Thursday, November 27, 2008

Best Bang for your buck - the Hughes HTL-HD

Best bang for the buck - HTL-HD OTA Receiver

If you've got a HDTV Monitor right now and are running on an antenna, this thing is the perfect solution for you to get free local OTA HD programming. Unlike the government subsdized boxes, this box can actually output HD. I used this baby back in the day on my cruddy 26" Polaroid HDTV Monitor before it pooped out on me.

Compared with the Samsung DTB-H260F ($150), the differences between them are:
The HTL-HD can simultaneously be connected to your basic cable line, the Samsung only has one input which only works with an antenna.
The Samsung has a nice on-screen TV Guide, the HTL-HD doesn't.

Here are some photos of my old rig on the HTL-HD, it can be had for less than $50 on eBay. It's an old DirecTV box but you DON'T need a service card to use it, it works just fine on its own. It's got DVI and Component video outputs so if your TV doesn't have DVI I would opt to use the component video connection.




Monday, November 24, 2008

An antenna that doesn't look like one =)

As a new resident of San Diego, getting reception for OTA stations is more difficult compared with getting reception in LA. Because I had to leave my faithful Terk HDTVa at home for my family's TV, I was in the market for an antenna that was slick looking, had a small form factor, and could pull in stations reliably.

For everyone who is in the market for a better looking antenna, I think the HDA-3700 is a good solution. With its short dimensions of about 5"x8", it is definitely one of the more low key antennas I've come across. Heck, it doesn't even look like one and can blend in very well with your home theatre shadig, or at the very least not look as obvious as a pair of rabbit ears.

Here are some snapshots of it, I'll report back on how well this thing pulls in the stations.

This low reception is typical of stations in my area.

The verdict? Performance was only average, this antenna did not do any better than an old pair of rabbit ears I had lying around. I later got the above image's reception up into the 60's by moving it around but granted it was nothing spectacular. The aesthetic benefits of this antenna do go out the door if you have to orient backwards to get reception. If you live in an area where reception is known to be consistently good, I would give this thing a try just because of its looks. But if you live in an area where reception has been known to be inconsistent, my opinion is that this antenna would perform just the same as all other indoor antennas that are available on the market.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What do I need for the Digital Transition in 2009?

As you all may know analog transmissions for terrestrial television are set to go off on 17 Feb 2009. What does that mean for you? Well first things first, YOU WILL ONLY BE AFFECTED IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY USING AN ANTENNA TO WATCH TV. If you use any form of paid TV service, whether it be basic or HD cable, satelite, FiOS, etc, YOU WILL NOT BE AFFECTED.

Here's flow chart, click below to enlarge in seperate window - enjoy!


Friday, September 21, 2007

Easy & Honest Guide to HDTVs

First off, HDTVs aren't right for everyone.
If you plan on watching HDTV, know that only HD will look good on the TV. If you plan on using basic cable on your HDTV, and only that, save yourself the grief of being disappointed with the lackluster performance of non-HD signals on HDTVs; it would be best to stick to traditional tube TVs if you just plan on watching non-HD programming.

Secondly, just because you have an HDTV doesn't mean that you are watching HD programming.
Having a HDTV in our day and age is like having a color TV during the late '60s. Sure you can have a color TV, but if the show is only in black & white the picture you get will only be black in white. Same goes for HDTVs...sure you have a HDTV but if what you are watching is not HD, then the picture you get won't be HD (which is usually a unrefined, slightly grainy picture that doesn't take up the whole screen...more on that later).

Most consumers who don't know enough about HDTVs think that they are watching HD when in fact they are watching an ugly basic cable channel stretched out to fill the screen. HDTVs are no longer simple plug-and-play devices - one has to make sure you have the right cables, among other things, to get a good picture. Which goes to my next point...

To get a good picture like you see at the store, you must have the 3 Essential Elements (missing any of these WILL result in a grainy, not so great picture on your screen)
  1. HDTV set
  2. HDTV Source (e.g. HD Cable, HD satellite, or "HD Antenna")
  3. HDTV Cable Connections (e.g. HDMI, Component, or DVI Cables)PhotobucketPhotobucket
    • On Composite A/V Cables (Yellow, Red, White): using these on your HDTV is a taboo! These analog cables worked fine with your old tube TV but won't work well for your new HD set. The picture you will get from these cables will be blocky, soft, and just darn distasteful. Use High Definition cables whenever you can: HDMI or Component Cables.

