New Television Questions!
September 30, 2011 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Please Hope me select a new TV.

The parts of our TV snowflake:
1. We will never have cable or satellite, hence, over-the-air signal is what we are going with. (We could afford it but we are stubborn.)
2. We have 26 3/4" horizontal space for this.
3. We currently have a tube set and a digital converter box. Reception is not always great and occasionally we do not get enough of a signal to get one of the stations available.
4. Want to connect with my macbook (aluminum, 5,1) for direct and Netflix streaming. It has a mini display port.

I have sort of tied myself in knots trying to learn about all of the variables, and I am wondering if anyone else here has one of those new flat TV's (LCD? LED?) and uses it to get signals over the airwaves.
posted by Danf to Technology (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If your goal is to connect to your tv for netflix, I would suggest you get an Apple TV along with whatever TV you have (the TV will need to have an HDMI port)... Streams netflix, a few other services, your music and photos from your Mac to your TV.

Someone else will need to answer regarding inputting the over the air signal to your TV... but, and don't say I said this, if you're getting internet via a cable provider, you could probably split off your internet cable and get basic channel TV signals to your TV set....via coax.
posted by HuronBob at 11:32 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have noticed something kind of odd: our old 32" sharp LCD (great tv, really) was never able to receive CBS where we live in Chicago. Earlier this year I bought a 50" Panasonic Plasma and now CBS comes in just fine, but ABC is a little more fussy.

So, I think there's a lot of variance in tuner quality, for one.
posted by Oktober at 11:32 AM on September 30, 2011

Best answer: I am highly qualified to answer your question, since I have been wrangling my parents' television needs, or trying to, for years. We just got them an LCD a few weeks ago.

Signals over the airwaves come in beautifully with an LCD TV. You put it on the ANT (antenna) input source, where other input sources would be a) a DVD player, b) a cable box (which you would not have), etc. You still need rabbit ears, but it's no biggie.

I am unfamiliar with MacBook connecting, although I imagine that that would just be another input source (we have a PC which is connected through the PC Input source).

Samsungs are great, and have been for many years. The one we got my parents is actually a used 2006 model I got from my friend, but I'd been scouring Craigslist for something under 100, and you'd be fine doing the same thing. Samsungs tend to be at the top of the price scale, but the picture can be noticeably better. Of course, YMMV. We have a Toshiba which is very nice.

What you MIGHT try (and you can skip this if it scares you, like it does my mom):
We just got my parents an Apple TV for streaming Netflix. Again, this just connects as another input source, like a DVD player. It's $99; it also gives you access to stuff on your computer (somehow) and stuff you buy/rent from iTunes, including music that plays on your TV like a radio. The user interface is very clean and easy to use, although if you want to spell things out using arrows, it takes a long time.

Now, there are other boxes available at Best Buy or similar that will do similar things. We were intrigued, so we got a Sony box ($69, I think) for our guest room; the Roku box ($79) is another proven box. However, both of them have about 20 other services to which you have access: things like Hulu Plus, some sort of Ultimate Fighting site, etc.

While it is true that the Apple TV is more expensive and offers fewer services, this is actually an advantage for people like my parents (and, possibly, you). They don't need all of those extra services, and in fact are intimidated by them. Plus the Apple TV interface is much more tidy and intuitive, and they're already familiar with iTunes and Apple products.

One other advantage to the Sony or Roku, though, is that they don't require an HDMI port to connect to your TV. If we had gotten one of those, we could have connected it to their old TV using... hmmm... maybe S-video. But I have yet to see any LCD TV which doesn't have an HDMI port.

And let's face it: it is probably time for your media setup to enter 2003.

If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to ask :)
posted by Madamina at 11:33 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, they pretty much all work these days for receiving an OTA signal. In the distant past, ATSC was new enough that there was a difference between the quality of reception between sets; not so much any more. If you watch much TV, get an LED-lit TV, because they use significantly less power than the alternatives. A 46" LED-lit TV uses about the same power as a 15" 4:3 CFL-lit computer monitor LCD. A 32" uses significantly less.

Also, save a little money for an antenna. No sense in missing out on some of the channels you could be receiving.

Where the complication comes in is this: I'm not aware of any TV sets with a DisplayPort. They all do HDMI and component, plus you'll sometimes find VGA and/or DVI. That said, many new TV sets have built-in Netflix/Hulu/whatever players, if that's what you want it for. Or you can get an Apple TV/Boxee box/XBMC box/whatever instead.

