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When HDTV Isn't a Pretty Picture

By Stephen H. Wildstrom Reader Robert Minicozzi writes: I read your article on high-definition TV (see BW, 1/24/05, "On The Road To HDTV Paradise ") and have the same sentiments. I, too, use Comcast (CMCSA) and have a Sony 42-inch rear-projection system.he problem I have noticed on Comcast is that when I connect the set-top box to the HDTV using the component video connection, the standard channels come in fuzzy and the HD channels are fine.If I switch to the coaxial cable connection, these channels come in fine -- but you can't view the HD channels this way.I called Comcast, and they acknowledge this is a bug and have no target for a fix. Have you noticed this?

A: You have run into a distressing problem that is common to all cable systems. The issue is not really HD vs. non-HD, but digital TV signals vs. analog. Even on a digital cable system, many of the channels are still analog (on my system, these include most basic cable channels, including CNN, the History Channel, and the standard versions of local stations).

Other channels, such as the non-HD version of HBO (TWX), are digital and look pretty good on an HD display. But the analog channels tend to look fuzzy and grainy on an HD display, significantly worse than they do on a standard TV. I'm not sure whether the culprit is the component connection or the cable set-top box, but the phenomenon is real.

IT'S COMING. The first rule: If you have the option of watching a local station in either its digital or analog version, always choose the digital (on my Comcast system, these have channel numbers in the 200s). But many channels are only available in analog.

My clunky solution is to use a standard cable splitter, then run one coax cable to the set-top box and one directly to a coax input (sometimes labeled RF or simply TV) on the display. To watch an analog station, I switch the display to the coax input for a better signal. This should work on any HDTV display that has a standard cable-ready analog tuner.

The good news is that this messy inconvenience is temporary. As the transition to digital TV proceeds over the next couple of years, the analog stations should gradually go away, and your digital cable system should become truly digital. Wildstrom is Technology & You columnist for BusinessWeek. You can contact him at

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