HDTV Liberation Front

Those unbending renegades up in Cockeysville, Md. are at it again. This time, the Sinclair Broadcast Group is publicizing its about-face on over-the-air reception with a media campaign for free HDTV.

SBG has finished a set of public service announcements, first described in the pages of the July 21 issue of TV Technology, designed to promote free over-the-air HDTV. For a generation of viewers, the concept may be as breathlessly stunning as the PSA announcer makes it sound:

"Before cable and satellite, there was free TV, delivered to you over the airwaves!" the announcer intones as if unveiling the cold-fusion automobile. "It began as early images, then the pictures became clearer, we added color and more detail, better sound and new and exciting program! Now, high-definition images are being broadcast to your home for free! Before you buy your next TV, become an education consumer. Then ask how you can receive free over-the-air high-definition television. HDTV is here, and it's free!" Bwahahahahaha ...

An SBG spokesman said that three station groups had requested tapes of the PSAs, but he declined to identify them. The spots are network and station agnostic, and can therefore be branded by whoever runs them.

The ads refer viewers to a companion Web site, www.myfreehdtv.org, which features a couple of fidgety ungulates on a 16:9 screen in a living room not of this world, in addition to an FAQ about free hi-def TV.

"'Over-the-air' HDTV is just one of the many new and exciting services your local television station is providing you today, with even more services being planned for your future," the Web site states.

SBG's own Web site lists nine of its 62 stations as being "HDTV ready" today. Up until recent reception tests proved the competence of Zenith's latest over-the-air demodulator, Sinclair was the most vociferous critic of the transmission standard for over-the-air digital television. The spokesman there said the four NBC affiliates cranked on the HD in time for the Olympics. The group's 20 Fox affiliates are preparing for that network's full-fledged HD launch on Sept. 12, he said.

The "My Free HDTV" Web site also includes a link to something called "CheckHD," a geographic-search info site from the folks at Decisionmark, creators of http://www.antennaweb.org/. Like AntennaWeb, where a user plugs in street address and minimal terrain information, CheckHD uses similar criteria to list available over-the-air digital content in a given area. When the site goes live Sept. 20, it will also have links to local retailers carrying the recommended stuff to get over-the-air DTV (and HDTV).