Thursday, April 13, 2006

Throwing together a digital TV

My wife and I bought our first house recently, which we love. It's a great ranch style brick house in South Nashua, NH. Quiet, sturdy, and expansive.

And I can get along without Comcast, and explore the world of Satellite TV, and high quality over the air broadcast HDTV, while saving money every month; I've a mortgage to pay. I subscribed to Dish Network, and put up a Winegard 9032 UHF roof antenna on the same roof mast the satellite installers mounted the dish. The biggest expense was having an electrician run pairs of RG6 coax cable into wallplates in the TV room and the bedrooms. (If you need some electrical work done in the Nashua area, I can recommend James Electric, he does polished work.)

Winegard 9032 antenna

As I said, we're trying to save on my monthly expenses, which means a basic channel package from Dish, with no HD channels and no locals. I will receive local HDTV programming via my antenna, which also means I will get the finest picture quality; in a strange twist of economics the cheapest programming source, over the air, is the best. And it also means only renting one satellite receiver for the Syntax 26" LT26HVX LCD TV mounted on the wall of the TV room. You can easily end up spending $70 per month on TV just by adding $10 and $5 additions.

It'd be nice to watch some TV in the bedroom, and I did have the electrician wire the bedrooms... But I don't have another TV and while my wife may tolerate my spendy ways, another $900 for an HDTV with an ATSC tuner would be too much both in what we could afford and what little use we'd get out of it. So no new TVs.

But as it happens I had all the components needed to watch digital TV. Most importantly, I had purchased a refurbished LG 3510a HDTV Tuner a few months ago on a whim. Oh, I remember the days when I had whim money... This has a VGA output—it's labeled an RGB output—which I plugged into a 17 inch Viewsonic CRT I haven't gotten around to throwing away, and a digital coax audio port which I plugged into the digital input of a set of unused, but nice, 2.1 computer speakers. The receiver can be set to convert AC3 streams to PCM, which the speakers understand. And I can drape the corded speaker remote around the headboard for easy access; as I can't control the audio via the receiver's remote.

LG 3510A Back

So, for an outlay of $159 for the tuner, and stuff for which I had no other use, I have a small hi-def digital TV. The LG 3510a is also a QAM tuner, so if I were to go back to regular cable, I could watch HD locals via the cable company. And when I eventually upgrade the main TV, the Syntax can move to the bedroom and get its content from the 3510A.

LG 3510A

Finally, it looks and sounds good. LCD TVs do not show standard definition programming well; my CRT monitor does. HiDef content looks amazing in both richness of color and clarity, although it might be a little scrunched. And the digital sound is rich and clear. The tuner has a built in DVD player too, but my firmware revision doesn't allow DVD content via the RGB port, in an attempt to limit theft by pirates too stupid to either bitwise copy the DVD or rip it. Oh well, the 3510A's DVD player never worked well anyway.