I got a 46" Toshiba last month for $800 that is super-thin, has Netflix, widgets, and the like; it even has 802.11n. Unfortunately, all of those features are useless to me, since it's a permanently-installed monitor for a pinball cabinet now. When I was looking around I did see a 32" with all the network features, but it was around $500ish.
posted by wierdo at 11:36 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want something wired, but cheaper than an apple TV, this is what I've done.

I have a mini display to dvi adaptor plugged to my laptop. Then a dvi to hdmi cable connects the computer to the tv. The video comes out in native 1080p, although at 60Hz instead of the tv's 120Hz maximum.

The problem with this setup is, unfortunately, that the sound has to be carried separately. HDMI typically carries sound and video, though, so there is no separate audio-in on the backs of tvs (I think this is usually the case, at least).

This is not a significant problem for me, because I am using a AV receiver to have audio run to my speakers. All I need is 3.5mm to RCA audio cables to hook my computer's audio to the receiver.

The setup works just fine for me, and costs on the order of $15 from monoprice. YMMV.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 11:38 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is it possible to squeeze more than 26" wide? I say this because 32" LCD's are 28" wide without accounting for bezels, and 32" LCD's are a sweet-spot for prices right now. The Fry's ad today (Wilsonville store, long drive from Eugene) has a 32" 720p with HDMI at $249. The other sweet spot for pricing are the 40-42" TVs. Bigger or smaller are more expensive for the relative real estate.

As for the signal issues, consider a DIY antenna. The joke is that these DIY antennas get as good or better signal than the ones you shell out good money for. Here in Portland I've been using a stripped coax jabbed into a soda can and get all but one channel. I tried a generic set of rabbit ears that I picked up at Freddie's and lost half of the channels.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:03 PM on September 30, 2011

DisplayPort to HDMI can be problematic, especially on older MBP's. Here is Apple's list of which support audio out, for example, but even without audio I've been unable to get mine (5,3) to sync well with my TV's. Quite a number of modern TV's take VGA inputs, though, and mine works fine with that (again, audio has to go another way). And Nthing the suggestion to either get Netflix built in, or use an external box (I use a Roku). And quite a number of blu-ray players now come with Netflix built in also, so if you might want to watch video's that's another option.
posted by Runes at 12:06 PM on September 30, 2011

Those DIY UHF HDTV antennas are great (I've made one with much success), but they do a lousy job of bringing in VHF channels. Looks like 3 of the 6 stations that can be receieved in Eugene are VHF.
posted by zsazsa at 12:50 PM on September 30, 2011

Seconding DIY antenna, with the caveat about VHF channels: I also picked up an old RadioShack RF amplifier from Goodwill which can be useful plugged in just down from the antenna if you have marginal signals.
posted by holgate at 12:54 PM on September 30, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all. . .I have heard that the reception is better on the new digital set than it has been with the digital converter boxes (and with as many of those things that were sold, I know I am not alone in my OTA viewing).

Is this true?
posted by Danf at 1:38 PM on September 30, 2011


Newer sets have better ATSC (the new OTA standard) receivers than older sets and the converter boxes that were designed around the subsidy coupons.
posted by Oktober at 3:08 PM on September 30, 2011

I use a recent vintage iMac that has DisplayPort with a DP->DVI and DVI->HDMI converter for Netflix/Hulu and DVDs. It's actually in another room so I use an app called TouchPad on an iPad to control it. I get basic cable for net $2/month, but I still plan to put up an antenna eventually. I'm almost 50 miles from Sutro tower so it'll have to be on the roof. I won't be using my TV's tuner though- I have an Elgato USB tuner.

- It's hard to find a place for the iPad, beverages & snacks in the living room where a drink won't end up in/on the iPad. Even trickier for a MacBook & you have to watch the cable.

- Depending on your viewing distance vs. screen size, the Mac UI might be hard to see on the TV. If you're going to "drive" from the MacBook and can see it's screen then no biggie. Universal Access options might help with this, but I simply move closer to the TV when I'm trying to do something more complicated than play/pause or skipping commercials with EyeTV

- My iMac's screen tears when the TV is on. My guess is that the TV output is running at 59.94Hz but the Mac's screen runs at 60-something. The TV image is rock-solid.

- Crutchfield has a fit finder where you plug in a size & it tells you what TVs fit. Not so useful for 26 3/4" as there's only one out of stock TV just under that size, but useful for bigger sets.

