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Merry Christmas From Channel 4, Sort Of

Frank Ahrens

My Christmas present from Washington's NBC affiliate (WRC-4) was an HD signal.

Channel 4 has been broadcasting its over-the-air signal in high-definition for some time now, but I -- and others around the Washington area -- could not receive it. Until today, apparently.

At my house in Northeast D.C., I have a plasma HDTV that has its own HD tuner built-in. Which is a good thing, because when I signed up for DirecTV last year, the satellite TV company's tuner box could not receive local stations' HD signals. Which meant that all the HD programming put out by CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox looked just like non-HD signals on my HDTV. Worse, even. That's the dirty secret of HDTVs: Non-HD programming looks worse on an HDTV than on regular TV because the resolution on HDTV is so much better. Too good for non-HD signals.

To use the built-in HD tuner in my TV, I installed a small antenna outside my house. (Pretty funny, right? In this digital age, we're still using rabbit ears.) It was able to pull in the HD signals from Channel 9 (so I could see CBS's "CSI:" in HD), Channel 7 (ABC's "Lost") and Channl 5 (Fox's NFL games). But not from Channel 4.

Because of this, I had stopped trying to watch NBC's Sunday night football because it looked too dark and muddy. (I think the pre-game set with Bob Costas and the other talent is too dark, anyway. On non-HD, it was almost unwatchable.)

But today, when I flipped on the Eagles-Cowboys game on Channel 4, just on a lark, I clicked up one channel on my remote control to Channel 4-1, one of WRC's HD side-channels.

Voila! HDTV.

I don't know if Channel 4 amped up its signal or if the reception is a function of the yucky weather outside -- Whoops! Signal just blipped out for a second -- and it's Christmas, which means I'm not going to call Channel 4 and ask and there's probably no one there who can answer the question, but I'll get to the bottom of this later in the week. reported that WRC news is debuting its digital look right about now, so maybe this is related.

For now, I'm just enjoying. (Uh-oh: Rain picked up, HD signal pixillating, breaking up. Okay, now it's back. I'd say it's good 85 percent of the time. Just enough to keep me from flipping to another channel. But if it starts raining harder, I could be forced to start looking for "It's a Wonderful Life.")

By Frank Ahrens  |  December 25, 2006; 5:42 PM ET  | Category:  Frank Ahrens
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A few comments:
-- NBC's picture sometimes pixelates during sporting events regardless of whether you're getting it from cable, satellite or off-air. They're still working out the kinks evidently.

-- DIRECTV now offers local HD channels in the Washington DC area.

-- Cable has been broadcasting the WRC digital signal for several years now.

-- It's a common misperception that non-HD channels don't look good on all HDTVs. Not true. On some sets, they look even better. On others, they look worse.

-- reported earlier this month that WRC is going high-def with the news. They are currently renovating their studios for the switch, which is also occuring at other NBC owned and operated stations.

Phil 'Swanni' Swann

Posted by: swanni | December 25, 2006 8:40 PM

I had the same experience. I just had a new DirecTV HD DVR installed (which could be the subject of another column for you as many problems as this unit has), but because of the weather I lost satellite signal. I turned to 4.1 - antenna recpetion - for the game, expecting it to go in and out as it has for the past few years, but surprisingly it stayed strong throughout the game with no dropouts. So, you're right, they did something. Better late than never, but what was the problem originally and why did it take so long to solve?

Posted by: TK | December 25, 2006 9:34 PM

Why would anyone but you care about whether you could get Channel 4 HDTV over the air?

Posted by: Tacitus | December 31, 2006 11:31 AM

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