By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 3/14/2006 1:11:19 PM ET 2006-03-14T18:11:19

We start off this edition with a very good question from Capecodpetlady@yahoo.com. It's one that many people ask me:

What is the difference between HDTV sets and HDTV-ready sets?

HDTV receivers have built-in digital tuners. That means that if a local station is broadcasting in high definition then you can attach an indoor or outdoor antenna to an HDTV set and watch in high definition.

An HDTV-ready set does not have a built-in tuner. HDTV-ready sets usually have analog tuners, so you can still watch current analog TV broadcasts. They can, however accept an HDTV input.

So, with an HDTV-ready set you’ll need an external digital tuner to watch HDTV programming. However, if you have high-definition cable or satellite service you can watch those HDTV stations right now on your HDTV-ready set, no extra tuner needed.

Many of the TV sets being sold today — especially those nifty flat-screen models — are HDTV-ready. 

Christopher John Gores of Minneapolis, MN and many others wrote to remind me that U.S. lawmakers have postponed the deadline for switching over to digital TV sets.

Never fear, analog is still here!  According to fcc.gov: Until February 17, 2009, most television stations will continue broadcasting on both their digital and analog channels.

Here is the current timetable for the switchover to digital television:

  • July 1, 2006: All new sets, 25 inches or larger, must have DTV tuners or be DTV-ready
  • March 1, 2007: All new sets, 13 inches or larger, must have DTV tuners or be DTV-ready
  • February 17, 2009: Proposed shutoff date for over-the-air analog broadcasts

On another subject, one dear to my heart, Alan Phelps of Westerville, OH asks:

Why do the high-end audio proponents prefer tube amplifiers over solid state? My experience with tubes includes hum from the heaters and high frequency hiss, neither of which are present in good solid state amps.

So, I thought I’d ask one of the most famous high-end audio proponents to take a stab at the answer. Here’s what tube aficionado Art Dudley of Stereophile magazine has to say on the subject:

I wonder, though: Do sport fishermen who are satisfied with inexpensive fiberglass rods feel the same compunction to chide those anglers who think of expensive, hand-made bamboo fly rods as an essential element of their hobby?  I doubt it...!

That said, I do think it’s fair to admit that I, for one, simply enjoy approaching my hobby in a certain way, and within certain (aesthetically informed?) limitations. (As Robert Frost observed, in a different context: Why would anyone want to play tennis without a net?)  Yes, I like seeing what I can achieve in my home with tubes, with vinyl, without room treatments—and so on and so forth.  These limitations may be different for everyone. (Some people wouldn’t dream of fishing with flies they didn’t tie themselves — but can’t a machine do a better job of that than a middle-aged man with failing eyesight...?)

But there are more, and more technically sound, reasons than even that. Chief among them is the fact that, before the advent of ICs (entire amps on a chip), a tube amplifier could be made far simpler, with far fewer parts, than a solid-state amp. And I’ve come to associate simpler with better in hi-fi: The fewer parts in the chain, the less there is between me and the music. (Interesting: Now that ICs have matured, people like Junji Kimura of 47 Laboratory have made superb sounding amps using them in very simple designs! I could easily live with one of his amps.)

There are other, more user-specific technical reasons, as well — such as the fact that tubes are inarguably more suited to driving my favorite loudspeakers. (Mr. Phelps may indeed have good reason to think of his solid-state amp as having comparatively fewer flaws — but he would quickly change his mind when that amp’s output section fried itself in the face of an ESL’s capacitive load!)

But at the end of the day, it’s really just a matter of recognizing that everything distorts the music in one way or another, and my own personal choice of tubes (and vinyl, and ...) is simply a matter of my choosing the distortions that I find least objectionable, and contains not one iota of disdain for the potentially very different choices that other hi-fi hobbyists make.

There were numerous responses to my wife Amy’s e-mail request that I get rid of all my equipment boxes that pile up in our home.

I received a number of e-mails like this one from Annabella@hotmail.com:

Hey Gary, if that is the way you regularly talk to your wife, she should not worry so much about getting the boxes out of your house but instead she should focus on divorcing you and getting you out of the house!

Or this response from Judy Urbanick of Gainesville, GA:

I would suggest that you keep all of those boxes a while longer because you may need to use them to sleep in outside.

But the best response comes from George Fassett, Sr. of Forth Worth, Texas who just happens to work for Radio Shack. He gives some very, very good advice:

Actually, there is value to saving the boxes. Should you have to transport or return the item, the box is a protective agent for the item as it’s built to protect it. Many retailers won’t take returns without the original boxes; primarily for the UPC code — they can’t get RMA credit (Return Materials Authorization) from the manufacturer if returned without the original UPC code and packaging, so retailers will refuse returns if they’re going to get stuck with used equipment they can’t likewise return.

Also, many boxes have the serial numbers of the equipment printed on them; if not, it’s a good idea to write them on the box. Thieves love to steal electronics; easily hock-able or saleable for drug money. YOUR equipment can’t be traced or found if you don’t have record of the serial nos. Thieves steal equipment, not boxes; the boxes are your proof of ownership to the police and also to pawn shops where many items end up. 

Lastly, in haste you toss out a box and don’t realize a widget or certain important part is wedged in the foam packing and toss it out as well, and many times is not replaceable and you’re stuck with a non-performing unit because you tossed out some of it, or certain features can’t be used because of it.

Save your boxes; save the packing; save the instructions and warranty cards and put serial nos. on the boxes and even a separate record also. Otherwise, you could just throw out your money and skip the unit and box.

Finally, HJ Russo of Portland, OR asks:

Why not use your body as an antenna? It works with TV reception. Is this a possibility?

I believe that you should get a proper antenna for each and every device that needs one.  Proper antennas are usually made of a metal rod or wire that is cut to the exact length for receiving radio/TV signals. There are scientific formulas to determine the best antenna construction for each receiving situation. Improper antennas actually can degrade the signal you receive.

As for using your body as antenna, it's not a very good conductor of radio waves so you wouldn’t make a very good antenna in the long run. For people without cable or satellite service, I suggest a high quality indoor or, even better, outdoor antenna for the best reception.

If you are going to use your body as an antenna I recommend keeping out of the rain, snow and especially during lightning storms.

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