Everyone makes good points here, but it pays to think back to when the whole ATSC debacle was in its planning stages. Many have forgotten, the first few years of idealistic American DTV development referred to DTV specifically using HDTV terms and acronyms. Then one day, the numbskulls staged a coup and High Definition became a distant third or fourth "feature" instead of the primary motive behind dropping analog. The final acronym "ATSC" was an intentional fudging of definitions: they figured "Advanced" would imply "HDTV" while at the same time cover broadcasters true intentions of delivering crappy compromised DTV that looks as bad as analog SD, selling off their "spare" bandwidth for other purposes. This is how America works, warts and all: there is no socialist government agency "forcing" minimal HDTV standards here, as has been done in other countries. ATSC is crap, and will get worse long before it starts getting better. Too many Americans rely on cable or satellite, there aren't enough dedicated OTA people to rally behind the ATSC cause. Besides, cable/satellite users need AFD to avoid worse issues that would arise without it: you think you got problems with framing on a CECB, check your neighbors cable output.
As far as AFD and the CECB boxes go, its a wash. The feds mandated ATSC consumer hardware compliance before broadcasters had any clue of what their operations would be like once the switch actually got thrown. The result of that is many TVs, recorders and CECB boxes are not prepared to handle last minute alterations to things like AFD, so there are problems. Is it annoying? Absolutely. That doesn't mean we should all stay in the dark ages: AFD can be a good thing if implemented correctly. The broadcasters and hardware mfrs need to get their sh*t together so all are on the same page making the system work properly ("properly" meaning AFD frames the image intelligently for most viewers most of the time, with all hardware having over-ride controls for those with other preferences).
Despite current retail being 100% 16:9 TVs, there are still MILLIONS of 27" 4:3 Trinitrons, etc, in use as primary or secondary displays. Those sets have a life expectancy of 20 years. People are not going to just throw them away, and many of those who don't throw them away want to see a full screen. Thats another fact of American life: the majority rules. Whether you agree with them or not, most viewers using a 4:3 display are not the slightest bit interested in the dead unoccupied space at the edges of a 16:9 talk show or news broadcast. Hell, half the news footage today is captured by 4:3 consumer cellphones anyway. Most casual viewers find a "full" 4:3 screen has higher apparent resolution than letterboxed 4:3, so AFD is here to stay. If you don't like the way it works, make your voice heard to the networks and hardware mfrs.
Regarding the DTVpal: seriously people, what the hell did you expect? The damn thing has been ripped as a complete POS since the day it was previewed, hundreds of threads posted all over the internet bitching it out for the last two years. Thousands of users saying the same thing: "nice EPG, and thats it. Lousy picture, lousy controls, and melts down from no ventilation holes". In case no one's been paying attention, the EPG is another ATSC "feature" that was discarded along the way. Other than the DTVpal and a couple of hacked Zinwells, no TVs, recorders or boxes have an extended EPG. The EPG concept is dead, its gone, time to get over it: if you want it bad enough to tolerate the DTVpal, fine, but don't complain later that the DTVpal is useless for any other purpose.
Rammitinski has the right idea: don't buy a colossal screen expecting "true HDTV" all the time. Do research and be sure any TVs, boxes or recorders you buy have manual overrides of automated ATSC functions. Whenever possible, buy from places with solid "no questions asked" return/refund policies. Our DTV "transition" is far from over, it will take years to shake out, during that time many people will get burned buying the "wrong" hardware.