Absolutely Free HDTV: The Return of Rabbit Ears
By James Grahame
Sometimes it feels good to get things wrong. Back in September 2005 I wrote a brief (and apparently premature) lament entitled The End of the Television Age:
"While looking around my neighborhood this morning, I realized there were no TV antennas poking out from the rooftops. I suppose this is another sign that the Television Age is well and truly dead. Thirty years ago we were limited to a small handful of off-the-air programs. If a good movie or show was on, half of the neighborhood was watching. Now viewers are faced with the daunting task of choosing from hundreds of boutique channels. And -- worst of all -- we have to pay a significant monthly fee for the privilege of watching commercial-splattered shows."
The arrival of digital HDTV broadcasting has breathed new life into the lowly television antenna. Viewers in major metropolitan areas are quickly discovering that digital OTA channels offer significantly better quality than their heavily compressed cable or satellite counterparts. This is one of those very rare cases where free = better. I suspect many viewers will eventually abandon their monthly services in favor of a handful of high quality local OTA channels and the convenience of purchasing their favorite cable-only shows for online providers such as iTunes.
Radio Shack - always a bellwether of cheap and cheery electronic trends - now offers a half dozen HDTV antennas starting at a downright affordable $14.99. Designers also seem to have realized that most people expect sleek and modern designs, rather than rabbit ears that look like they escaped from the top of a 1970s Zenith console TV. Alas, the American changeover to digital TV broadcasts won't be complete until 2009, so you might be outta luck for a year or two.