Friday, May 8, 2009

Digital TV is really cool

For a few months prior to the original analog/antenna TV cutoff date in February, I've posted a few articles praising the move and shaming efforts to delay it, but I've never actually talked about digital TV itself, at least not from experience, as I'd never seen a TV with a digital converter box and antenna. Until last week, anyway.

Here at work, we have about the ugliest and crappiest TV you can imagine. Well, maybe. It's white, it's got a roundish screen, a very odd-shaped back, and I think it's an RCA, but I can't tell, there's a sticker over the logo. I can only see a hair-wide bit of grey on the bottom of it. Prior to the digital converter box, it got 5 channels, if you count getting the same one twice on two different channels, with one almost unwatchable. The picture was grainy, had a lot of static, faded in and out, the volume fluctuated... it was crap.

Digital TV has gone beyond impressing me. One article I wrote criticized someone who said DTV has less channels. That's an outright lie. We have no less than a dozen channels, and I work out in the middle of nowhere. The picture is stunning. Even on the crappiest analog TV, it looks good. It's DVD quality. It's like a DVD player was hooked up to it. (I have hooked a DVD player up to it, before I discovered PortableApps and learned to watch movies/episodes on the computer. So I know what DVDs look like on it.)

The only problem I have is that what it doesn't letterbox (bars on the top and bottom) it zooms out (bars all around). I guess the only way to get a square or rectangular picture on a round screen is to zoom it out, but surely they don't need to zoom out that far. On a screen that's 14" at best, having a full inch taken off from all four sides is a lot.

If for whatever reason you have a TV that doesn't have digital or satellite, and it's not a digital TV (it's not rectangle, but rather more square), you'll need to get one of these converter boxes by June. June 12 I think it is now. They'll probably delay it again, but at some point, the companies who bought those airwaves (Sprint and AT&T I think) will push for the date to stay, and your TV will no longer get signal over the air. I don't appreciate the government selling everyone out like that any more than analog/antenna TV owners, but they are offering vouchers which cover $40 worth of equipment. The cheapest converter box is $50 at Walmart, so you're still out $10. Plus you have to buy an antenna. (They don't tell you that.) It's worth it. It's not HD (you need a digital TV for that) but it looks good.

For some things, like the news, it's comparable to HD. HD has its advantages, and it's true that it has more dots, but to the naked eye, it really does not look that much better. Unless, of course, it's digital to start with. Digital animation (Pixar for example, like Wall-E; or Japanese anime) and video games (Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but not Wii or PlayStation 2) look absolutely stunning in HD. Real people don't look much better in HD; in fact HD is good for revealing flaws which were more easily covered up with conventional television. Until they replace news anchors with computer-animated, voice-acted avatars (not an impossibility at all), your news is good either way.

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