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Video: What You Need to Get HDTV

Making sure you have a high-def picture

Steve Kindig has been an electronics enthusiast for over 30 years. He has written extensively about home and car A/V gear for Crutchfield since 1985. Steve is also a volunteer DJ at community radio station WTJU, where he is a regular host of the American folk show "Atlantic Weekly," as well as the world music program "Radio Tropicale."

More from Steve Kindig

In this easy-to-follow video, we'll explain how to get a high-definition picture on your HDTV — from choosing the right gear, to making the right connections.

Video Transcript

Steve: Hi! I'm Steve, and in this video, I'll explain what you need to get a high-definition picture on your HDTV. This is important, because lots of people who get a new HDTV aren't watching a high-def picture — and some of them don't even realize it.

Let's start by figuring out what type of TV we're talking about. Most TVs sold today are what we call HDTVs. They combine a high-definition screen with a built-in high-definition tuner.

There are also a few TVs that can display a high-definition picture but don't come with a built-in high-definition tuner. These sets are called "HDTV-ready" or "HDTV monitors."

Now, let's look at the main ways to get HDTV programming.

I'll start with over-the-air broadcasts. Over-the-air high-definition broadcasts are free, and often look noticeably sharper than HD cable or satellite. They also let you watch your local stations in HD, which you can't always do with cable and satellite.

To receive over-the-air broadcasts, you're going to need an antenna. If your local stations are broadcasting from 20 miles away or closer, you may be able to use a small indoor model like this. For longer distances, you can mount a larger antenna on your roof or in your attic.

Then, you just connect the antenna to your HDTV, and you can watch whatever HDTV signals are available for free. If you only have an HDTV-ready set, you'll need to connect the antenna to a separate high-definition tuner.

If you want to find out which channels are available in your area, and what type of antenna is best for receiving them, check out You can also learn more about choosing and installing an antenna at

Next, let's look at cable TV. Along with some local channels, cable offers other HD channels that you can't get over the air, like HBO or ESPN. However, unlike over-the-air broadcasts, this is a service that you pay for.

If you plan on getting HD cable service, don't forget: although all high-definition cable is digital, not all digital cable is high-definition. Make sure you sign up for a programming package that includes true high-definition content.

You can start by calling your local cable company to find out which high-definition channels they offer.

Most of today's HDTVs come with a built-in digital cable tuner, which lets cable subscribers connect directly from the wall jack to their TV. However, to get premium channels like HBO, you'll probably need a cable box.

Satellite TV service is another way to get high-definition programming to your TV. Both DirecTV and Dish Network have a variety of HD channels, as well as plenty of standard-definition programming.

To get HD satellite TV, you'll need a subscription to an HD programming package as well as an HD-capable dish and an HD-compatible satellite receiver. If you're already a satellite subscriber and you're not sure whether your equipment is HD-capable, call your satellite provider. They can tell you what you need.

One last word on programming: there's no rule that says you have to rely on just one method of getting HD channels. Many people use a combination of these options to get all the channels they want.

Now, TV broadcasts aren't the only way to get a high-definition picture. High-definition disc players, like Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD, provide the best-quality high-definition picture available today. They're big with film buffs who want to see their favorite movies in high-definition. You can learn more about these players at

If you already have a large collection of standard DVDs, you can make them look better by adding an upconverting DVD player to your system. While the picture isn't true high-definition, it looks significantly better than a standard DVD picture.

Now, let's talk connections. Remember I said there are lots of people who think they're watching HDTV, but really aren't? Often that's because they have the right signals and the right TV, but they've made the wrong kind of connection.

You see, not every video cable can carry a high-definition video signal. For example, a composite video cable like this one can't handle HD.

Basically, there are only 3 types of connection that are capable of carrying high-def video: component video, DVI and HDMI. All 3 connections let you send a crisp, gorgeous high-definition picture to your TV.

On current components and TVs, you'll most likely find component video and HDMI jacks. In particular, more and more people are taking advantage of HDMI, because it uses a single cable.

I hope this info will help you take full advantage of all the great high-def options out there. If you're looking for more details, you can check out You can also call us at 1-888-955-6000.

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