Tips for Choosing Where You Get Your HDTV Content

By Danny Briere, Pat Hurley

Part of HDTV For Dummies Cheat Sheet

There’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you probably have a choice of where you get your HDTV content. The bad news is, well, you have to choose. Sometimes, making your choice means hours of research and poring over websites, trying to figure out what works best to fit your HDTV needs.

Because HDTV availability is highly dependent upon exactly where you live (right down to the street address; it can differ even within neighborhoods), here’s some general advice.

There’s nothing wrong with mixing and matching amongst these different sources. For example, if you want local HDTV content along with your satellite-TV source, you need to hook up an antenna to your dish and pick up the OTA broadcasts. Luckily, most HDTV satellite receivers have a built-in OTA HDTV tuner, so you don’t need extra equipment (beyond the antenna).

So, given that wishy-washy disclaimer (sorry, but it’s true!), here’s some advice:

  • Figure out what’s even available. Check out web sites and other resources, like your local provider to help you find out what you can get in your house.

  • Look at your budget. Keep in mind the fact that “free” OTA HDTV might not be free if you have an HDTV-ready system and need to spend hundreds of dollars on an external HDTV tuner. Cable, on the other hand, might include a monthly fee but doesn’t require any up-front expenses for tuners or set-top boxes. Many cable companies give you local HDTV channels free for the price of the set-top box rental. Satellite might have lower monthly fees than cable, but it also requires an up-front purchase of the receiver.

  • Examine closely the channel lineups available to you. Remember that quantity and quality are two different things. For example, a satellite company like DIRECTV might offer more HDTV channels than your local cable company, but you might not be interested in watching all of them, and you might not be able to get your local network affiliates in HDTV on the satellite system. Look for the channels that you love.

  • Consider the performance. Different providers require different levels of hardware and software. Likewise, providers perform differently depending on where you are and what is available in your area. Not all signals are created equal.