digital TV upgrade?

You’ve been seeing all the stuff on TV about the switch over to digital in Feb. 2009. It’s a switch I’ve been dreading since I have this deep abiding distrust of all things digital. Something is always lost when you try to express it in a fixed number of ones and zero’s. Without getting into conspiracy theories, let’s just say it’s going to happen. I signed up to get the $40 discount coupons for a device which converts the incoming digital signal into regular TV. The words are that all you do is plug this boy between the antenna and the TV set and all is right again. When the coupons came there was also a long list of devices and information regarding purchase points. A friend of Joey’s advised that Consumer Reports had rated the Zenith unit the best. That was good info because I had assumed up until then that probably all devices were the same, just simple D/A converters. I researched it a bit further and learned that the Magnavox unit available at WalMart was not a good unit – bad reception. I also read that the zenith unit – Circuit City – was great and that people with marginal reception were seeing dramatic picture improvements. The Zenith unit was $10 more than the Magnavox so cost was not an issue. Two TV’s, Two boxes.

We got them home and I read the installation instructions and sure enough, it seemed to be a no brainer – unplug the antenna from the TV and plug it into the box; plug the box into the TV. Red Flag #1. I noticed that the instructions made no mention of how to deal with a VCR. I called Zenith and learned that you can no longer record a channel on the VCR while watching another on the TV. The guy said I could hook it up so that I was recording the same show I was watching. I asked him why anyone would want to do that and got silence. I’m guessing somewhere in Bombay there was a guy with a blank stare on his face pondering my question. For us, that’s a huge downside. I continued on with the installation setup and in a couple of minutes it was up and running. Red Flag #2 showed immediately – the picture is smaller than it was before with big borders top and bottom, and both sides. I dove for the manual and they steered me to a button on the remote called zoom. When I hit “zoom” a screen message appeared and said the program determined the size. So at this point I’ve lost the VCR and the picture is smaller – the exact reasons I hadn’t bought a digital TV a year ago. I guess I could buy a 42” digital TV to get the same size picture I now get on my 32” set.

But there were some plusses. The channels were much clearer. Our channels 6 , 24 and sometimes 35 were marginal at best. Now they’re crystal clear as were all the others. And the number of channels increased dramatically. I think I counted 35 channels compared to 8-10 previously. That sounds impressive but several of the channels are Spanish speaking versions of the regular show; several are strictly weather info from the regular channels which I guess will be ok once in a while but hardly count as regular channels. On the 2 PBS channels there are 4 sub channels which seemed at the time to include classroom stuff from DBCC and UCF and the Florida legislature. I don’t see me watching those any time soon. Ditto the 2 religious channels each with 4 subchannels. So the bottom line is that channels 6, 24, and 35 come in better than they did before, albeit smaller.

For now I plan to leave the box on one of the TV’s and not on the other. That gives us the ability to at least tape most of what we want and to see full screen shows rather than the shrunk down versions. And if we want to watch a noisy channel, we have a TV that’s got the better picture quality. If I need to surf between Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggert………………….

Couldn’t test red flag #3 – what happens when it rains hard. My experience with things digital is that they are either very good or 100% gonzo. Another reason to keep the 2 set solution until Feb. 2009 when big brother kills my fallback. argghhhhhhhhhhh.

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