* There are two ways to receive local digital/HD broadcasts in the St. Louis area. The first, and by far simplest, is to subscribe to Charter Cable. Unfortunately, Charter doesn't currently provide all of the available St. Louis digital stations. To date, Charter is offering KTVI-DT (FOX), KMOV-DT (CBS), KSDK-DT (NBC), KETC-DT (PBS) and KPLR-DT (WB).
WRBU-DT (UPN) is not offered by Charter, but this isn't a major issue, since WRBU's digital station isn't capable of passing the UPN network's HD programs. And with the pending merger of UPN and the WB, this is even less a pressing issue.
* On the other hand, if you're a satellite customer, or you're only interested in receiving the free OTA digital chanels, you'll need some sort of antenna -- either indoor, attic or roof mount.
* Forget most of what you know about receiving traditional analog television via an antenna, as digital broadcasting is for the most part a different animal.
The first and most important thing to know is that digital signals, once received, tend to be highly stable. The sort of artifacts that you may recall about pre-cable antenna reception of local stations isn't all that relevant to digital reception. For example, in the digital realm there's no visual equivalent to the analog artifacts known as "snow," or "ghosting."
And in most cases, a digital signal won't slowly fade in and out as was sometimes the case in fringe analog reception areas. For the most part, with digital broadcasts you either receive the signal and have a near-perfect picture and sound, or you won't get anything at all.
In addition, barring significant topographical or architectural obstacles between your location and the transmission towers, digital signals appear to be more robust in terms of distance they can travel without degradation. While it's the exception rather than the rule, there are instances where digital OTA signals have been received as far as 120 miles from the tower.
So, just because you may have had difficulty with OTA analog signals in the past at your location, that doesn't necessarily mean you won't be able to receive digital OTA signals.
* All of the current St. Louis digital/HD stations are currently broadcasting in the UHF spectrum. The UHF channel assignments for local stations appears below:
26 - KPLR (WB)
31 - KDNL (ABC)
35 - KSDK (NBC)
39 - KETC (PBS)
43 - KTVI (FOX)
47 - WRBU (UPN)
56 - KMOV (CBS)
Today, all St. Louis stations are "simulcasting," with the traditional analog broadcasts via one frequency and the digital/HD broadcasts through another. For example, KMOV sends its analog broadcasts out as VHF channel 4 and then simulataneously sends its digital broadcasts as UHF channel 56.
As the transition to digital broadcasting progresses, there will come a time when the analog broadcasts will be discontinued and stations will only be transmitting digitally. While this switch from analog to digital was originally scheduled to take place in 2006, it's almost certain that the analog shutdown will be deferred for at least a few years.
Note: The analog shutdown has now been set by Congress for February 17, 2009. This seems a FIRM date, but there are some observers/commentators who believe that not enough has been done to date to inform viewers of the impending change and they suggest that this shortcoming could lead to further delay of the analog shutdown.
* While the signals for digital/HD broadcasts are made up of binary data (zeros and ones), from a viewer perspective, there's nothing special about the antenna required to receive those broadcasts. As noted above, the actual transmission takes place over the UHF spectrum. That means that if you already have an old UHF-capable antenna on your rooftop or in your attic, there's a good chance that it will receive some, and possibly all, of the available local digital broadcasts. The only way to conclusively determine if that older antenna will carry you into the digital age is to test it.
However, it is possible that in order to maximize signal integrity you might need to upgrade the cable run from an existing antenna to your distribution point(s), especially if the antenna uses the flimsy ribbon-type cable connection. If you need to replace the cable for an existing antenna, RG-6 quad-shield coax is recommended. A 1,000-foot roll of RG-6 quad coax can be purchased for around $75, though it is possible to buy smaller quantities at a higher per-foot cost.
* If you're starting from scratch and need to purchase an antenna, there is some merit in selecting a UHF-only antenna. While a combo VHF-UHF antenna would likely work in many situations, a UHF-only antenna will normally give better, more reliable results. If you do have an existing antenna and it isn't capable of pulling in all of the stations in the area, there's a good chance that swapping out for a UHF-only antenna would result in better reception.
