More and more people are going high-def. Even in a bad economy, HDTV sales continue to be a bright spot for electronics retailers such as Best Buy and Circuit City, based on their recent financial reports. In the first quarter, worldwide sales of just LCD displays -- almost all of which are HDTVs -- increased 45 percent over the same period a year earlier, according to the NPD Group.

A major reason is that U.S. consumers are switching to HDTVs in advance of the government-mandated switch to digital TV broadcasts in February. But people also just like to keep up with the times.

If you're new to HDTV, here's a guide to what kind of high-def programming is available for your high-tech viewing pleasure. To see specifically what's available in these categories in your area, visit the website Where Is HD? (


This is the easiest option because it's essentially free, especially if you already have a decent over-the-air antenna. Even if you don't, a relatively inexpensive set-top antenna, such as the Philips PHDTV1 for $25, will do the trick. (Go to to gauge reception quality for your address.) Fourteen broadcast channels offer some kind of high-def programming in the Twin Cities, but much of that content is restricted to prime-time shows and major sports events. About half of the programming on KARE-TV, Ch. 11, is in high-def, but the other network affiliates have no more than 20 percent, according to Where Is HD?


The high-def options broaden considerably with cable TV. Comcast (, the Twin Cities' largest cable operator, offers 39 high-def channels, including networks that offer high-def shows virtually around the clock, such as Animal Planet HD and ESPN HD. In addition, Comcast has more than 400 on-demand high-def programs that can be watched at the viewer's whim. Of course, all of this comes at a price. It ranges from $20 a month for a basic package that includes just the local HD channels to $115 a month for everything, including the required HD receiver. (Otherwise, leasing the set-top box costs $7 a month.) Prices and selection might vary depending on where you live, your cable operator and promotional offers.


Satellite TV services offer even more high-def channels, but not the same on-demand options as cable. DirecTV ( wins the numbers game with 97 channels that offer high-def programming at least some of the time. High-def channels add $10 a month to DirecTV's monthly packages, which cost $30 to $82, depending on the number of channels you want. You also have to buy a DirecTV HD receiver, $100 to $200 depending on the model. The Dish Network ( has 72 high-def channels. A basic package with 45 high-def channels costs $30 a month, including equipment, while other programming packages -- $33 to $95 a month, depending on channel selection -- can have high-def channels added for an additional $10 to $20 a month.


Blu-ray Discs are the high-def version of DVDs. More than 550 titles have been released to date. They offer the best high-def presentation in picture and sound. Players -- which also play standard DVDs -- start at about $300, although the best model, the PlayStation 3, starts at $400. Discs typically retail for $35 to $40 each, but retailers such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy and have had sales discounting titles to $15 to $20. If you don't want to buy the discs, the online rental service Netflix ( offers Blu-ray titles at $17 a month for unlimited rentals of three discs at a time, its most popular plan. (Other plans cost $5 to $24 a month.)


Standard DVDs don't offer high-def resolution, but they can fake it. You just need an up-converting player, which includes Blu-ray models. Such players increase the lines of resolution to make a standard DVD look better on HDTVs. The result is a picture that isn't as good as Blu-ray but nevertheless will please many viewers, especially those who already have a sizable DVD collection. The only catch is that you must connect the player to your setup using an HDMI cable. Oppo ( makes award-winning up-converting players starting at $169. But reliable models can be found for less than $50 through bargain sites such as Dealnews (


Streaming high-def content from the Internet is still relatively new and problematic, but it is largely free. You'll need a computer, an adapter and other cables to get things going, or a special interface box such as the soon-to-be-released HP MediaSmart Connect ($349). A recent article at Dealnews ( explains how to do it by someone who gave up cable TV for a month to try online streaming exclusively. His conclusion: "Despite its great strides ... Internet TV just isn't ready for prime time."

Randy A. Salas • 612-673-4542