A Consumer's Guide to HDTV and the Transition to Digital Television

DTV Primer

Chris Llana, Editor




Updated July 2, 2006

For this update, more than a year after I wrote the original article, I'm cutting most everything out.


Simply because high-definition programming is here, now, although you may not know it. Most prime-time shows, movies, major sporting events, lots! And more every season. It's just not being publicized.

If you watch analog TV, you certainly won't know it. There is often a cryptic message "Simulcast in High-Definition" at the start of a program that is produced in HD, but no explanation of what that means.

Local broadcast stations have not been running public service announcements explaining the transition to digital television, and what you have to do to get high-definition programming (and what you need to do to keep watching any television after the end of the transition).

Local digital channel listings do not show up anywhere in the printed TV program guide included in your Sunday newspaper.

Many of the most popular TV shows that are produced in widescreen high-definition show up chopped to fit the old square analog TV screen, rather than appearing letterboxed. I know, people would complain about the black bars. But that would be good; you could tell them to buy a new digital TV. That would get rid of the black bars!

Many of the smaller stations are not yet able to transmit high-definition programming, so they're not going to advertise the new digital standard.

The other truth is, the large majority of TV viewers get their programming from cable or satellite, over which the broadcasters have little or no control.

Many or most national/cable channel producers are shooting in high-def anything that will be released in the future or in syndication as reruns, etc., even if those channels are not being carried in high-def today.

In 2007 the satellite companies will be able to broadcast lots of national channels in HD, and when that happens, the cable companies will decide they need to do the same thing.

If you want to know what you can see now over-the-air (with an antenna), check web sites such as www.checkhd.com, or look for a little "HD" in program listings.