How to implement the "Essential 3" rule:

1) Upgrade your satellite or cable service to HD
Like I've said earlier, basic cable and even non-HD digital satellite looks unimpressive on your new HDTV. Most carriers charge ~$10 extra a month to add HD service to your current package but it is well worth it. DirecTV has been known for the long HD lineup whereas Dish Network has been known for the cheapest HD if all you want is a smaller, more simple package.

2) Antenna OR Basic Cable Line (no box) + HDTV = Free Local HD
Most of the TVs being manufactured since 2006 are made with digital tuners (also called HD or ATSC/QAM tuners). An ATSC/QAM combination tuner allows you to pick up your local digital channels for free, you can do this by plugging either an antenna or basic cable line into the back of your TV directly (without the cable box). If you use a cable box then the way to go is to upgrade to HD Cable and get an HD cable box.

Not all HDTVs have this - an easy way to tell is to see if your TV is just plainly labeled "HDTV" or "HD/HDTV Monitor." Monitors do not have digital tuners built into them and would require an external HD box like the one found here on Amazon.

Digital channels are crystal clear channels that aren't prone to traditional snowy pictures you get with an antenna back in the day. Some digital channels are even HD, naturally widescreen programming that look extra sharp and vibrant. Over the air (OTA) HD broadcasts will give you THE best picture, the reason for this is that the satellite and cable companies usually compress their HD signals to fit more channels into their lineup. With OTA broadcasting, the stations compress their signals less, resulting in better picture and sound. Digital Channel numbers are hyphenated e.g. analog ch. 11 = digital ch. 11-1

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
KNBC 4-1 non-HD "1 vs 100" via antenna
(notice sidebars for non-HD shows)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
KCAL 9-1 Dodgers Game in HD via antenna

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
KVEA 52-1 Telemundo HD News Programming via antenna

  • On "HDTV Antennas": You're probably going to notice "HDTV Antennas" on the market. HDTV labeling on antennas is basically a marketing ploy...any kind of antenna can pick up digital (HD) signals. HDTV labeling on antennas is about making money and tricking the consumer into thinking HD antennas are different from regular antennas, which isn't the case. HOWEVER some "HD Antennas" are designed especially for digital signals, some personal reccomendations being:
    1. Terk HDTVa
    2. Philips Silver Sensor PHDTV1

3) Get an Upconverting or Blu-Ray DVD Player
Generally speaking your X years old DVD player generally won't look that great on your new HD set. If a Blu-Ray player (more on this later) is not within your budget then a DVD player with HD Upconversion is your best bet in getting a good picture from your good old regular DVD collection. Upconversion transforms your regular DVDs into an HD signal before sending it to the TV, making it look better than it would on a regular DVD player. An HDMI cable which is needed for the upconversion feature can be had for less than $10 shipped from e-tailers like Amazon, Monoprice, or Blue Jean Cables.

Blu-Ray DVD players play both standard and Blu-Ray DVDs. It's the next step up from standard DVD players, providing the HD picture and HD sound to your HDTV and home theatre system, respectively. Not only do Blu-Ray players double as an HD upconverting DVD player, you can set the player to display whichever HD resolution you prefer: 720p, 1080i, and 1080p ("Full HD"). Some people make the argument that unless you have a 1080p HDTV you shouldn't get a Blu-Ray player because it would be a waste. I can tell you that is a common misconception, a 720p set can take full advantage of Blu-Ray so long as you set the player to 720p or 1080i, it will look a heck of a lot better than a regular DVD player on your 720p set.

If you have any questions feel free to check out the FAQs. Your comments and feedback are much appreciated!

Misc Things to know about HDTVs

Facts about HD Programming
Sometimes you will get black bars on the side of the TV - that's just how it is.
Not everything is filmed in HD, even if you are watching an HD channel. When something isn't in HD on your TV you'll a square image and black bars on the side. I reccomend NOT adjusting the picture so that you get rid of the black bars! By the time you adjust the picture, you will forget to readjust the picture when actual HD show air.

