, I thought Comcast had finished that upgrade. You're in Woodley and you can't get Starpower? I thought that was one of the first neighborhoods they wired for service.
Why did Congress and the FCC pick a modulation, 8-VSB, that cost the consumer ten times in royalties what the rest of the world is paying for their COFDM modulation? Why do we pay more for something that does not work as well? In Australia recently they demonstrated the reception of 1080i HDTV at a higher data rate, 19.76 Mbps, and at 120 kph while using a simple omni antenna. The broadcast was only at 30 kW also which is considered very low in the US for UHF and they were receiving it at 40 kM from the station. If the US had such a robust modulation we would not be testing receivers and installing rooftop antenna.
By choosing a modulation that the rest of the world has rejected we also forgo all economies of scale. It doesn't seem that our representatives are looking out for the consumer.
Rob Pegoraro: New York is raising an old controversy in the digital-TV business--the format used to send the signal over the air. The FCC picked one system, the 8-VSB mentioned here, while in Europe they went with COFDM. The latter was designed from the start to resist multipath interference, which causes "ghosting" in an analog signal that bounces off buildings.
Several years ago, there was a concerted effort to undo this change. A Baltimore broadcasting firm, Sinclair, launched a campaign to get the FCC to switch to COFDM; 8-VSB backers said they could fix multipath problems with upgraded receiver technology. The FCC opted to stick with that system, and here we are. So I'm afraid that protesting about 8-VSB is pointless now--the decision's been made and it is not going to be revisited. There's way too much hardware in the market to go back on it.
Most of this is Greek to me. Here's a simple question. I recently purchased an HD-ready TV, but I refuse to give Comcast more of my income toward a digital box. So, I've resolved to get a progressive-scan DVD player so I can at least watch HD-quality movies. My question is, do I need to have a home theater receiver, or can I route the DVD directly to my TV? Also, what percentage of DVD's in the rental stores are HD quality?
Rob Pegoraro: The "HD-quality" you'll get with a progressive-scan player is actually ED-quality--the player will send a 480p signal to the TV via its component outputs. (Or, if you own one of the two or three players to offer this, its DVI output.) This ED quality is available on all the DVDs out there--it's a free, unadvertised bonus feature.
I'll get an HDTV when:
1. I can get one as cheaply as I can get the same-sized analog TV now.
2. I can get every channel that I want to watch in HD, easily and for the same price that I pay now.
3. When the FCC grows a backbone and tells the content providers that we have fair-use laws in this country that trump any stupid "broadcast flag" requirements.
So, in other words, probably never.
Rob Pegoraro: I'm afraid you're right. The first two items will happen at some point, but we lost the battle on the third one last winter--unless the court case EFF and some other digital-rights lobbies have launched against the broadcast flag yields a ruling against the FCC. That's a big if, but it wouldn't hurt to keep your fingers crossed.
East Lansing, Mich.:
I see my local mass retailer store some good looking reception on Samsung products. Mostly considering DLP sets around 50". Should I trust a Korean mfr or stick with Japanese branded sets?
Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you can "trust" a Korean company. Am I really having this discussion in the year 2004?
San Diego, Calif.:
Intel recently postponed its LCoS chip to upgrade it from 1 to 2 megapixels.
Is it worth the wait for a LCoS HDTV?
Rob Pegoraro: At this point, I would say no. DLP and rpLCD sets are dropping in price on their own, as is LCD itself. Waiting for Intel to get its act together in a field it's never played in before doesn't seem like a good idea from here.
If all TV is going DIgital and eventually HDTV why wouldn't manufactures begin phasing out analog and manufacturing only digital? This certainly would reduce manufacturing cost and reduce the price of the new TVs. Secondly, since the quality and nuances of the plasma vs. LCD vs. projection will eventually be consumer preference and demand, it will not take long to ascertain the dominate standard.
Rob Pegoraro: Some manufacturers made that switch a while back--but those (for instance, I think, Mitsubishi) had already decided to specialize only in very large screens.
BTW, here's a comment from Daniel Greenberg, the writer of the HD-recording piece, about options to boost SD picture quality on an HD set:
You could try a de-interlacer/ line doubler, but they are expensive, often provide minimal improvement and may not be compatibly with your TV.
If your TV has a menu of picture quality settings, You could try tweaking your TV's settings to boost sharpness.
We have to decide within the next week whether to take our new 46" Samsung DLP HDTV set back to Circuit City. We don't know if our problem can be FIXED or if it's NORMAL: In the wide-screen format, everybody (even skinny beach-volleyball players)seems short and fat, and the captions that should be on the screen frequently run off the edges. When you set it at 4/3, the people seem to be ok, but you lose about 10" of screen. Why buy a 46" screen to get a 35" picture? Is it the TV transmission, the set or what??
Rob Pegoraro: Sounds to me like a configuration problem. You might want to post your query to a site called AVS Forum, which is full of some exceedingly knowledgeable HDTV enthusiasts, many of whom have bought Samsung DLPs lately: www.avsforum.com
I've been seeing all these articles claiming the >Verizon v710 has 'crippled' Bluetooth. Being unfamiliar with Bluetooth, I have to ask -- how is the v710 crippled? Isn't it just for handsfree applications or can it do more?
Rob Pegoraro: I just got an e-mail about this from a reader--he said that his new v710 phone won't work properly with the Bluetooth setup in his car (an Acura TL). He can make calls, but not receive them, when he uses that Bluetooth hands-free link.
I took the plunge-- replaced a 10+ year old Trinitron and bought a Zenith c32v37 (integrated HD tuner, CRT) for $800 at BestBuy three months ago. With $3.99 rabbit ears from CVS, I picked up more channels with less tweaking/sensitivity than with Radio Shack or Terk "HD Antennas."
I have a steady diet of 12-15 HD channels from Baltimore and Washington. How could I have possibly gone wrong with this purchase? Is this Nirvana going to last, or is there some tech leap around the corner that will fill me with buyer's remorse?
Rob Pegoraro: Second to last posting, as I've got a bunch of copy to edit this afternoon...
How do I add a digital HDTV without having to replace major components in my current home entertainment system which currently uses a conventional TV? I would like my DVD player, VCR, and 5.1 receiver to still work.
Rob Pegoraro: Yes, they all should still work. You'll just have a slightly different rat's nest of wires around the back of the stereo, depending on whether an HD set has its own tuner or you use an external receiver of some sort.
Rob Pegoraro: And with that, I am outta here. Thanks for all the questions... enjoy the holiday, and I'll be back a couple of Mondays from now.