Dump your Cable or Satellite bill with free HDTV

Summary:For those of us who only need local HDTV, now is the time to switch to OTA (Over the Air) HD broadcasts and dump the expensive Cable or Satellite services. Even if you don't plan to dump Cable or Satellite, why pay an extra $10 a month for local HD programming? The equipment is now cheaper than ever with these Black Friday deals so get your shopping carts ready. Not only is the TV service free but it looks better than ever.

It's that time of year again when we kick off the Christmas shopping season with the biggest sale of the year after Thanksgiving called the Black Friday sales.  If you're going to buy things for this holiday season, this would be a very good day to find some awesome discounts if you're willing to get up at 3 AM in the morning on a Friday morning.  Just be careful and aware of your personal safety since there are a few bad apples roaming around.  There are also news stories of people getting trampled at stores like Wal-Mart every year.

Last week I ended my Dish TV service because I got sick and tired of paying the high monthly bill when my family rarely watches TV.  Since my DLP HDTV has an ATSC HDTV tuner built in, I am getting all the major networks and all the local channels in glorious digital 480i, 720p, and 1080i for free.  This means you get everything from Monday Night Football [UPDATE 1:10PM - someone pointed out to me that this ended this year and MNF moved to ESPN but you can still get college and Sunday football and other sports in free HD], the Opera, the Ballet, Desperate House Wives, and many other programs in perfect high definition.  Some of my friends have noticed what I'm doing and asked me how they can get the same thing for their homes and what kind of TV do they need to buy.

All I did was get a $40 outdoor antenna from Radio Shack and a $10 mounting kit.  Radio Shack also has a pretty useful amplified coax splitter if you have more than one HDTV or an HD tuner in your PC in addition to an HDTV.  I also tried this internal antenna from SnapStream Media and it works pretty well for an internal antenna if it's placed high enough or in a good position.  You may have to adjust the positioning to get certain channels so it's not as effective as an external antenna.  I also tested the DVICO FusionHDTV 5 RT Lite on a PC to record over the air HDTV/SDTV broadcasts and it gave me a perfect digital rip on the hard drive.  I got some cheap RG-6 100' cables from my local Fry's Electronics since it cost a lot more at Radio Shack.  If you don't live near one, just search for RG-6 on the Internet and there are plenty of bulk distributors that are inexpensive.  [UPDATE 1:10PM - Someone reminded me that there is no such thing as an HD antenna and that any existing outdoor antenna and cabling you may already have will work just fine.]  As for the HDTV you'll need, this is where the Black Friday specials come in.

Most older HDTVs that were sold before 2006 didn't come with ATSC tuners and you were stuck with what was called an "HD ready" TV.  That means you couldn't actually watch HD programs until you purchased premium HD service from your cable or dish provider or you purchased a separate ATSC HD tuner which could easily cost you more than $200 and some times much higher.  The good news is that even the cheap smaller TVs have digital tuners built in because the US Congress has mandated an end to analog TV broadcasts around the end of this decade.  Here are some great deals on TVs with built in ATSC digital tuners.

  • Wal-Mart has this non-HD 27" TV for $180 with a standard definition digital tuner.  It doesn't display high definition but you can at least get clear digital broadcasts wherever you can get at least half a signal.  The analog signal might be all distorted with snow artifacts but the digital signal comes in perfectly.
  • Best Buy has this 51" 1080i 51" Hitachi projection HDTV for $700 with an HD tuner built in.  For a 1080i HDTV of this size with an HD tuner built in, this is probably the lowest price I've seen.
  • If you want a higher quality LCD model with 1366x768 resolution that is clear enough to double as a massive computer monitor, Best Buy has this 32" Westinghouse LCD HDTV with HD tuner for $480.  The normal price is $800.  Even though it only rated as a 720p TV, it will still down sample the 1080i streams and the 1366x768 resolution LCD means it's clearer than the larger DLP screens that are actually unsuitable for computer use.  Even though the resolution is relatively low by computer LCD standards, it's high enough and people who have a harder time reading smaller text will love the massive text and icons on this type of display.  Anyone living in a smaller condo or apartment or is a college student could use this as their primary computer display and use it as an HDTV while the computer is off.  It also makes for one hell of a gaming monitor.
  • Circuit City has a similar deal on a 32" Olevia 232v LCD HDTV with HD Tuner for $500.  If you don't live near a Best Buy or they're sold out, try Circuit City if you're looking for a deal like this.  If that doesn't work, Wal-Mart has this 32" LCD HDTV with HD tuner for $600 which is still a fairly good deal.
  • [Update 2:30 AM - Home Depot will have a 32" LCD HDTV with Tuner for $478 and Fry's had this 37" 1080P 1920x1024 LCD HDTV with Tuner for $1000 which would make an awesome computer monitor as well]

Now all these deals (except the non-HD 27" model) have HDMI digital input ports so you can get a DVI to HDMI cable to use these HDTVs as a computer display for a media PC.  The 51" DLP or any DLP or LCOS projection HDTV in my experience can't be used for office computing since the text doesn't look very clear and can hurt your eyes but you can use it to play video games or play smooth upscaled video from your PC.  The 32" LCD models can be used for any computer application so long as your video card supports 1366x768 resolution and has a DVI or HDMI port.

For those of us who only need local HDTV, now is the time to switch to OTA (Over the Air) HD broadcasts and dump the expensive Cable or Satellite services.  Even if you don't plan to dump Cable or Satellite, why pay an extra $10 a month for local HD programming?  The equipment is now cheaper than ever with these Black Friday deals so get your shopping carts ready.  Not only is the TV service free but it looks better than ever.

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Topics: Hardware

About

George Ou, a former ZDNet blogger, is an IT consultant specializing in Servers, Microsoft, Cisco, Switches, Routers, Firewalls, IDS, VPN, Wireless LAN, Security, and IT infrastructure and architecture.

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