Hooking up your TV isn't hard. Simply match the colors!
Sometimes I wonder if people like the attention of being so stupid. How hard is it to match the green, blue, and red cables from the DVD player to the back of the TV? Repeat for cable box, game console, and your done. It's even easier when you use an HDMI Cable, it's just one cable for audio and video. All it takes is patience with looking at the user manual.

What's the best cable I could use for my TV? Here's the cable hierarchy:
HDMI (Looks like USB) > Component Cables (Green, Blue, Red) > S-Video > Composite (Yellow)
If your DVD player, cable box, game console, etc has an HDMI output, use that instead of the yellow composite cable. If HDMI is not available on your unit, check to see if it has component output on it (green, blue, and red plugs) and use those instead. HDMI and Component cable interfaces provide your TV with the best signal possible since they are both capable of transmitting HD resolution. S-Video and Composite cables are not HD connections and using those when you can use HDMI or Component cable connections will result in a grainy picture with only a fraction of detail an HD source has. HDMI in theory should be better than Component since HDMI transmits its signal digitally while Component does the same job using an analog signal. In practice, however, HDMI only gives you a slight amount of extra detail which would most likely be discernible to some. The advantage of HDMI is that it does help keep cable clutter down since its slender design transmit both high quality video and sound in one simple cable.

Guard yourself against the Peer Influence
Who cares about what your neighbor Jim said. Peer influence is one of the greatest things that drive people to do stuff. Because of the lack of knowledge typical consumers have, they say things that aren't necessarily true, "Oh honey, we don't want to go with plasma because Jim said that plasmas go out in 5 years." or "Oh honey, we don't want that Pioneer 720p plasma because its only 720p. Let's get the Vizio 1080p LCD because it has higher resolution."
Your neighbor Jim might act like he knows a little especially if he became a recently new owner of a HDTV, but he's basically spewing you the dumb-downed version of stuff that the kid at BB or CC told him, and even that info in itself isn't that great. TV Resolution isn't everything, contrast levels and color saturation are just as important!


Could you please explain why non-HDTV programming (air, cable or DVD) looks worse on HDTV's than on a regular CRT?
The answer lies in the nature of flat-panel technology (e.g. LCDs/Plasma). Images on LCDs and plasmas are made up of small dots that are fixed on the screen called pixels. The number of pixels on those TVs are indicated by the native resolution of the TV - usually it is 1366x768 on most LCDs and Plasmas (these are called 720p models), 1920x1080 on higher LCDs and Plasmas (these are called 1080p models), and on sometimes you get weird TVs that have wacky resolutions like Hitachi's 1024x1080, or 42" plasma's 1024x768. Generally the more pixels on the screen, the better the image is, depending on the brand of the TV of course.

Basic cable channels run on 480i signals, which means that it only has 480 lines of video resolution. Now HDTVs have at least 768 lines of resolution. Try to think of a 480i signal as a 4x6 picture and the HDTV as a 8x10 frame - the picture simply wont fit not only because it is too small, but because the 4x6 picture isn't the same proportion to the 8x10 frame! The only way to fit that 4x6 picture onto the frame is to blow the picture up so that it becomes a the same size of the 8x10 frame. The processing in which the 4x6 picture becomes a 8x10 will only seek to make the image worse (how can you possibly make a blown-up version of a 4x6 picture look as good as the original....the answer is you can't. That's why cable programming looks bad on HDTVs.

