Now that we're done fixing up the home theater after the April flooding (new paint, new trim, new flooring) and a tree that fell (new siding and external cable connections), I'm buying all new gear and hope to start writing more formal equipment reviews. But first, it's time to revisit an old review.
It's been 2 1/2 years since I first wrote about LG's LST3510A combination HDTV tuner/upconverting DVD player, but post-flood I'm using it differently - as a "free" HDTV cable box. Some background: In Northern NJ, Cablevision sends out its basic HDTV channels unscrambled using the QAM format over the regular analog cable line. To receive these channels - NBC, CBS, Fox, etc. - all you need is a basic analog cable subscription and a QAM tuner. QAM tuners are not found on all HDTV's, but QAM uses the same hardware that's used to decode over the air HDTV (ATSC). The trick is knowing that your HDTV tuner supports QAM (it's not always advertised) and that your cable company actually uses QAM for some of its lineup (in my experience, this is never advertised because of pricing and other limitations). Without a digital cable box, you can't order pay per view directly (you may still be able to call in an order), and it is not clear that extra cost programming (such as HBO HD or ESPN HD) is transmitted this way by my local cable provider. But if you live in an area that is served with unencrypted QAM over analog cable and you just want basic HD channels and you don't use pay per view much, all you need is a basic analog cable subscription (currently $12.95 in my area) and a QAM tuner, and you've got real HDTV. This is considerably less expensive than upgrading to digital cable (that would be "iO" around here) and renting a cablecard, or a digital cable box, or digital cable DVR from the cable company.
The LG LST3510A never did get consistently good OTA reception at my house no matter which antenna I used; a roof antenna probably would have solved things, but we never went that route. But the LG can decode QAM, and found all of Cablevision's open stations automatically using EZset. Remapping the channel numbers ("channel 110.78") to something intelligible by humans ("channel 9") has to be done manually. Image quality/reception seems less dependant on the LG tuner and more based on how much bandwidth Cablevision allocates to each channel. Some of the marginal SD channels look a bit worse than their analog counterparts, and some of the HD channels seem to lack a bit of detail compared to my memory of OTA broadcasts (I could not do an A/B comparison). But overall, HD is HD and it looks great at an almost unbeatable price.
I won't be using the LG this way for too long, as I will be getting in a TiVo HD later in the week, which can also decode -- and record -- QAM. The TiVo HD is not free, but TiVo's monthly fees are $1 less expensive than the cable company's DVR rental when you sign up for 3 years.