* Without officially endorsing one antenna over another, here are some suggestions that should work for most viewers within a 45-mile radius of the St. Louis transmission towers.
But first, bear in mind that antenna reception is one part art and one part science. What works in one location might not work across the street due to topographical or physical obstacles in the signal path at that second location. But that sort of anomaly is rare, and antenna reception is normally achievable with some reasonable effort and determination. But it is important to understand that there are no certainties and the only way to find out what can be received with an antenna in a given location is to test one yourself or arrange for one to be installed by a proven installer.
For outdoor or attic antennae, ChannelMaster sells at least two UHF-only models that you should consider -- the CM4221 (retail approximately $30 -- tax not included), which is a 4-bay rated for 45 miles, and the CM4228 (retail $50), which is an 8-bay rated for 60 miles. Winegard has the Prostar 1000 model PR-4400 rated for 45 miles, and the PR-8800 rated for 60 miles. Radio Shack also sells a UHF-only antenna (catalog # 15-2160, $30 retail) that is worth considering.
As a general suggestion, avoid antennas that appear to be working overtime to not look like an antenna. While it's true that traditional antennae are unattractive and a lot of people consider them to be eyesores to be avoided at all cost, the newer streamlined, aerodynamic antennae seem to compromise reception capability in exchange for a more friendly appearance.
For indoor antennas, there are many options here as well, but the current performance leader is the Zenith Silver Sensor (ZHDTV1). The Silver Sensor used to be available at several stores here locally, but recently distribution has dried up and the only sure way of finding the SS is going to be online. Figure on a cost of around $40.
The excellent performance of the Silver Sensor is probably in part due to the fact that Zenith actually designed the technology responsible for the transmission of OTA digital/HD signals, known as 8VSB.
Again, there's no reliable way to predict if an indoor antenna will work in your location, short of buying one and testing it. The good news here is that most of the major retailers have reasonable return policies, so it's unlikely that you'll be out major bucks if it turns out that an indoor antenna isn't up to the job in your home.
Q: I have excellent reception of all of the local digitals -- most of the time. But occasionally one of the stations will be lost for 30 or 40 seconds, breaking up and then coming back with a very strong signal.
Why does this happen, and what can be done to eliminate the problem?
A: This sounds like a case of multipath interference.
Multipath is just what it sounds like -- the signal from one or more stations is arriving at your antenna from multiple paths, most likely as a result of it bouncing or reflecting off some topographical or man-made object as it travels between the the station transmitter to your home. In the analog world, multipath resulted in out-of-sync, multiple images on screen that were often referred to as ghosts; in the digital world, the second signal causes the receiver to null out the signal until it can lock on a single signal. This explains why you intermittently receive picture/sound and then nothing.
Multipath can be fiendishly difficult to eliminate, but antenna placement can help. If you can, move your antenna a few feet left or right, up or down, or play with angle of orientation. The goal in repositioning is to try to find a spot where the antenna will not see the secondary signal that is causing the multipath.
Over time the digital receivers have become more adept at rejecting multipath signals, with each generation doing slightly better in this regard than the last. If you're using an older receiver, an upgraded, more current receiver may help, but there's no guarantee that would cure your problem.
Also, a directional antenna (like a yagi attic/roof antenna) will perform better in installations where multipath problems occur. Multi-direction antennas are better at pulling in more stations without adjustments, but they sometimes increase the incidence of multipath issues.
Q: Sometimes the pictures on my local digital stations are fantastic, but a lot of the time they don't look that much better than what I was receiving over cable or satellite previously.
Why? Is there something wrong with my television or OTA receiver?
A: At this point in the transition to digital HDTV, local stations are only providing a small portion of their daily broadcast schedule in the HD format. In almost all cases, the only HD programming available is when the local station's national network affiliate provides a program in the HD format, and the local station passes it on via its digital channel.
As a result, HD broadcasts are largely limited to prime-time programming, with the main exception being certain sporting events that are broadcast live in HD, such as selected NFL games, the Olympics, some college basketball games, some golf tournaments, etc.
Whenever a local station isn't receiving and passing on an HDTV network broadcast, they simulcast and "upconvert" their local programming on the digital channel. You probably understand the concept of simulcasting, but "upconverting" may require some explanation.
