Questions about HDTV
December 8, 2003 1:31 PM   Subscribe

I've got some HDTV questions

When did TV get so complicated? I've been actively researching HDTV and TiVo junk for the past six months or so and as I wire my dream home theater in my head, I'm trying to figure out how best to accomodate the plethora of choices.

So far I've got these requirements: 16:9 TV (probably going with a cheap simple tube TV until big LCDs are cheaper), 5.1 surround sound, progressive DVD player, DirecTV, DirecTV HD, and over-the-air-HDTV. So far I've got a triple LNB dish hooked up with two cables leading to my DirecTV recording TiVo.

Soon DirecTV is going to have a HDTV TiVo recorder, so once that comes out, I think I'll be fine with that magical box attached to my current system. I'd like to get OTA signals as well, which I hear requires another separate antenna. Does that go on the roof or are there small units that fit inside a house? Do I need some sort of magical switch box to change from OTA to DirecTV and back?

Also, does anyone know of a good Home Theater receiver/amp that can connect all these things together with composite jacks (my current hub is all s-video as the best possible connection). Should it also handle DVI input if I eventually get an LCD screen?
posted by mathowie to Technology (27 answers total)
 
I've heard it's better to wait til all the differing standards and tech issues are all worked out...how much is being broadcast/cabled in real HD now anyway?
posted by amberglow at 1:49 PM on December 8, 2003


how much is being broadcast/cabled in real HD now anyway?

It's all fairly worked out, standards-wise, but there are currently about 10 channels of DirecTV content and over the air, I heard all the major prime time network shows and all of PBS is being broadcast in HDTV. It's still early adopter stuff, but will eventually be the norm (hopefully it won't be so difficult to do by then).
posted by mathowie at 1:53 PM on December 8, 2003


I get my 24 and Alias episodes in what appears to be near-DVD quality from, uh, various sources. They all claim to be HDTV and to be honest I am *very* impressed.

I'd say just get a big monitor w/a good sound system and eMule and/or Usenet and you're good to go.
posted by WolfDaddy at 1:54 PM on December 8, 2003


Somewhat off-topic, but I've been holding off on the wireless mp3 components and 802.11b DVD players until things get further along. In the meantime, this has been a terrific compromise for $40. Now I'm off to eMule for Alias episodes. And then I'll get completely frustrated and just drop $100 on the two DVD sets.
posted by yerfatma at 1:58 PM on December 8, 2003


I've heard it's better to wait til all the differing standards and tech issues are all worked out...how much is being broadcast/cabled in real HD now anyway?

I'm still trying to sort this stuff out myself, but this slate article seems to indicate that due to the November 4th FCC mandate, it would be better to purchase an HDTV prior to July 1, 2005, because all digital TV sets built after that date will "need to include an anti-piracy system called a broadcast flag" which will not only attempt to (ineffectually) defeat our friends at eMule, but will also add quite significantly to the price.

Matt, thanks for adding the "Ask Metafilter" category - I think its very cool, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who will be reading the answers presented here with interest.

Are you going to announce it on the sidebar?
posted by anastasiav at 2:15 PM on December 8, 2003


Articles like this fromWired from Sept. re: standards and stuff have led me to decide to wait: The Federal Communications Commission voted 5-0 to approve the new technical and labeling standards, which seek to allow digital cable signals to flow seamlessly into TV sets without the need for a set-top box. Companies want high-definition sets with this "plug-and-play" technology available next year...Under the rules approved Wednesday, consumers would still need set-top boxes to use two-way services such as video on demand, some pay-per-view programming and customized electronic programming guides. Cable and electronics companies are working on an agreement to simplify two-way services...Digital tuners, either inside a TV or a set-top box, will be needed to receive broadcasts over the airwaves after the nation switches from analog to digital signals. Congress has set a goal of December 2006 for the switch over.
It seems like whatever you buy now won't be compatible unless you have an extra box, while if you wait a year you'll be all set for the 2006 switch. (and on preview, if you buy between the new sets next year and when anastasiav's link's deadline happens, you should be set re: copying)
posted by amberglow at 2:21 PM on December 8, 2003


Matt: take a look at this: a DVD player, under $300, with straight DVI output. I haven't seen this myself, but a colleague has shared several review/articles with me that claim it's absolutely astonishing. There are tricks to getting it perfect, but well worth it, considering the price.
posted by JollyWanker at 2:31 PM on December 8, 2003


You missed Michael Powell and it went all over poor amber. Now go for a damn walk.

