We pay less than $7 a month for cable, and we're getting HDTV channels
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Have cable? You might not have to pay extra for HDTV

June 8, 2008

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, The Post-Standard

   If you're saving money each month by subscribing to the cheapest cable-TV service plan -- the one that provides local channels plus a few others like CNN Headline News -- you probably see HDTV as too expensive.
   And that's not even counting the cost of the TV.
   After all, you'd have to switch to a more expensive cable plan to get those HD channels. Right?
   Or you'd have to go retro and hook up an indoor antenna to pick up the local HD channels. You'd end up with a two-headed monster for a TV, with some channels coming in one way and some another.
   Yuck! Is that what progress is all about?
   No, it's not. All those assumptions are wrong. Chances are you won't have to pay extra for HD channels if you buy a new HDTV.
   Hold on. Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about premium channels. You can't get HBO and its cousins free. I'm talking about the high-def versions of local channels and a few others.
   On our new HD set, we get the local ABC, CBS and NBC affiliate stations, all of which show HD programs at night and sometimes during the day. We also get the local public-TV station in both non-HD and HD, along with a few other channels from the same public TV station. And we have a half-dozen channels that carry other network programs.
   What's it cost for this mix of regular and HD channels? Less than $7 a month. That's what we pay for the cheapest, how-low-can-you-go cable service.
   There's no guarantee that your cable provider works like mine. But as more local stations switch to digital TV and to part-time HDTV, cable companies have been forced to do the same kind of upgrading on their side of the signal. They're spending a lot of money to do this, and they're hoping a lot of customers will upgrade to a package deal -- a lot of sports, news and entertainment channels in high definition, along with a digital video recorder that can store HDTV shows for viewing later.
   If you don't need those sports channels and can do without "The Sopranos" on HBO, you can save big, as much as $100 a month.
   The procedure is simple. Turn the TV off and connect the cable to the proper input jack on the back of the TV. Then turn it on and go into the setup menu. Have the set scan for all channels. This might take quite a lot of time. (Digital signals take longer to synchronize.) Your set will then tune only to the channels it memorized when you scan up and down with the remote. (To choose a channel that wasn't memorized, you can punch its channel buttons manually.)
   Run the channel scan every few weeks to make sure your set will pick up in new HD channels that might be added. As cable operators get closer to the February 2009 date for mandatory switchover to digital TV, they're likely to be adding digital and HD stations every now and then.