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e-Review

Enthusiastic HDTV Fan Finally Gets the Picture

March 08, 2001|THOMAS H. MAUGH II | thomas.maugh@latimes.com

I admit it. I'm a techno freak. If it's new and supposedly better, I have to have it. I had a Betamax. I had a laser disc player. I was one of the first to have a TiVo.

And I wanted a high-definition television, or HDTV, in the worst way. As it turns out, that's exactly how I got it.

Step one was where to put it. Our 45-inch Mitsubishi was standing in a corner of the family room because the built-in bookcases did not have an opening large enough for it. So the bookcases certainly weren't going to hold a new HDTV. We didn't like them anyway, so we decided to buy new bookcases first.

I downloaded a picture of the new, $4,000, 55-inch Mitsubishi WS-55807 I knew I wanted, complete with all the dimensions, and took it in to a kitchen/cabinet store. "Design us some bookcases," I said, "and leave room for this."

No problem, they said, and $7,000 later, we had a beautiful built-in system, with spaces for all of my electronic components. But there was a problem, and you probably saw this coming. When the new set was delivered, it didn't fit. The hole was an inch too narrow and half an inch too low, and the TV went back to the store.

The cabinet store eventually fixed the bookcases--for no charge--and the TV came back.

That's when I learned how hard it is to get HDTV.

The new TV, like all of those now sold, is actually "HDTV-ready." It gets a beautiful picture with my DVD, but to get an HDTV picture from broadcast TV, you must have a decoder box to translate the signal so that it can be recognized by the TV. And that was the first hang-up.

When I bought the TV in October, the store didn't have any decoders. Mitsubishi had abandoned the first generation of decoder boxes and was bringing out a spanking new version combined with a DirecTV satellite dish.

"But I have digital cable," I whined. "Why do I need a DirecTV antenna?" Well, I was told, the cable companies all want to provide their own boxes eventually, so the only way to get HDTV now is with DirecTV. And the new decoder will be available by Thanksgiving.

When I called my local cable company, by the way, the folks there had no idea what the salesmen were talking about. They had no plans to provide HDTV decoders to their customers. And yes, if a local station is broadcasting an HDTV signal, they will be transmitting it, they said. Sure.

I also e-mailed all three local network affiliates at the addresses listed on their Web sites to see what programs they were broadcasting in HDTV. None answered.

Thanksgiving came and went, with no Mitsubishi decoder. Christmas came and went, and the store quit trying to guess when it would get it. So I decided to go to a big chain store and buy an RCA decoder--with a DirecTV dish, of course. I made an appointment to have the antenna installed and waited impatiently.

The day before the installation, I decided it would be a good idea to hook the decoder to the TV. Funny thing. It wouldn't connect. The RCA unit has an RGA output to connect to the TV, but the TV requires a component video input.

I canceled the installation and took the RCA back to the store. Later, the salesman from whom I had purchased it called me and said that, for only $150 more, the store could provide me with an adapter that would allow it to work with my TV. I said, "No, thanks, I'll wait for Mitsubishi."

While these events were transpiring, I was checking into DirecTV to see what it was offering me. Its Web site said it is broadcasting two channels of HDTV. One is the East Coast feed of HBO. The second is another channel that broadcasts selected programs in the format, the company claimed.

"Oh, good," I thought. "They're probably transmitting some of the CBS shows that are broadcast in HDTV, and maybe Jay Leno." But DirecTV's programming guide on its Web site doesn't list either of those two channels, and repeated e-mails yielded only stock replies and no insight.

Then, two weeks before the Super Bowl, I got a call from the TV store. "We have the decoders, but only a few of them," the salesman said. "If you want one, you had better get in here now"--despite the Friday afternoon traffic.

The store also told me it was a package deal. To get the HDTV decoder, you also had to buy the DirecTV dish and a second, analog decoder to use on another TV. So, instead of maybe $500 or $600 for the decoder, it was now $1,100.

I picked it up and arranged for the antenna to be installed as soon as possible--the Friday before the Super Bowl. "Wow," I thought, "I'm going to see the Super Bowl in HDTV! Wow!" The TV Event of the Year. Surely DirecTV would transmit it to show off its potential.

Wrong.

I got the antenna installed and signed up for the minimum DirecTV package that would give me the two HDTV channels. Another $55 per month to add to my current $80 digital cable bill. And what did I get for my money?

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