A good friend called last Saturday morning seeking A/V advice. Lots of friends do that. Very few of them actually take my advice though. Why? Preconceived notions, for one - once you think Bose is the best, the road home is a slow go. Polk? Don’t they just make car speakers? Rotel? Sounds like Mattel. Then there’s price. You say $500, I counter $1,000. That’s my rule of thumb. Always spend twice what you wanted to spend, and you’ll never be disappointed. But mostly, it comes down to wives. Mine is an angel. She just steps over wires and puts her tea mug down on the only corner of the end table not covered by a projector and remote controls. Boys, eat your heart out.
Back to my friend. I’ll call him Bob, because, well, that’s his name. Bob has a Sony widescreen RPTV with hi-def capable component inputs. I helped him pick it out a few years back. Well, actually, I think I said get the Hitachi, but I was instrumental in his educational process. Bob initially bought the set for watching DVDs. After going to a store and seeing DVD on a decent set, this normally reserved and patient fellow was frothing for home theater. As he latter recounted for me, “The picture was amazing. They had me at the FBI warning.” Yup. DVD was a huge improvement over standard TV, but it’s still not hi-def.
Hearing the Siren song I’d been singing about the beauty of free over-the-air reception, this time Bob was in the market for an HDTV receiver. Why fill the coffers of Directv or your local cable company when you can get it for free? After a general recommendation that he seek out a Panasonic tuner, he was off to the races. Would a small table top antenna do it? I told him it would work.
“Could have worked” was probably a more appropriate thing for me to say, along with “save your receipt.” I live only about 15 miles west of Bob and, with an antenna, pick up six to eight HD stations, depending on weather conditions. But I also live on top of a mountain and my antenna is a big 14’ rotating Yagi strapped to the peak of my roof. But small antennas work too and plenty of people use them. Besides, I knew if I told Bob to get a big roto-Yagi on his roof, all bets were off.
As it turns out, he can only get one station with his set top antenna. I suggested climbing up on the roof with it. While he mulls that over, the receiver goes back to the store.
Another friend bought a big Terk antenna, about five feet long, and we spent an hour walking around his house trying to find a perch that would bring in something other than channel 8. His place is located in a Hobbit hole compared to my Himalayan haunt. We tried the high vantage of his attic, but the extra six feet didn’t help. In the end, he did the only reasonable thing there was to do. He moved.
My kind of guy.
The Consumer Electronics Association can help you pick an antenna and give you an idea what’s possible. At their special antenna website, you can put in your address and receive a list of stations in range. You can chose to see all stations or just digital ones. Although their disclaimer says the station listing is conservative, I’m skeptical. A few of the listed stations are either dups or wouldn’t interest me (comprende amigo?), but even the ones I get are only by virtue of the Naval Radar unit on my roof. I think guys like Bob might be a little disappointed with their real world results. How’s the saying go? Your mileage may vary?
Cable and satellite are pushing hi-def programming and will expand their offerings significantly beginning in 2006, Directv especially. Why not, it’s a great opportunity to compete. But you’re the one who is going to pay – and pay and pay. Free, on the other hand, never goes on sale and can’t be undersold. So here’s my advice, and yes, it’s free. Move to a strategically placed mountain, buy a big antenna, point it, re-point it, anoint it and cross your fingers. It’s worth the effort. Hi-def CBS over-the-air is very subtlety better than Directv’s hi-def CBS feed. But while over-the-air hi-def is great, actually getting it over-the-air is another matter. So if you don’t feel like moving, at least invest $500 bucks in an attic or roof mounted rotating Yagi antenna and you’ll have something you can use when your cable goes out or your satellite dish gets attacked by squirrels.
Fine, do what you want!