Digital broadcast TV is better than cable

I don't know what your cable TV bill is, but my last one was $90 for hi-def digital stations and "expanded cable," which didn't include HBO. That's way too much. I could have downgraded and killed some of cable’s digital channels services, but why settle for less?

Instead, I attached a Terk HDTV amplified, indoor antenna that I paid about $60 for and now get hi-def channels from all the major network affiliates, including Fox and PBS, in Washington DC, where I live. And thanks to digital, my local stations also broadcast standard-definition channels along with the hi-def channel.

A television station has 19.3 MBS total capability per channel. There is no consensus among broadcasters on the ideal bandwidth for hi-def. Some broadcasters believe 10 to 12 MBS is enough; others say as much as 16 MBS may be needed, according to Lynn Claudy, senior vice president of science and technology at the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.

What this means is that broadcasters have additional capacity to deliver standard-definition channels, with each standard channel using between 2 to 3 MBS and potentially less.

The local NBC affiliate has a high-definition channel, and two standard definition channels, one for weather and another sports. The ABC broadcaster, in addition to its high-definition channel, also has continuous weather on one channel and has another dedicated to TV shows from the 1960s through 1980s.

The PBS affiliate in this area may be the most aggressive with four digital channels: one hi-def and three standard definition channels. It's clearly ready for the Feb. 17 switch to digital.

These broadcasters are still experimenting and the programming on the standard-definition channels has a work-in-progress quality about it, but viewers may easily discover that digital television will deliver anywhere from three to five times the number of analog channels.

What's the reception quality? Unless there's a helicopter flying over my apartment, the digital hi-def broadcast are, in my view, better than cable. More vibrant. I can't explain why. Your mileage may vary.

Approximately 20 million households today rely on over-the-air broadcasting for television. Another 15 million households use an antenna on some TVs, according to the broadcasters association. I doubt that this number is going to decline in this economic downturn and once people check out digital television, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of people who rely on antennas goes up.

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