HDTV tuners and antennas, more comments about plasma TVs

Week of June 4, 2006

Q: Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for a tuner and antenna for a HD-ready TV?

-Larry Lilly

A: The antenna is more important than the tuner when it comes to good reception, so I will start there.

For an indoor set-top antenna, my favorite is still the amazing Zenith Silver Sensor, available for under $40. Readers who have purchased it at my recommendation have been universally thrilled. Some of them replaced much more expensive amplified antennas and found the Silver Sensor got them channels they could never receive before or tune HD when they were not able to receive it at all. It is directional so you must point it in the general direction of the broadcast tower of the station you wish to tune.

If you have the luxury of installing a rooftop outdoor antenna, it really is the way to go. Directional models with a rotor are best- my preferences are the Channelmaster directional UHF and the
Gemini-Zenith GEMDTV-1 antenna. For a complete professional installation of a rooftop antenna and rotor you are probably looking at $200 to $300.

HDTV tuners have come down drastically in price and I am pleased to let you know that great picture quality and reception can now be had very inexpensively.

Entry-level tuners will tune HDTV and send it top your TV- this is enough for most people. The Humax HFA100 typically sells for under $200, has an HDMI output and does an excellent job overall. You can see it at www.humaxusa.com.

Spending more probably won’t get you a better picture, but it will get you some extra functionality, such as combination units with a built-in DVR (digital video recorder, like a TiVo) or built-in upconverting DVD player. LG is particularly known for producing components of these type. They sell for between $400 and $500

Panasonic plasma clarification: A few months ago I wrote a column recommending a reader pass on a floor-model plasma TV from Panasonic, citing plasma technology and the specifics of the deal offered. Since then I have heard from a few readers as well as Panasonic and their PR firm, and I believe a clarification is in order.

I am not recommending that readers avoid Panasonic plasma sets, or plasma sets in general. In this particular instance I was recommending that the reader shy away from a floor model plasma. You can never truly be sure about how long the TV has been in use on the sales floor, what the conditions have been, and how it has been handled. Though an extended warranty was suggested by the store as a way to alleviate concerns regarding the set’s age and use, it brought the price close enough to a new television to make the purchase of a new set a better choice.

A floor model can be a good way to save money and get a better set than you have originally budgeted for, but the discount must be considerable (at least 15-20%) and the set in like-new condition. Microdisplays such as DLP and LCD are the best technologies to look for when buying floor models as they do not have risk of burn-in as CRTs and plasmas do.

Plasma technology has advanced greatly in the past few years- prices have come down, picture quality has improved and reliability is within industry norms. Besides the slim form factor, another distinct advantage over a microdisplay is you never have to replace a lamp, which saves several hundred dollars every few years. (A consideration sometimes forgotten when purchasing one of these TVs). As with any purchase, to your homework and check sources such as Consumer Reports for repair history and reliability reports.

These suggestions are a guideline, and the advice I would follow if buying myself. You may find a deal on a TV that is too good to pass up, or perhaps the extended warranty (“protection plan”) is priced low enough to make sense. Weigh all the factors then make a decision based on your own budget, wants and needs, and gut feeling. My gut feeling was to avoid the specific deal recounted in the column.

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