In order to simplify this, let's take the example of local channel KSDK-DT. Whenever KSDK-DT is sending an HDTV program, they send it in the 1080i HD format. Likewise, when they transmit a "standard definition" program, they are also sending it in the 1080i format by taking the original NTSC (480i) signal and electronically converting it to the same 1080i format used for HD.
The important thing to understand is that "upconverting" is not a magical process of transforming a sow's ear (NTSC programming) into a silk purse (HDTV). The limiting factor is the resolution of the original picture. If the original source material was created in the 480i format, there's no way to create HD resolution out of thin air.
This is similar to trying to convert a Polaroid snapshot into a professional studio portrait. There's no question that the professional photographer or film processor could make the Polaroid snapshot larger or produce it on nicer stock, but the end results are never going to be confused with a picture that originated as a studio portrait using higher-resolution film and equipment.
As in the case of NTSC programming, the limiting factor is the original resolution when the image was captured.
Q: Why can't I change the screen mode for my television on the OTA digital channels?
A: Digital broadcasts (for the most part) are required to send their images out as a widescreen (16x9) picture. Although it's not always obvious from looking at the images, where black bars appear on the sides, these are actually formatted as part of the picture sent by the station.
One other point about digital broadcasts and your HD monitor. Many consumer televisions assume that when they receive an HD signal that the picture is being sent in widescreen format. In some cases this will limit or (more commonly) completely prevent the viewer from changing how the picture is formated onscreen. While the screen mode or aspect ratio controls for your set can be used with standard-definition programming, they may be non-functional or limited when your set is displaying either upconverted SD or true HD OTA broadcasts.
Q: I understand that HDTV supports the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound format, but this doesn't appear to be working on my sound system. Is there a problem with my OTA receiver or my A/V receiver.
A: It's true that Dolby Digital 5.1 is part of the ATSC specification for HDTV broadcasting. However, there are a few conditions that need to be considered before determining what you're receiving and whether there's a problem with your equipment.
1. You need to have in place equipment capable of receiving and processing DD5.1 broadcasts (a DD5.1-compliant A/V receiver or processor) and you need to be using a digital audio connection between your OTA receiver and A/V receiver or sound processor. There are basically two types of digital audio connections, one that makes use of coaxial cables and the other using optical cables.
You will need to consult the user manuals for your OTA receiver and audio equipment to ensure that you are making the correct connections for your particular equipment and configuration.
2. DD5.1 broadcasts require special equipment to be installed at the local station. Although you may know that a specific program is being sent by the network in the DD5.1 format, if the local station here isn't able to process and decode the DD5.1 soundtrack, you won't be able to hear the DD5.1 mix in your home theater.
Here's a list of the stations in St. Louis and their ability to send Dolby Digital 5.1:
26 (11-2) -- KPLR (WB) - yes
31 (30-1) -- KDNL (ABC) - yes
35 (5-1) -- KSDK (NBC) - yes
39 (9-1) -- KETC (PBS) - no
43 (2-1) -- KTVI (FOX) - yes
47 (46-1) -- WRBU (UPN) - no
56 (4-1) -- KMOV (CBS) - yes
Also, here is the Dolby Digital 5.1 status of some of the major cable/satellite HD stations:
HBO-HD -- yes
ESPN-HD -- no
BRAVO-HD -- yes
Discovery HD Theater -- yes
HDNet Movies -- yes
HDNet -- yes
TNT-HD -- no
NBC-HD East/West -- yes *
CBS-HD East/West -- yes *
FOX-HD East/West -- yes **
* = only available to St. Louis viewers who obtain a written waiver from the local affiliate
** = the East Coast FOX out-of-market feed is now available to all St. Louis-area DirecTV HD subscribers who are paying for the local channels package. No waiver will be required for receipt of the the East Coast FOX feed, as KTVI, the local FOX affilliate, is directly owned by FOX television. (updated 1/2005).
3. Not all programs are available in the Dolby Digital 5.1 format, so even where one of the stations listed above is shown to be capable of transmitting DD5.1 broadcasts, if the program isn't created with a DD5.1 soundtrack, the local station won't be able to send in that format.