There is tons of commentary on the broadcast flag, just buzz over to C|Net and do a search. My suggestion is to keep a cheap DVD player (Apex?) around that will play DVDs no matter which country they are coded for.
posted by anathema at 2:37 PM on December 8, 2003


Or see if you can hack your current DVD player.
posted by yerfatma at 2:52 PM on December 8, 2003


I knew you were all rich white guys.

Matt, look into Harmon Kardon receivers. I can't afford one, myself, but they're magnificent.
posted by The God Complex at 2:54 PM on December 8, 2003


Do I need some sort of magical switch box to change from OTA to DirecTV and back?

You can get a coax A/B switch for five dollars at Radio Shack. With this method, you'll gave to manually switch back and forth, but I've been using it for a while and it's only a minor inconvenience. Coax-capable antenna and DTV go in, TV comes out.

(The switch that I got is a bit flimsy. Spend more than five bucks.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:57 PM on December 8, 2003


Most OTA antennas are mounted on the roof or in the attic, but there are set tops on the market. What you need depends on where you are, signal strength and multipath distortion being the critical variables. Antennaweb is a good starting point.

You can run DirectTV and broadcast over the same (RG-6) cable. However, you have to be careful to use the proper combiner. The satellite dish needs DC power at the LNB to power the system. Amplified antenna systems also need DC power at the amplifier to power them. This power is supplied over the same RG-6 as your TV signal and usually comes from your set top receiver (or a separate power supply as with amplified antennas). Most combiners will not handle DC, and therefore are not compatible with powered LNB's and antennas. To run your satellite dish properly, you will need a combiner that is DC passive on at least one input. If you also need power at your antenna, you will need a combiner that is DC passive on both ports.

The simplest magical switch box to change from DirectTV to OTA and back again is your remote control (Antenna A, Antenna B, etc.).

Regarding the receiver, there are a ton of choices that will handle the kind of setup you are envisioning. The most important thing is to match it to your speakers (power, warmth, brightness, etc.). Sam's Club sells Nakamichi now.
posted by JParker at 2:57 PM on December 8, 2003


I was casually browsing the catalogs in this Sunday's paper, looking at HDTVs (or so I thought), some of them say "digital ready", some of them say "High Definition*" and the fine print says "requires optional Digital Tuner", no price specified. Still others have the HDTV 'logo' next to the TV, but nothing in the description about HDTV. Very confusing, at least for me. Anyone know of any good listings anywhere of exactly what shows/channels are being broadcast in HDTV now? I still wonder if it's even worthwhile yet.
posted by kokogiak at 3:09 PM on December 8, 2003


(probably going with a cheap simple tube TV until big LCDs are cheaper)

Be sure that whatever display you purchase will support the 720p, 1080i, and 1080p formats since this is what broadcasters and filmmakers here in the US are moving towards.

Also, you may also want to consider a rear-projection system based on DLP technology rather than an LCD. They are roughly equivalent in price, but are much brighter than LCDs and can be viewed from a wider angle. The major drawback is that they currently support a fixed resolution of 720p, but by the time you're ready to purchase one, this may be a non-issue. The DLPs also have a Xenon bulb that will need replacement after some number of usage hours.
posted by MrBaliHai at 3:21 PM on December 8, 2003


Oh, and here's a pretty decent writeup comparing the pros and cons of various display technologies.
posted by MrBaliHai at 3:24 PM on December 8, 2003


kokogiak, for those ads, you'll want to stick to stuff with a HDTV logo near it, they usually say HDTV-capable, and that means it can output a 16:9 picture that is anywhere from 480i (lowest definition) to 1080i (highest - 1,080 lines of resolution). You'll need a box to decode HDTV signals, and that's currently around $500 for most systems (cable or satellite). With over the air, you just need an antenna, right JParker and MrBaliHai?
posted by mathowie at 3:30 PM on December 8, 2003


HDTV Q&A [via Gizmodo]
posted by anathema at 3:34 PM on December 8, 2003


Better link.
posted by anathema at 3:38 PM on December 8, 2003


16:9 TV (probably going with a cheap simple tube TV until big LCDs are cheaper)

You might want to look at big 4:3 tv's too if you're looking at tubes. ISTR that a 36" 4:3 has a 16:9 window just a smidge smaller than a 34" 16:9, and Sony makes a 40" 4:3 with a 16:9 window bigger than 34" for the same price as their 34" widescreen.

Also, does anyone know of a good Home Theater receiver/amp that can connect all these things together with composite jacks (my current hub is all s-video as the best possible connection).

I think you mean component, not composite?

