Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Def Jam

Here's one of my latest stories, published by the Daily Southtown earlier this month.

The ABC's of HDTV
You've just spend thousands to get the television of your dreams, but that doesn't mean you'll be able to get all those high definition channels in your house

January 5, 2007

When John Farnese was in the market for a television, he wasn't particularly worried about the quality of the picture. Having never been exposed to the wonders of high definition transmissions, he was concerned more about the size of the screen.

"I wanted a large screen for my large room," the South Chicago Heights man said.

A regular host for his buddies on Chicago Bears game days, Farnese wanted to make sure everybody in the room would be able to see the action.

Surveying the offerings last March at a local electronics outlet, Farnese found the best option for the price was a high definition television, or HDTV. His 60-inch RCA was ready for high definition reception, and the prospect excited him. Having not been in the market originally for a high definition set, the ability to display high definition was an unexpected bonus.

But once he got his new television home and hooked up to his stereo, he contacted his television service provider -- DirecTV -- about high definition service. A short discussion later, his short-lived hopes for high definition had been dashed.

"They only offered four channels in HD, three of which I didn't already get," Farnese said. "I would have to subscribe to those extra channels, and then I would have to pay for a HD box from DirecTV. The Discovery Channel was the only one I got (in HD), and it wasn't worth it to pay for the box just for that."

While local channels are now broadcasting a HD signal over the airwaves, Farnese said he would have to climb onto his roof to install an aerial antenna, a task he wasn't likely to perform given the payoff involved only local stations.

While the extra cost and lack of complete availability of high definition is off-putting for some, others have embraced the new technology. Dan Jones, for example, was on the front end of the HD wave, partially because of his job as sales associate at The Little Guys in Glenwood. Jones bought his HDTV in 2002 and hasn't looked back.

He called the picture "incomparable."

"There's a lot more frames per second (than with a regular television)," he said. "With that you get a lot more resolution, better motion. It's just a quicker response time."

One benefit of high definition is it makes a television more accessible to everybody in any given room, he said.

"You can view it from any angle," he said. "If you're off to the side, you still get a good picture."

Jones said he gets the most enjoyment out of watching nature programs on the Discovery Channel's high definition station, as well as programs on HD Showtime.

"It doesn't make a huge difference what you're watching, it's still five times better than watching normal television, if not more," he said.

At his place of employment, Jones said technicians are on hand to help customers adjust their televisions for optimal display, no matter if the customer is going to be watching sports or sitcoms. While HDTVs on display at the store are typically preset to bring out bright colors, he said those settings might not be ideal for many homes. By having experts on hand to adjust the brightness and color before customers bring the sets home, they get optimal pictures and preserve the life of the display, he said.

Though the offerings for high definition may not be up to par with what is out there right now for regular television sets in terms of choices, that will soon change as federal laws will require all television stations to broadcast in high definition by 2009. Older television sets will need a converter box to receive signals, even through antennas.

"A lot of people are jumping now (into HDTV purchases)," Jones said.

"There's a huge demand."

Currently at The Little Guys, HDTVs range in price from about $1,000 to upwards of $20,000, depending on features. The higher-end products tend to be more user-friendly and offer more features, such as built-in DVR ability, such as that offered by Tivo.

And until all stations are providing HD service, Jones said there are many other options out there to make the purchase of a HD set worthwhile. Those include HD DVD players and DVR recorders, and even an HD VHS, for those who still watch video tapes.

Still, some consumers are unconvinced. Farnese, for one, will watch his HDTV in old-fashioned mode "until they offer HD service for free, or until they offer more than four channels," he said.

"If I could get everything in high definition, then sure," he said.

"But if I can only get four channels, then what's the point?"

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