Time to “write off” that old TV? Samsung is the right choice for over-the-air DTV users.
What many people don’t realize is that unlike satellite or digital cable, no additional receiver box is required to view over-the-air DTV broadcasts. Most TVs sold in Canada since 2008 have a built-in DTV tuner, which means all you have to do is plug in your antenna coax cable to the TV and you’ll be up and running in no time. This has many advantages – think about how easy it is to place a TV in the kitchen, home gym, bedroom or have a sleek wall-mount setup without a bulky black receiver box.
TVs are getting thinner and easier to mount, while still giving a bigger picture. Unlike cable or satellite, a person enjoying over-the-air DTV doesn't need to find room for a bulky receiver box leaving only a sleek and easy TV setup. (Photo courtesy of Samsung.com)
However, not all TVs are created equal. When shopping for a new TV, are you asking if a TV has the latest generation DTV tuner? How sensitive is it to help you pick up those long-range stations? Does it have user-friendly features such as a built-in program guide?
While some manufacturers have dropped the ball, Samsung stands out not only for the quality of their TVs but for delivering the overall best over-the-air broadcast DTV package out there for consumers.
Model: Samsung LCD or LED TVs
Package includes: Varies per model line, remote is always included; certain models may come with coax or even HDMI cables.
Inputs: For OTA DTV all Samsung TVs have a co-axial antenna input. Samsung TVs will also have minimum one HDMI input and the other standard component and composite inputs.
Pros: Most sensitive DTV tuner on the market, best on-screen program guide for a TV to date, easy-to-use and fast responding built-in signal meter, very user-friendly remote, good size selection and models available at most retail stores so good prices can be found
Cons: Cannot add channels manually on most models (complete re-scan necessary) which is bad news if your antenna requires a rotator
When tested, three models of Samsung TVs consistently showed that Samsung has done something right with their DTV tuner. In all cases, when compared to a reliable 3rd party external DTV tuner, the Samsung TV tuner was able to pick up all the available channels from the antenna source with equivalent or better signal strength. Even with the signal being between one to two bars out of ten, the tuner held on to the signal and showed almost no pixilation or sound cuts. The tuner was also very robust as it would not lose signal very easily in bad weather.
Sniff sniff, how could you be insensitive? An insensitive tuner can mean you may be missing channels or have drop-outs in bad weather. Samsung’s tuner is one of the best on the market and will get the most out of your antenna.
Samsung TVs in general are one of the better looking units on the market with their sleek look, glass trim, “touch of colour” accents and button-free front panels (touch panel only). It’s no surprise that they easily fit in to any sleek home theatre setup.
Sleek and easy to use, what more would you want from a remote?
The Samsung remotes are simple, uncluttered and have well labeled buttons. The larger TVs and higher end model series have a few more features on their remotes (such as backlighting), however the basics are all there across the board no matter what size or model you select.
Note: One thing that is becoming a feature of Samsung TVs is the default tone that plays when the TV is turned on or off – the good news is it can easily be turned off permanently in the menu options for those that don’t need to hear a jingle every time they want to tune in to watch the news.
The antenna DTV setup is fairly simple. With you antenna connected to the coax input and “TV” selected as the source, simply go to Menu > Channel > Autoprogram. The TV will then do a sweep and collect all analog or digital channels available (including subchannels). Again, the awesome sensitivity of the tuner will make the most out of any reasonable antenna setup.
When channels are added, you can tune them and then evaluate the signal strength to help point your antenna. Despite having the signal meter well hidden under Menu > Self Diagnosis > Signal Strength, once you’re there it is easy to use. While some purists may complain that there isn’t enough detail (i.e. no SNR sound to noise ratio or numerical percentages), fact of the matter is the clear graphics make it easy to interpret and easy to use for any Average Joe who just wants to make sure the signal won’t cut off during the hockey game. The best part is the meter is fast responding, giving you almost instant feedback on antenna adjustments.
Light up as many bars as you can and you’ll be enjoying your DTV with perfect picture and no drop-outs.
