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In order to save money, we canceled our Dish Network satellite service about a year ago. We like to watch movies and many are in widescreen format, which looked tiny on our old 27" TV. We finally broke down and replaced our television with a new HD flat screen TV. We got a 37" Visio at Costco for about $900. A lot of money but is really is a different viewing experience. My computer is across the hall on the side of the TV and I can still make out the picture pretty well, especially if I lean back a bit.
As soon as we got it home, my husband started bugging me to get the dish reactivated or sign up for cable. Now, that is an additional $40 - $60 for the cheapest service. He likes to watch basketball and there are a couple of shows we like to watch as a family. Plus it is nice to have PBS for my preschooler. None of these really require cable, just broadcast TV.
My brother pointed out that our new TV had the digital HD receiver built in and we should be able to get channels that way. We tried it directly and were able to get a few religious and shopping channels that way, but not the regular broadcast channels like NBC and CBS. So we tried attaching the coax cable from the dish that they never uninstalled and pointed it toward Portland, where the TV antennas are. All of the sudden, we had most of the regular channels in crystal clear high definition! Some of them came in poorly still so we did a little research and bought a $35.00 antenna from Radio Shack to boost the signal. A one time investment for gorgeous HDTV.
That first night, we watched the local PBS station's HD channel. It was a performance of "The Magic Flute" at the Met in New York. It was stunningly beautiful and something I could never take my kids to see, even if I could afford it (which I couldn't). They loved it, 4 and 6 and watching opera!
Occasionally, we will get scrambled signals if it is stormy or as someone passes by the antenna but they are usually temporary. Worst case scenario, I get up and move the antenna around a little bit. I had more problems with signals with both regular cable and the dish. The only downside is that I can't get Comedy Central but I can live with that! I also only have TV reception on one television in the house but that promotes family togetherness and we can always watch a DVD on the old television if there is a conflict.
As you probably know, the regular analog broadcast channels are going to be entirely converted over to digital by 2009. Anyone who wishes to avoid cable or satellite charges for television will have to have a new HD ready TV or a tuner (which, I hear, are very expensive). If you have one of these TV's already, why not try saving the money instead of paying. It was much easier than I ever expected. There are more expensive antennas that you can get to assure a good signal but I would start small and see how it works.
Anyone who is within 30 or so miles of a big city should have no trouble, rural areas can be more problematic. Here is a website which will tell you where to point your antenna, what kind to get and other useful information.
Jess in Portland