- There are antennas still being sold that work on the VHF-low bands even though those aren't used in many (any?) markets. Maybe only outdoors ones, though. Channels 2-6 are the lowest frequencies so the longest wavelengths & the longest elements on the antenna. UHF + VHF-high antennas are considerably more compact so cheaper & have less wind load, so cheaper/flimsier masts & mounting will work.

- Don't rule out a plasma TV if you can control the ambient lighting in the room. They use more power and generate more heat, but have better contrast and are cheaper.
posted by morganw at 3:12 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

The OTA signal really is better than cable. I installed a outdoor antenna [Channel Master CM 4221HD 4-bay HDTV/UHF Antenna (CM4221HD)] on the roof but there is no reason you couldn't install it indoors somewhere in a closet. It'll work way better than rabbit ears.

We have an aluminum MacBook Pro that we hook up to the TV with a diplayport to HDMI adapter. Don't buy the white Moshi brand that the Apple store sells. It's very stiff and ours stopped getting a clean connection after a couple months. They sell a black one now, with a long lead (can't remember what brand) and it works perfect. Set up it automatic whenever you plug it in and sound is carried by the adapter.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:09 PM on September 30, 2011

Response by poster: So, here is a question. I read that, with Apple TV, I would not be able to simply slot a DVD into my laptop and then play it on whatever new TV set that I purchase. I would need to somehow rip the DVD onto my computer. This seems strange.

But if I got a Griffin or whatever (not Moshi) adapter, I would be able to do this.

True or not true?
posted by Danf at 7:18 AM on October 1, 2011

I don't have Apple Tv but that sounds right. When you pop a DVD into the MacBook drive, it plays in the dedicated DVD player. Apple Tv can only stream things stored in your library, so everything needs to be iTunes compatible.

Having a wired connection means you can play a DVD or just about any type of downloaded file (with the QuickTime Perian helper app or VLC). I used to use FrontRow with the Apple remote but now I tend to use my iPad as a control and just play things from the desktop.

Incidentally, there are a ton of cheap and excellent upscaling DVD players out there and I prefer using them over my computer.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:35 AM on October 1, 2011 "having a wired connection", I mean hooking your laptop to the TV with the display port to HDMI adapter.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:37 AM on October 1, 2011

Not completely sure this is relevant but I just bought an $80 blu-ray player (Dynex) that has Wifi on it and it can therefore stream Netflix. It plugs into my projector (or your tv) with HDMI and therefore there's no need to connect the PC/Mac to the tv itself.
posted by dobbs at 10:28 AM on October 1, 2011

Response by poster: So I just went over to the campus Apple outlet and picked a kid's brains about this. He has Apple TV and loves it. He was showing it to me on the huge display there.

The acid test for me was when I said, "let's play last Thursday's Daily Show (something my wife and I do more nights than not)" and the only way to access it via Apple TV was to go to iTunes and buy it. Since we watch it for free now, I cannot imagine buying it.

But it's cheap, and still considering it.
posted by Danf at 12:45 PM on October 1, 2011

How do you watch the Daily Show without cable -- just online? My mom would love that, but they'll never get cable either.

I think you can access content through your computer via Apple TV, but we haven't finagled that yet.
posted by Madamina at 4:02 PM on October 1, 2011

Response by poster: Madamina, you go here. You can watch the previous night's Daily Show and Colbert Report. But with the Apple TV, you need to pay $1.99 per episode through iTunes. They would need a mini display-HDMI adapter to do it directly from their computer to the TV or they can (as we do presently) just watch it on the computer.
posted by Danf at 4:41 PM on October 1, 2011

XBMC (which will run on the Apple TV, among others) can play an enormous variety of online content using the various plugins which are available. TDS is supposed to work, but I haven't tried it myself.
posted by wierdo at 5:20 PM on October 1, 2011

Response by poster: To close this out, I purchased this, after a lot of looking around. It is a true TV set, rather than mainly a monitor with a tuner added.

Got a mini display ->HDMI from the Apple store, not the Moshi but another one (at work and can't remember the brand). For my Macbook 5,1 it only gave the picture but on my wife's newer Pro it has sound and picture and the quality is good.

I am pleased, and pretty amazed to get stations in HD with just rabbit ears.

Thank you all for your answers.
posted by Danf at 9:27 AM on October 4, 2011

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