There are lots of receivers out there that can do video switching for component inputs; most have enough bandwidth for HDTV but ya gotta check specs. Even if you're buying elsewhere, crutchfield.com is a great source for information.

Receivers that let you connect 1 component, 3 s-video, and 2 composite in with 1 component out to the tv are rarer, seem to start at ~$1K, and are finicky about video quality from customer reports.

Should it also handle DVI input if I eventually get an LCD screen?

I don't remember seeing this on any receivers yet while cruising specs, but you might be able to get this on a very expensive one.

You'll need a box to decode HDTV signals, and that's currently around $500 for most systems (cable or satellite). With over the air, you just need an antenna, right JParker and MrBaliHai?

No no no no no. Usually you'd need an STB, except in a few models.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:41 PM on December 8, 2003


Read the labels on the sets carefully. Not all will do 1080i, and for compatibility with digital film formats, 1080p is even better. And btw, the 480i format has a 4:3 aspect ratio, not 16:9, so when you buy a display, make sure you see what a standard-definition image looks like on it. Some HDTV sets don't do SDTV very well.

With over the air, you just need an antenna, right...?"

As long as the display has a tuner in it, yes. Not all do.

I work with HDTV post-production and digital-cinema equipment, so I haven't done a lot of research into antennas yet, but it looks like stores are starting to carry them now. I assume that means the ATSC has settled on a transmission format.

posted by MrBaliHai at 3:52 PM on December 8, 2003


closing italics tag. nothing to see here. move along
posted by MrBaliHai at 3:53 PM on December 8, 2003


mathowie: You'll need a box to decode HDTV signals, and that's currently around $500 for most systems (cable or satellite). With over the air, you just need an antenna, right JParker and MrBaliHai?

      ROU_Xenophobe: No no no no no. Usually you'd need an STB, except in a few models.


Actually, it (generally) depends on where you're sourcing the signal. For OTA broadcasts, you (usually) just need a TV set capable of receiving the HDTV signal, no box. If your satellite company or your local cable company provides the HDTV signal in question, you need to rent or purchase their HDTV cable box, although a few cable companies do allow a generic HDTV set-top box to be used instead of their box.

This whole area is complex enough that it is definitely worth asking equipment-specific questions, and making sure you have good return policies in case the salesman is lying.
posted by JParker at 3:55 PM on December 8, 2003


closing italics tag. nothing to see here. move along

MetaFilter does that for you.
posted by kindall at 4:58 PM on December 8, 2003


[homer]
MetaFilter, is there anything it can't do?
[/homer]
posted by MrBaliHai at 6:26 PM on December 8, 2003


The DLP TVs are pretty cool. They're not as thin as LCDs, but my friend just picked up a 65" TV and it's probably only a foot or so deep, which is way better than the older projection TVs that took up half the room.

He's been trying to figure out all the HDTV stuff too, and he's been looking at the Samsung SIRTS160, which is a receiver that connects a terrestrial antennae and DirecTV and has all the outputs you would want. This box (and possibly the other newer boxes) can integrate both sources and even put them onto the same channel guide so you won't need to manually switch. The main problem is that it's got no built-in TiVo. Since the DirecTiVo HDTV box has yet to come out, I'd hope it would have similar functionality.
posted by hanqduong at 1:33 AM on December 9, 2003


Ditto what others have said about 16:9 aspect ratio vs. 4:3. If you were to get, let's say a 34" 16:9 set, your view of 4:3 source would result in a tiny picture with black bars on the sides. The flip side is that watching 16:9 source on a 4:3 set results in black bars on the top and bottom, but it's easier to get used to.

I bought a Sony KV32HS510 32" direct view set earlier this year. It has most inputs you would need for the near future (Component, s-video, AV, DVI). As for OTA HDTV, satellite or cable providers will likely feed you the locals when the time comes anyway, so the need for a built in HD tuner is debatable.

The technology that looks promising is DLP, but I think that will evolve over timje with better designs.
posted by SteveInMaine at 4:14 AM on December 9, 2003


I have the Samsung DirecTV HDTV receiver and it came with the over the air antenna that attaches to the dish. The antenna looks like a wing and it's about four feet long. You can select either analog or HD signals from the DirecTV guide so you won't need a switch. You'll actually see all three channels on the programming guide. One over-the-air, one over-the-satellite and one HD channel. You can also get the HDTV package from DirecTV that includes a handful of channels with somewhat limited programming.

I would wait until the HDTV Tivo comes out. I only watch HD three to four times a week. Despite the reduction in quality, I'd still rather use Tivo. The few exceptions are sports and movies.
posted by iscavenger at 12:16 PM on December 9, 2003


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