The one bad point (and it may be a biggie for some people) is that there is no way to manually add a channel. This means that if you have a weak channel that comes and goes, you will need to ensure it is there when the scan is done or else you will need to do an entire re-scan again until you get it. Another disadvantage of the lack of this feature means that if you need to adjust your antenna to get different channels (i.e. move around a set of rabbit ears or if you have an antenna rotator) then you will be incredibly frustated as there will never be one position of antenna that will allow the TV to scan and compile all the possible channels in your area. A work-around is to go with a two-antenna (or multiple-antenna) setup. Although extra cost is associated, this is actually a practice that is becoming more and more common, especially in cities where signals come from two different directions. For example, in Toronto many users will have a small antenna for local stations coupled with a longer-range antenna pointing at Buffalo, NY. The result is a seamless feed of all the availble channels without the need to rotate or adjust the antenna when changing channels.
Also note that the tuner will still pick up any analog channels still kicking around, however the signal meter is non-functional for them as they are not digital. These channels however can be manually tuned individually through other menu options.
Guide and Program Info
The onscreen channel guide and program info on Samsung TVs is the best there is on the market. The on-screen info is easily accessible on the “INFO” button on Samsung controllers. When pressed, it shows you all of the available program description for the tuned program, which is a luxury as some television manufacturers truncate it after a certain number of characters (or don’t show it at all). During testing, the Samsung TVs allowed me to scroll through a whopping 3 pages of program info for a PBS documentary. As always, the TV can only display what is available from the source, so if the TV station is not transmitting you obviously won’t see anything. Despite also showing the picture resolution, the onscreen info unfortunately does not show the signal strength for that channel unless you go specifically to the signal meter.
The Samsung on-screen info display is the best one currently on the market.
The guide is accessed through the button “CH LIST” on the Samsung remote. It shows a list of all the available channels in a menu type format with the titles of the programming. By scrolling to a channel, you can then get specific info on the program or scroll through upcoming programs. An added bonus is the guide is transparent meaning you can still watch your tuned program.
The only downside to the guide is that it does not do an automatic refresh upon loading. This means that you will only see program info if you have tuned the channel at least once during your current use of the TV. This can be easily solved by simply sweeping through the main channels (sub-channels will get their info off the main).
Samsung's built-in DTV guide shows you a list of current programs on all available channels (top), you can then select a channel and browse its upcoming programs (middle) and then select to see their untruncated (thank you Samsung!) program description (bottom)
Prices and Where to Buy
Samsung TVs are carried at almost every major electronics or home furniture retailer so be sure to shop around to get the best deal for you. Promotions vary from price reductions to free delivery to no-interest financing or even store rebates. To be honest, there is no reason to purchase these TVs off any “open box” or refurbished retailers as the risk of getting a lemon or reduced warranty to save a few bucks isn’t worth it in the end. Stick to the main retailers but be sure to compare prices, shop around and negotiate. Overall, the lowest prices on TVs historically happen about three times a year: on Boxing Day, February or late August / early September when the old models are being cleared out.
In the end, nothing is cleaner than having a flat screen mounted directly to the wall without a clunky cabinet needed to house your receiver boxes. A Samsung TV will deliver great OTA DTV performance on its own without the need for a secondary receiver, making it perfect for a space-saving wall-mount application (say in a kitchen) or in those hard-to-reach areas where you only watch TV occasionally (for example, in front of the treadmill). Even if you have a pay service it will make for a sleek wall-mounted secondary TV source when you don't feel it's worth it to spring for the additional receiver.
Remember, if this new TV is replacing that old clunker, please look to recycle your old TV and not just leave it curbside. In most areas, there are municipal or provincial programs to help keep old electronics out of landfills, and there are certain private centers that accept free drop-offs (for example, Toronto Recycling in the GTA). Surely a solution in your area is only a Google search away. Average Joe wants to make sure Mother Earth does not have to pay the price for the DTV transition!