HDTV and analog signals, converter boxes

Week 31, 2003  

Q:     I would like to purchase a big screen TV between 36 and 46 inches.  HDTV projection TV seemed like the way to go.    Then a friend of mine purchased a Hitachi   43-inch HDTV projection TV.  While DVDs look amazing, his analog cable looks terrible.

I guess I want the best of both worlds.   I want HDTV, but don’t want to sacrifice my viewing experience when I watch a baseball game on regular TV.

The full change to HDTV isn’t scheduled until 2007.   What should I do?   I am thinking of buying a 36-inch regular Sony/Panasonic now, then buy the HDTV in 2007 when everything is the same format.   Or, should I buy a HDTV projection TV and try to manipulate the picture? .

-Joseph Kelly, New Fairfield, CT

A:   Plenty of people, myself included, are enjoying “the best of both worlds” right now with an HDTV projection TV.   That is the course I would recommend to you, but first we must tackle the problem of producing a satisfactory picture with the non-HDTV television channels you are currently getting via cable.

Picture quality can vary greatly between cable companies, and sometimes even between different service areas within the same provider.   Is your cable company the same as your friends?   If it is not, there could be a difference between his picture and yours when using the same television.   Before you buy, it would be smart to see how your cable provider stacks up compared to other cable companies and satellite services DirecTV and Dish Network. You can go to JD Power’s consumer website at http://www.jdpower.com/cc/telecom/index.jsp and make custom comparisons between providers.  

You may want to see if your home has the proper conditions (mainly a clear view of the southwest sky) to use a satellite service.   Many projection TV owners prefer satellite both for the HDTV channels it offers and the excellent picture quality with regular analog channels.   Because the high quality digital signal is delivered directly from the satellite to your home, picture quality is consistently excellent nationwide.

Visit your retailer and have them connect the projection HDTV you are considering to a satellite service delivering analog channels.   If you are happy with the picture in the store, you can be confident it will look the same in your home.   This way you can try your new HDTV with cable and if you are unhappy, just change to satellite, sit back, and enjoy “the best of both worlds”.  

If you don’t like the picture with satellite, you are out of luck as that is about as good as it is going to get.   Either try a different projection HDTV, or buy the 36-inch Sony or Panasonic and enjoy it until 2007.   You can always move it to another room if you buy a projection HDTV four years from now.

Q:   If I buy an analog TV now, will I have to add anything when everything switches to HDTV in 2007?
-Henri Kramer, Marlboro, NJ

A:   When the full transition from NTSC (analog) to HDTV occurs, the analog TV will not be able to display any channels on its own.   You will need a special converter box to converts the HDTV signal into an analog NTSC signal that your TV is capable of displaying.   I would not let this be of any concern to you- buy the TV.

By the time the transition is complete, these converter boxes will be in mass production and prices should be very low, little more than a good VCR costs today.   Cable subscribers will probably receive cable boxes that do the conversion for them.

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