So if you are feeding your TV a small resolution signal (e.g. 480i from basic cable, or 480p from a progressive scan DVD player), the image won't look that great. If you feed it a signal that is close to its native resolution of 720p or 1080p, e.g. 720p or 1080i signals, then it will look fine.
That answers why basic cable looks like crap on HD sets. Now to the reason basic cable can still look good on a tube. A tube TV has a series of ray guns in its back that provides you with the picture you see on the screen. The screen on the tube TVs don't have fixed, physical pixels on it. In fact, the tube TV ray guns can display exactly what you feed it. For example, if you feed your tube a 480i basic cable channel, it will display all 480 lines without having to blow up the image to fit 768 lines like an HDTV. This is a rather crude explanation, but I'm sure you can find a better one on One way to think of it is that a tube playing basic cable is using a magnifying glass to blow up an image; there is practically no distortion. On the other hand, if you try to blow it up with an HDTV, think of yourself copying and pasting the same image from before onto MS Word and dragging the arrows to make the image bigger, it simply looks bad. Both can blow an image up to a certain size, it's just that tubes can do them better than flat-panels.

720p vs 1080p, which one should I get?

If you had to choose between name-brand 720p or budget brand 1080p HDTV, I’d go for the name-brand TV. Things like contrast ratio and overall picture should be the deciding factor, not simply just the pixel count. You are going to have friends who will tell you otherwise but it's peer influence coming from ignorant people make the average person make sometimes not-so-wise decisions. The benefits of 1080p are usually only noticed when you are sitting close to the screen and/or when the television is big (50"+).

Buying Guide - What NOT to buy at your local Electronics stores

With prices of TVs and DVD players going down, electronic stores have, for the past few years, expanding their profiting outlook by upselling accessories at ludicrous markups. Below is a list of things you shouldn't buy at your local B&M electronics store. By foregoing paying ludicrous prices on accessories at these stores, you can find much cheaper yet comparable equivalents online. Please read on to find out more...

Markups for most computer and TV accessories are excessive....we are talking 80-200%. About a couple years ago stores started marking up cable prices, justifying their actions by saying that cables are essential to the picture quality of your TV. True, cables are important but paying $80+ for a video cable is ridiculous, especially if you need a couple of them (I guess if theres a way to make money, they do it)? and other websites offer cable accessories of the comparable quality for significantly lower prices. For those who tout retail warehouse membership, you can get decent deals on cables as well, though not as cheaply as you can on Monoprice.

Warranties (consider only if your brand is a budget brand)
Most extended warranties your B&M stores sell nowadays aren't actual extended. Most of them nowadays supersede the manufacturer warranties, meaning if anything was to go wrong with your product during year 1, you can go back to where you bought the item and try to have them fix. That isn't so bad in itself, in fact it can be more convenient since they usually are quicker than what the manufacturer process would put you through. The fact is that your product was made to last at least a year, or however long the original warranty would have covered, so by having the manufacturer cover the first year is them taking on less of a burden. Whereas a 3-year extended would have given you a total of 4 years product protection, a 3-year warranty would only give you 2 years in addition what you would have originally had.

The good name brand TVs malfunction less than the budget ones; I draw this conclusion based on what I see returned at stores. My friend got a Proview at Costco and it went out in couple months, I myself once owned a Polaroid and it wouldn't stop giving off this electronic burning smell (aka new TV smell) for months. I eventually went through the manufacturer's outsourced Warranty service in Canada, Prima Worldwide was what it was called, and after many angry messages left on the supervisor's machine, I got a swap-out replacement at the original store I purchased my TV at, but not without a lot of hassle and 2+ months of waiting. The warranties provided by Worst Buy are actually reasonably priced, and Circuit Sheety has a very comprehensive and fair protection plan. So consider it if it's a cheap TV, but don't if its something well known like Sony or Panasonic because you're more likely than not never going to use it.

Surge Protectors
I honestly don't know as much as I should about surge protectors, but if a $25 one has a guaranteed $10,000 insurance policy on it, why would you pass that up for a $300 fancy surge protector. To my knowledge, a fancy surge protector won't significantly boost the performance of any of your electronic components. So long as a cheap surge protector has a good guaranteed (some will only replace the surge protector and will only cover damaged merchandise at their discretion), go for the cheaper ones.

Wall Mounts

Markup for these things are pretty high as well, and its really hard to find a place that sells them with a low profit margin. Luckily for us Man invented Costco and

***TIP*** Free Extended Warranty & Accidents Protection

Something the common consumer doesn't know is that most Platinum and even gold level credit cards will double the warranty of your merchandise up to a year. Read more on this on the website of your Credit Card company to find out details and if this is applicable to you.