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How you can get HDTV for (almost) free

If you watch television at all, you've probably heard about the switch to digital TV in February 2009 and may have wondered whether you need to do anything about it. Cable and satellite subscribers have been assured they don't have to worry because those services will take care of the conversion. 

But as always, there is a cost. Frugal $ense winner, Kathy Peterson of Delaware, Ohio, found out that for the cost of a digital antenna, she can have the benefits of high definition television without the monthly cable bill.

August's Frugal $ense winner: Kathy Peterson
Get HDTV for free
"After buying a fantastic new large screen LCD HDTV last year, we decided to try to cut costs when gas started pinching us this year. I suggested canceling cable, but my husband was reluctant to cut out the cable bill because he said that it would be a waste to have the big fancy TV on an analog signal. However, after some research, I discovered that my TV was equipped with an OTA tuner allowing it to receive digital signals over the air (If you do not have an OTA tuner installed on the TV, you can buy one separately). After some research, we bought a digital antenna for about $75 (looks a bit fancier than the old rabbit ears) and hooked it up to see how it did. Well, we have since canceled cable because the OTA HD signals are even crisper than those we received from the cable company." -- Kathy Peterson of Delaware, Ohio

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Bankrate:   What motivated you to look into this?

Kathy Peterson: Like everyone, we've been feeling the economy tightening and one of the things we discussed was canceling cable to try to save some money.  I think I knew the digital signals were broadcast over the air because you hear all about the switch to digital next year. But I didn't realize the signals would come into HD and on a whim, I went out and got the antenna to try it out. And it is the most incredible thing. I mean it’s a perfect crisp picture, even better than we got with cable.

Bankrate: Do you miss all the channels that cable provides?

Peterson: I wasn't a big TV watcher. We've got three kids so I like for them to watch PBS shows.

Bankrate:   Any other benefits in your switch to free TV?

Peterson: Yes, many of the local networks split their digital wavelengths to provide more channels than we used to receive via analog. For example, NBC also broadcasts a separate weather channel, PBS also broadcasts a “Create” channel that is sort of like HGTV, and the list goes on. The TV itself can pick up on programming information from the digital channels, and give us a guide to what is on and a synopsis of the shows, kind of like we were used to with cable. In rural Ohio, we can get 12 distinct digital channels for no cost, as well as a handful of analog stations. I expect that as TV analog signals disappear over the next year or so, we may get even more digital stations. In larger metropolitan areas, I would guess that you can pick up even more. Fantastic television picture, lots of great programming choices, and nothing to pay except for a one-time purchase of the digital antenna!

Bankrate:   Have you investigated the converter boxes that are available for analog televisions?

Peterson:  I recently bought two converter boxes for our other televisions with the government coupons. They're pretty neat. On my really old, old, analog TV in the basement now, I have a programming guide, and 12 digital channels. It's not HD by any means, but it's still nice.

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