As an example, although KMOV-DT is capable of providing Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, "Everybody Loves Raymond" is not produced with a DD5.1 soundtrack. On the other hand, although "NYPD Blue" is produced with a DD5.1 soundtrack, local station KDNL-DT isn't currently equipped to handle DD5.1 broadcasting.
I've yet to find a completely reliable source of information about HD programming that includes a DD5.1 soundtrack, but HDTV Magazine Program Guide is the best that I've found so far:
In order to customize the guide for the local and/or cable/satellite channels you receive, it will be necessary to register with HDTV Magazine and set up a profile listing your stations. Note that the DD5.1 designations in the HDTV Magazine grid are "program-specific" and therefore won't accurately reflect the ability of the local station to provide DD5.1.
Q: I'm not clear on the difference between "true HD" and "upconverted HD." Take for example the "Hogan's Heroes" re-runs that sometimes are shown on HDNet -- how can a show that wasn't originally recorded in HD be considered real HD?
A: I think your skepticism about "true HD" comes from a misunderstanding of the difference between "upconversions" and true HD programming. The "Hogan's Heroes" example you mention is a good way to illustrate the distinction.
Let's pretend for a moment that one of our local St. Louis stations holds the local syndication rights to "Hogan's Heroes" re-runs and that these programs are based on the same film-to-NTSC video transfers that appeared when the series was a first-run sitcom on CBS a couple of decades back.
When the local station shows "Hogan Heroes" reruns, the picture quality over the station's analog channel will be largely the same as any other NTSC prime-time drama or comedy series. However, when the show is transmitted on the local station's digital channel, it will be electronically upconverted to either 1080i or 720p, depending on which HD standard this particular station normally uses.
Note the words "electronically converted," because what happens when the program appears on the digital channel is that the 480 lines of NTSC video resolution are "reconstituted" to match the station's 720- or 1080-line digital broadcast. The important thing to understand in the hypothetical example here is that even though "Hogan's Heroes" is being converted to 720p or 1080i broadcast formats, the underlying video is still only 480 lines of resolution -- an electronic conversion can't create resolution beyond what existed in the original video frames.
On the other hand, what HDNet has done is to go back to the original film masters of the "Hogan's Heroes" series and performed a true "HD transfer" of those film frames to 1080i HD.
At the risk of oversimplifying the process, HDNet has "re-scanned" the film master in order to capture more of the resolution that existed in the original film frames of the series but that was lost when the film was converted to 480-line NTSC video. At the same time, HDNet has exposed more of the original film frame in order to fill (or nearly fill) the 16x9 aspect ratio mandated in the HD standard.
One other point that may be muddying the waters for you is the dfference between HD that originates via film (most theatrical-release films and most prime-time TV dramas or sitcoms) and HD that originates as true HD video (live sports, concerts, etc).
In general, HD that originates as HD video may have clearer and more lifelike quality to it, but in fact, 35mm or 70mm film contains as much (actually more) inherent resolution as the highest ATSC HD video standard (1080p x 1920). While they do appear different and you may think HD native video looks better, when a film-to-HD transfer is done properly, it qualifies as "true HD."
Widescreen direct-view sets pretty much top out at 36 inches, though RCA was making a 38-inch widescreen for a while and I think that same tube appeared under a couple of other brands.
Based on my own experience, Sony and Panasonic both make very good widescreen HDTV direct views. I haven't worked on any of the Toshiba widescreen direct-views, but I've heard generally positive comments from fellow calibrators. All worth checking out.
There's also Loewe (I seem to recall that is one the brands using the 38" RCA tube) to consider, but the prices for these are generally a fair bit higher than Sony, Toshiba or Panasonic. Very nice styling, though, if WAF is an issue.
The other option is to look at LCD or plasma panels. Frankly, I think LCD panels at this sort of size are a horiffically bad value. And you'd probably need to drop down to a 37-inch plasma to fit your space, which may swing the cost/benefit ratio in a negative direction there, too.
