Buying an HDTV without a built-in tuner is significantly cheaper, so eliminating it can be a real savings. But how does a TV receive channels without a tuner? Most people lease a tuner, otherwise known as a set top box (STB), from the local cable or satellite dish company.
The function of a built-in tuner is to pick up local channels. It does this when connected to a roof antenna, assuming local broadcasts are available in the area. Free, local channels are referred to as over-the-air or OTA broadcasts. In many areas OTA broadcasts are already in high-definition (HD), a format that will be standard in the United States by 17 February 2009.
Many people report receiving extremely clear, local HD channels using a roof antenna with an HDTV and built-in tuner. For those content with local channels, cable or satellite services are unnecessary. While this can save a lot of money in subscriber fees, local channels are limited relative to cable and dish networks.
For this reason, some people augment a roof antenna with subscription services but forgo the extra fee for local channels and HD service since they are getting free local HD via their antenna. They cannot receive digital HD channels in HD, however. To get those channels in high-definition, an HD set top box and HD subscription is required through the service. Normally an HD set top box is a few dollars more a month than a regular set top box, and subscribing to HD for cable or satellite channels can cost anywhere from $5 US Dollars (USD) to $20 per month, depending on the provider.
For those that don’t want to bother with a roof antenna, (likely the majority), a subscription service to a cable or satellite company is necessary along with a set top box. The set top box does all the work in this case, leaving any built-in tuner unused. For these folks, buying a HDTV without a tuner is an option. In very large televisions, foregoing a tuner can save the consumer up to $1,000 US Dollars (USD).
HDTVs that lack a built-in tuner are called “HDTV ready.” They are also referred to as industrial models, or “monitors” rather than televisions. In the U.S. this is due to a legal technicality based on a mandate from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).
The FCC ruling states that as of 1 March 2007, new televisions that include a built-in analog tuner must also include a built-in digital tuner. The FCC made this ruling to protect consumers from buying sets that would be obsolete after the changeover from the analog format to the digital format. Thanks to a loophole in the language of the mandate, if the TV does not have any built-in tuner, the mandate doesn’t apply. Therefore most manufacturers that offer HDTVs without a built-in tuner refer to them as monitors to avoid conflict with the FCC regulation.
The bottom line is, will you ever use a roof antenna with your HDTV? If the answer is yes, get a built-in tuner. If the answer is no, save yourself some cash. You can spend it on cable or satellite fees instead.