HDTV: Clearing up the Confusion - Part One

HDTV (high definition television) is an exciting new technology that will change your television viewing experience. However, this new technology, with its very technical terms and concepts, has confused many consumers.

Some consumers have bought very expensive HDTV monitors only to find out that they needed to spend hundreds of dollars more for additional equipment. That's why NewsCenter 16 has put together this general guide to educate viewers before they decide to buy.

The key to enjoying television in high definition starts with these three steps:

  • Decide how you want to receive high definition programming
  • Buy an HDTV monitor with a digital tuner
  • Watch shows created and broadcasted in high definition

Decide how you will receive high definition programming
Before buying an HDTV monitor, you need to decide how you are going to receive HDTV programming in your home. Will you watch local channels off air using an antenna? Or, will you subscribe to an HD service offered by a cable or satellite provider?

Currently, in Michiana, four local TV stations are broadcasting over the air in HD.

  • WNDU NBC (Digital channel 16.1)
  • WSBT CBS (Digital channel 22.1)
  • WSJV FOX (Digital channel 28.1)
  • WNIT PBS (Digital channel 34.1)

To receive these channels off air, you must have an HDTV monitor, a digital tuner (see more on tuners below) and an antenna. Depending on your location, you will need the same type of antenna you use to receive current analog broadcasts. If you currently require a rooftop antenna to receive a signal, the same goes for HDTV.

Some local cable providers have begun to offer HD service. Typically, this is a service you subscribe to in addition to other cable services. If you have "digital cable" you do not necessarily have high definition service. Check with your local cable provider for a list of channel packages offered in high definition.

One other source of high definition programming is a satellite TV provider. There are two major players in this field of television service: DirecTV and Dish Network.

Both satellite providers offer HD service for additional subscription and equipment fees. However, keep in mind that as of this writing, they do not, in Michiana, offer local channels in HD. Both offer locals in standard definition but not HD.

So, if you subscribe to their HD service you will need to watch local channels over the air to experience true high definition. In time, this will change as the satellite providers upgrade and expand their services.

After you've decided how you will receive high definition television, the next step is to go shopping!

Buy an HDTV monitor with a digital tuner
Visit any home electronics store and you'll find a plentiful selection of HDTV monitors in all types and sizes. But one very important tip you need to know before you buy is that you will need a digital tuner to watch true high definition television.

Sometimes, an HDTV monitor will already have a digital tuner built-in. Others may not have a tuner at all or may have an analog tuner, which lets you watch standard definition TV. Those monitors require you to buy a separate digital tuner to pick up, off air local channels. Alternatively, you could use a tuner/receiver provided by your cable or satellite provider (HD service subscription required).

When buying an HDTV monitor be sure to ask if your monitor has a built in digital tuner. If your monitor says "HDTV ready" it may not have a tuner. That phrase usually means "this monitor is ready to accept connections from a separate digital tuner."

Do your homework before you shop and ask several questions at the store. This is key to not being disappointed when your smart-alec nephew visits and breaks the sad news that you haven't been watching The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in high definition!

So, you bought the biggest and best HDTV monitor out there and you have a digital tuner, now to the fun part: what to watch!

Watch shows created and broadcasted in high definition
The number of shows and programming offered in high definition is always increasing, but not all shows are broadcasted in high definition.

Each channel is different. They may broadcast all of their content in HD all the time or only at certain times of the day. To be sure that the show you are watching is in high definition, check your local listings. Also, watch for an "available in HD banner", which is sometimes shown during the program.

On NBC, many prime time shows are offered in HD. Visit our HDTV listings page for more information.

DirecTV and Dish Network currently offer these channels with their HD Packages:


  • ESPN2-HD
  • Discovery-HD
  • HDNet
  • HDNet Movies
  • UniversalHD
  • HBO-HD (premium)
  • ShowTime-HD (premium)
  • NFL Sunday Ticket-HD (premium)
  • Pay-per-view in HD

Dish Network

  • Discovery-HD
  • HDNet
  • HDNet Movies
  • TNT-HD
  • HBO-HD (premium)
  • ShowTime-HD (premium)
  • Pay-per-view in HD
  • Voom Pak (premium)

Beyond broadcast and pay television, high definition movies on DVD are still in its infancy.

HDTV monitors are backwards compatible. This means you can still watch movies using your current DVD player or VCR. But to view movies filmed in high definition, you will need an HD DVD player.

High definition DVD is currently locked in a format war between "Blue-Ray DVD" and "HD-DVD". Each format is backed by major companies and at this time, they are not compatible with each other. But until the dust finally settles, and one format becomes the standard, the cost of HD DVD players will remain high and the selection of HD movies on DVD will remain low.

Visit the following sites for more information on high definition DVD players:

Buying an HDTV can be very confusing. To raise awareness and educate consumers, the FCC has also put together an informative guide on HDTV. Visit http://www.dtv.gov/ for more information.

Find out more...

The Digital Transition
What will you need to do when all TV stations switch exclusively to digital television?

Terms and concepts you should know before you buy an HDTV set.

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