Monday, September 24, 2007

Gear: Tuning HDTV with an LG LST-4600A

Since this is my first Gear post, let me first talk a little about my gear philosophy. Obviously, I love gadgets and learning how they work. But being an engineer, one of my main goals with any project is cost optimization -- ruthless efficiency! This goal was a necessity when I was in college and graduate school and money was tight, but it still remains a basic part of my design mentality. If money were no object, I would just go buy things off-the-shelf. But what fun would that be?!

Now onto the point of this post: HDTV tuning. As you may be aware (or maybe not), HDTV is available for free over the air (OTA). All you need is an HDTV (ATSC) tuner -- which, per federal law, all new TVs are required to have -- and an antenna. Plug in the antenna, scan for channels, and you'll be rocking in just a few minutes!

But what if you have an older HDTV without a tuner? Or maybe you have a standard definition TV (SDTV) and would like to watch the wide-screen versions of your favorite TV shows (sure, you won't be watching "true" HD, but the wide-screen format may appeal to some). Discrete HDTV tuners are fairly expensive right now, generally starting around $150, though prices are dropping.

My solution? I happened to come across an ebay auction for a pair of LG LST-4600A HDTV tuners. They're actually boxes intended to control TV service in hotel rooms, but in very basic operation, they can tune OTA HDTV and send it to your TV. The auction was $25 + $15 shipping, with a best offer option. I offered $15, they countered with $18, and I accepted.

Sure, the LST-4600A aint sexy, but who cares when they only cost this much:

Total cost: $33
Per Unit: $16.50 = CHEAP!

Now to get this guy going. First trick? No remote and not even an infrared (IR) sensor on the LST-4600A. (I never said my projects were easy!) There's a port on the box for an infrared sensor and LG sells them directly through their parts department for $17.65 (call 1-800-243-0000 and ask for part #6712000003A). Any universal remote will work to control this tuner, though I went with an open box One-For-All URC-6131n from Best Buy for just $8.99 (originally $18.99). Programming Zenith TV code 0017 allows control of all functions.
New total cost: $16.50 + $17.65 + $8.99 = $43.14. This is a bit higher than I was hoping when I first discovered this device, but still not bad compared to the cost of a brand-new tuner.

Now that I can control the box, I need to configure it to tune HDTV. Being a hotel-room TV box, many of the configuration functions are hidden within the service menu (I guess they didn't want guests messing with the configuration and then calling the front desk!). To enter the service menu, hit the Menu button on the remote repeatedly until the on-screen menu stops popping up and disappearing. Then hit 9876 and Enter (this access code can also be set to 4321, 3698 or 1478, but both of mine were set to 9876).

Once in the service menu, you have to individually adjust each Menu Option you'd like to change. Enter the Menu Option number, hit Menu (NOT Enter), then enter your desired Value for that Menu Option and hit Enter twice. You must re-enter the service menu each time you want to change a parameter (a little annoying, I know, but thankfully you only have to do this process once). These are the Menu Options (the numbers in the 100's) I had to adjust, along with the Value (0 to 4) options available:

100: Video Interface
  • 0: Composite
  • 1: Component
  • 2: RGB (analog/"old" computer video connection)
  • 3: DVI (Digital Video Interface, commonly found on HDTVs and computer monitors)

102: ATSC Band

  • 0: Broadcast (OTA/Antenna)
  • 1: CATV (Cable)
  • 2-4: (I honestly don't know what these are, but they're N/A for our purposes)

105: Video Out Format

  • 0: 1080i (HDTV)
  • 1: 720p (HDTV)
  • 2: 480p (EDTV)
  • 3: 480i (SDTV)
For this setup -- antenna input, SDTV output through the component video ouput -- I selected Component, Broadcast and 480i. You can also set the LST-4600A to tune unencrypted digital cable (QAM), even on basic/analog cable service. All that's necessary is to change the ATSC Band to CATV. This is an easy way to get the major networks in HD without paying extra for Digital Access, a Digital Receiver and Remote, AND the HDTV Choice Pak (a total of $16.85/mo on top of my regular cable service). I use this on my main HDTV with built-in tuner.

One caveat: though major networks are unencrypted in most areas, this is not guaranteed. I can only speak for my service (Brighthouse Networks in downtown Indianapolis) which provides unencrypted HD feeds for NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, The CW and PBS.


Brandon Brooks said...

Huge Help. I didn't get quite as good of a deal on my LST-4600A, but your guidance is extremely helpful. Now I need to contact LG and get an IR sensor.

CorrND said...

Glad this post could help. It's slightly dated but the functional information is still valid.

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