Getting HDTV for free

February 23, 2009 7:00:19 PM PST
If you have a high definition television, do you have to sign up for cable or satellite in order to get a high definition picture?Neil Horowitz has a new high-definition TV set and gets a great picture.

"Every time I turn it on, it's jaw-dropping," he told us. "To see such detail, it's like you're in the movies. It's that sharp and that clear."

The best part? He gets it all free.

"Many people think that you have to pay for cable or satellite to get high-definition programming, but you don't," advised Eileen McCooey of Consumer Reports. "You can get it absolutely free from an antenna."

Consumer Reports says people who use a UHF/VHF antenna to get free HDTV are actually happier with the picture than those who pay for cable or satellite.

Experts say the reason you need an antenna is that most stations broadcast on the UHF frequency and you might need one to pick up a weaker signal. A basic model costs about $20 at an electronics store.

If you just want to keep your old analog TV working, you'll need a digital converter box that costs anywhere from $50 to $90.

"These digital converter boxes convert a digital signal to an analog signal, so that way your old analog set can receive it and display the image," said Chris Andrade with Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports tested dozens of digital converter boxes and found all of them will give you a good picture, some even as good as a DVD. So a converter box, or new HDTV set, will give you free digital TV without having to pay for cable or satellite.

Just because you have an HDTV doesn't mean you don't need a convertor box. If your HDTV is older, it may not have a digital tuner built in. Check to see if your set is labeled HD Ready or HD Monitor. In that case, you need a convertor box.

Remember, the switch-over to total digital television is on June 12th.

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