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HDTV FAQs: What do I Need to Get to be Able to Watch HDTV?

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You need several things to get in order to watch HDTV television programs:

1. A source of HDTV programming: Broadcast, Satellite, or Cable

Before making any decision on whether to buy an HDTV of any type, check with your local programming sources to see if HDTV service is available in your area.

2. An external indoor or outdoor antenna (If your HDTV has a built-in HDTV Tuner), HD-satellite box, or HD--cable box, or HD-Set-top box.

Your available HDTV programming sources determines what you need to receive them. If HDTV signals are available over-the-air, but they are not passed along through your local cable system or satellite provider, then you will have purchase an antenna to receive the signals. The specifics of your location in relation to the TV transmitter will determine whether an indoor or outdoor antenna is appropriate.

If your local cable company provides HDTV service, make sure you know the pricing of their service, and whether you need to pay a fee to rent or purchase their HDTV cable box. Inquire if a generic HDTV set-top box can be used instead of their box. Lastly, make sure you understand which HDTV channels are offered, many cable systems offer some national HDTV programming, but may not offer HDTV feeds from local station affiliates. If that is the case, you may need to get both cable and an antenna to get all of the nationally and locally available HDTV programming.

Since DirecTV, and DishNetwork Satellite offer HDTV service, find out if what they each offer suits your needs, in addition, just as with cable, satellite services offer some national HDTV programming, but may not always offer HDTV feeds from local station affiliates.

3. An integrated HDTV or an HD-upgradable (or HD-ready, HD-compatible) TV

An integrated HDTV is one that has a built-in HDTV tuner built in to the TV. The advantage is that you don't have to spend additional money for an external box to receive HDTV. However, the disadvantage is that if you subscribe to a cable or satellite service, their box may be required to receive their HD channel service. Also, if standards or technology do change, you are stuck with the tuner you have in the set. However, this is unlikely for the foreseeable future.

An HD-upgradable, HD-ready, or HD-compatible TV has everything you need to watch HDTV once your HDTV signal is acquired, but you must add an additional set-top box to receive HDTV signals. The advantage is that you have the flexibility to add the type of set-top box that suits your needs, such as broadcast, satellite, or cable. The disadvantage is that you may have to pay, rent, or lease the set-top box in addition to paying for the TV itself.

In addition, some HD-upgradable televisions have a special slot that allows Cable TV providers to simply insert a special card, referred to as a Cable Card, that enables your TV to receive cable television channels, including HDTV channels. Of course, you still have to pay subscription fees, and the card has to be removed if you move to another area with a different cable service. In addition, since the Cable Card is inserted into the TV directly, you may still need a separate cable box for you to be able to record cable TV channels on your VCR or DVD recorder. You must check all this out with your Cable TV provider.

NOTE:All HDTVs sold since 2007 are of the Integrated type, which means they have their own built-in HDTV tuners.

4. The Role of ATSC and QAM Tuners

All TVs (Standard Resolution Digital TV and HDTVs) going forward, are now required to include an ATSC Tuner to receive over-the-air DTV and HDTV television broadcast signals. However, although all TVs made from this point on will be able to receive over-the-air HDTV signals, only HDTVs will be able to display HDTV signals at full resolution.

The ATSC tuner requirement also applies to all video recording devices that include a tuner (such as VCRs and DVD recorders). However, to get around this, some manufacturers also sell DVD recorders without any tuner at all. In this case, you must have a Cable or Satellite Box, or DTV converter box to record television programs. Also, since standard VCRs and DVD recorders cannot record high definition resolution video, all HDTV programing is downscaled to standard definition in order to record it the programming to VHS tape or DVD.

In addition to ATSC tuners, many Digital and HDTVs, as well as some DVD recorders, also include what is referred to as a QAM or Clear-QAM tuner. This type of tuner allows the HDTV to receive unscrambled, non-premium, HD-cable signals without the need for a cable box. Check with your Cable TV provider for more details if this available in your area. The inclusion of a QAM tuner in an HDTV or video recording devices is not required, but is becoming more common. If this feature is important to you, check the TV specifications to see if a QAM tuner is included.

5. High Definition Viewing from an Upscaling DVD Player, Blu-ray, and/or HD-DVD Player

In addition to high definition television shows, another way to get the most out of your HDTV is with an Upscaling DVD player, Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD player. In order take full advantage of this viewing option, your HDTV needs to have either an HDMI or DVI-HDCP connection.

Upscaling DVD players have the ability to match the pixel resolution of a standard DVD to that of your HDTV. Although this is not the same as watching your DVD in true high definition, you will see a definite improvement in the image quality of your DVDs when played on an upscaling DVD player through an HDTV.

For more details on what DVD Upscaling is and how it works with HDTVs, check out my article: DVD Video Upscaling - Important Facts.

As mentioned in the above paragraph, as good as DVD upscaling is, what you really need to enjoy pre-recorded video in true high definition is a Blu-ray or HD-DVD player connected to your HDTV. It is important to note that HD-DVD was discontinued in 2008 (although some are still in use), which has resulted in Blu-ray being the best option for accessing high definition content from a disc-based format. For all the details, check out my Guide to Blu-ray and Blu-ray Disc Players.

6. Internet Streaming

Another way to access high definition content is via select internet streaming services. The important factor here is that either your TV needs to be a Smart TV or you need to connect an external device, such as a Network Media Player or Media Streamer to your TV via HDMI connection.

Some internet streaming services provide some (Netflix), or most (Vudu), of their content offerings in a high-def option (may be 720p or 1080p), but the key thing is that you need a fast internet connection to take advantage of any high-definition streams. Also, even you access high-definition internet streams, the quality will still not be quite as good as what you can get off of the same content accessed from a Blu-ray Disc.

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