February 17th…just a date, right? Means nothing, right?

February 20, 2006

Barring any unforeseen national tragedies on 2/17, the 17th of February will be nothing more than Michael Jordan’s birthday for the next two years. A big day for “His Airness”, but nothing special to most of us. However, in 2009, February 17 may be a very big day for many people. It is the day everything goes digital and analog broadcasting ends. It is the day all of us should have purchased a new digital television, or 2.7 new digital televisions to replace the analog ones we have.

Given this upcoming event, I’ve decided to start a new mission. I’m going to save one person per week from making a major purchasing mistake at their favorite digital television retailer. While I’m not uniquely qualified to assist ill-informed consumers, I figure being a member of the Digital Television Academy and an architect of TitanTV and our antenna selector technology (available at http://www.antennaweb.org/) puts me in a good position to help.

Let me illustrate. Last Friday, shortly after arriving at my favorite digital retailer, I saw what I suspect is an all too familiar scene. A young couple was looking at flat panels in the sub-42″ category. I listened in as a very helpful young man explained that the only way you can get HDTV is through cable. He went on to add that the set they were looking at was “perfect for HDTV…” However, there were two very big problems with this fellow’s well-intentioned pitch.  First, we were standing in front of an EDTV, enhanced definition television. As some of you may know, EDTV isn’t capable of displaying HD. The second and bigger problem is that cable is not the only way to get HD; it isn’t even the best way to get HD. From a quality standpoint, the best way to experience HD is with an off-air antenna. From a cost standpoint, the best way to get it is FREE from your local broadcaster with an off-air antenna.

Duty-bound (as Chief Titan and all), I told the young couple and the salesperson what I believe is more accurate information. They, of course, thought I was some nosy techie-wanna-be. After all, how could I actually know more than the guy with a name badge? The sales guy did, however, acknowledge that “Yes, you can use an antenna, but it would have to be a monster one…” I could see that my unsolicited attempt to help wasn’t getting me anywhere so I left.

Had I been in full-rescue mode, I would have done the following. I would have walked over to the “Accessories” area and grabbed a Terk Bow Tie indoor antenna. I would have hooked it up to the back of the nearest LG set and used the remote control to change from the store’s video loop to the off-air tuner. (I know how to do such things because when I was in the market for my first HDTV, my good friend John Taylor from LG hooked me up with a sweet 50″ plasma with built-in tuner and DVR and I learned how to hook up multiple inputs: cable, off-air and satellite). This bit of hardware commandeering would have caused quite a stir. I would have then walked over to the young couple and their in-store adviser and said with weathered Clint Eastwood humility: “This is HD. It is FREE. You don’t need cable. Buy a television with a built-in tuner, hook up this antenna and you are in business.” Cue the pony and the sunset.

If I had actually pulled off this fantasy rescue and the Terk antenna stayed in place then my mission to save one person per week would be simple. I wouldn’t have to do anything more. FREE over-the-air digital television sells itself.