If the upstairs TV isn't going to be your primary set for critical viewing, it might also make sense to look at the SONY 40-inch 4x3 XBRs. Very good compromise for all the 4x3 material out there, but still a pretty decent widescreen size (roughly a 36-inch diagonal) when you're watching HD or a DVD. These sets are monstrous in terms of heft, so make sure ahead of time that wherever you're planning to put it that it can handle the weight.
It would appear that your satellite guy used to work at Best Buy or Circuit Ciy, where chronic cluelessness is a badge of honor.
No, there is no way to get LOCAL HD channels direct from the satellite. The CBS network HD feed is available on DISH, but to be eligible to receive this would require a written waiver signed by the local station manager. Frankly, you'd have a better shot at getting the pope to agree to send you a monthly ration of condoms.
Whether it's DirecTV or DISH, you will need a satellite receiver with a built-in OTA digital tuner and a UHF indoor or attic/rooftop antenna.
I'd trust your instincts and move on to find another satellite company that actually knows something about the business they're in.
Can anyone direct me to a web or FTP site where I can download the user manual for the Motorola set-top box currently used by Charter for its HD service?
Any other documentation on this box (in particular, the service manual) would also be useful.
Thanks for the quick reply. I really appreciate it.
Just wanted to pass along my thanks to John Kotches for hosting our December local meeting, especially in view of the frustrations he's been having with getting all the bits and pieces in place.
But at least there's a silver lining from all that -- "The Shipping in Two Weeks Theater" is a very cool name for a home theater.
I regret I couldn't stay longer, but I was definitely impressed by what I did hear and see while I was there. Between the sound, the pictures and the refreshments, everything was great. Thanks again, John.
I'm definitely looking forward to seeing everyone at the next meeting in February. That's tentatively set for The Sound Room, and I assume that Matt Lien will be providing more details after the holidays.
Does anyone definitively know how the Charter HD STBs are outputting programming that originates as 4x3 480i programming, such as cable channels CNN, ESPN (SD), History Channel, The Food Network, etc.?
From reviewing the Motorola user manual, I see that there is a 4x3 Override setting that allows the user to specify how 4x3 broadcasts are displayed. Unfortunately, this setting is apparently not accessible through the Charter interface.
As a result, I have two questions:
1. How has Charter configured these boxes for 4x3 programming display, in terms of scan rate (480i, 480p, something else)?
2. Is there a way to change this option via the Charter interface?
Thanks in advance for any information or suggestions.
Thanks again for the help on this.
Now I know who to turn to on all matters relating to Charter's STB...
I really appreciate the quick response.
This thread continued from...
Oh no....Someone needs to fix the shortcut now.
So, we are responsible for bringing the server to it's knees?
Nothing is wrong...But when threads start to get real large that can actually hurt the site in performance. Thats all. Thanks
We used to rotate the thread monthly, maybe we should do it semi annually now.
Who takes care of changing the stlhdtv.info forward?
I don't remeber who set it up....I'm sure they'll chime in soon.
Everyone make it over?
So far, but whoever did the stlhdtv.info needs to get here quick, I may never be able to jump to the latest post...I don't know what I'll do....I might have to get some work done....gaaaahhhhhhh
I searched the old thread and TOESIDE is who set up the link.
Hmm, with all the future new folks who are getting a new HD set for the superbowl and the recent new members there may be some confusion?
I have to post to subscribe. The Thread Tools menu is broken, and isn't showing any items for me to select (like Subscribe to This Thread).
thats why the stlhdtv.info link is so good. It takes you the last post you saw.
So what does Subscribe get you if it doesn't email you? That is why I stopped using it.
Does it do the same thing as the STLHDTV does?
No, it does not bring you to the last message like the local link did. You have to jump to the last message/page number. It just subscribes you to the thread. There is a drop down box with an option for no email notification. The default option in the drop down box is for email notification.
It puts it in your "subscribed threads" list in the User Control Panel. I have a shortcut to the User CP, and the subscribed threads list in the User CP shows me which threads that I subscribe to have had postings since I last visited AVS. At least that's how I use it.
Ah, I see. I guess I never used it that way, it sounds like a good way to use it cuz I tend to lose threads I'd been watching.
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