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Revisiting Digital TV: A QAM Query

The digital TV transition keeps coming up with new wrinkles, even after the thousands of words I've sunk into the topic this year alone. One of the latest concerns QAM tuners--the acronym stands for "Quadrature Amplitude Modulation," and, perhaps appropriately, rhymes with "qualm." This part allows a digital TV to receive unencrypted digital-cable channels without the help of a cable box, just like a "cable-ready" analog set can get basic analog cable. Most TVs and DVD recorders that include a digital tuner also throw in a QAM tuner.

(CableCard slots, which allow a digital TV to tune in encrypted, premium cable channels like HBO, are another thing entirely, and much harder to find on new TVs.)

Given many people's dislike of cable boxes, a QAM tuner can be a great feature... if it works. That issue came up in my last Web chat, when a reader noted some problems using a QAM tuner with Comcast:

Arlington, VA: One note on the QAM tuning: While this is a good way to continue to watch non-premium and unencrypted HDTV channels, I've found it difficult to track the channels. Not only are they unlisted, the channels that certain stations are assigned to seem to change often. Have you had a similar experience?

Afterwards, another reader wrote in with a similar story, in this case involving Time Warner Cable:

the most frustrating thing I have found about QAM is that there seems to be no way to find out what channels a particular cable company offers in clear QAM. You essentially have to hook up your TV or DVR and scan for channels. After that you have to sort through all of them and try to figure out what channels they are because they usually have some cryptic channel number especially for non over the air channels. On top of that you never know if your TV or other tuner found all the QAM channels or if your cable company has added more QAM channels unless you go through the whole rescan process.

I need more information, but I don't subscribe to cable myself and so have zero firsthand experience. Can you help me out? If you use your digital TV's QAM tuner to pull in cable, tell me how that's worked for you. Do you get all the channels you expect? Do they stay on the same places on the dial?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 14, 2008; 1:03 PM ET
Categories:  Video  
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