Posts Tagged ‘HDTV’

Product Review: OPPO BDP-83 Blu-Ray Disc Player (August 2009)

Considering how well their upscaling red laser DVD players work, it’s amazing more people don’t know about OPPO Digital. But then again, you can’t just walk into Best Buy or Wal-Mart and pick one up off a shelf.

No, OPPO prefers to conduct its sales mostly through the Internet, with retail giant Amazon.com as good a place to find them as anywhere. And that will hold true with the BDP-83, OPPO’s first foray into BD-land.

But don’t kid yourself. This is no bargain basement BD player, like the Magnavox models Wal-Mart had on sale last holiday season. Au contraire! The BDP-83 has more in common with Pioneer’s top-of-the-line BDP-09FD, reviewed here.

Figure 1. OPPO’s BDP-83 is a sharp-looking player for the money – and it’s no lightweight with performance, either.

OUT OF THE BOX

This player has high quality written all over it, from the brushed metal front panel to the solid housing that is actually more substantial than other name-brand Blu-ray players I’ve tested. It’s not particularly light at 11.2 pounds, but it does feel solid and stable.

That same front panel has a very subtle design, with small, “stealth” buttons for power and drawer open/close buttons. A mouse disk about the size of a half-dollar provides navigation and is located to the right of the panel. At the far right, you’ll find a covered USB 2.0 slot for playback of music and movie files and JPEG still images. A fluorescent display sits below the disc drawer and is very easy to read. It can also be dimmed in a projection theater.

The rear panel connections are sufficient for any home theater system. One HDMI 1.3 output is provided for connection to an AV receiver or HDTV set, and there’s also an analog component (YPbPr) output via RCA jacks.

Note that the only way to get upscaled video from regular DVDs will usually be through the HDMI connection – depending on the level of copy protection encoded on the DVD, you may only see 480i or 480p playback through the component video ports.

There are several ways to get audio out of the player. The first is through the HDMI connection, which is the only direct digital interface for high-resolution audio formats, including 7.1 channel PCM, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD.  The Toslink and coaxial SPDIF connections can handle Dolby Digital 5.1 formats, while 7.1 and 5.1 direct analog connections to appropriate receivers are handled by a separate bank of eight RCA jacks on the left rear panel.

Other connections include a second USB 2.0 jack for external audio, video, and image files, IR loop-through ports for controlling other compatible AV devices through the player, and a RJ45 Ethernet jack for Internet connections, required to enable and use the BD-Live function. (You can also use a wireless bridge with this port.) There’s also a RS232C jack option for an additional $89, for remote control in an integrated home theater system,

Figure 2. Here’s a look at the rear panel connections. Note the second USB 2.0 input (the other is on the front panel).

REMOTE AND MENUS

The supplied remote is very different from older OPPO designs. In fact, it also resembles more of a Pioneer product in size and shape. All of the buttons are large and backlit, making operation in a darkened room a snap – altogether, much more user-friendly and substantial (there’s that word again!).

OPPO has built quite a few neat tricks into this player. Of course, it supports 1080p/24 playback, and that’s the recommended mode when connecting to the latest generation of flat panel LCD and plasma HDTVs, as well as front projectors. You can easily toggle the 24p output from the player’s menu. This mode may also be activated automatically during the HDMI “handshake” between the BDP-83 and your display.

Now, this is cool: You can switch output resolutions on the fly while a disc is still playing, instead of having to stop the disc and make the change. It works very quickly and you get a visual confirmation of the selected resolution on the front panel display. Feeding an external video processor/seamless switcher? Select the player’s Source Direct mode, and it will send raw, unprocessed video from the disc directly to the HDMI output connector.

If you elect to process video onboard, you’re not giving up anything. The BDP-83 uses Anchor Bay’s VRS technology for deinterlacing, 3:2 and other cadence correction, and multi-axis motion interpolation. This is the same chipset used in the DVDO Edge processor, and it works exceptionally well.

Other menu options include aspect ratio settings (4:3 letterbox and pan/scan, plus 16:9 wide and auto) and image zoom modes, of which there are numerous options. Some of the more useful options include the correct vertical stretch for showing 2.35:1 movies on 2.35 screens, and several letterbox zoom modes to handle older DVDs that do not use anamorphic expansion to show widescreen movies.

The BDP-83 supports other legacy audio formats like conventional CDs, DVD Audio, and SACD. Using the Pure Audio menu or remote function, video playback is disabled through the HDMI output (only video black is transmitted) to your AV receiver. Ostensibly, this function is used to minimize any crosstalk between digital audio and video.

Going deeper into the menu, you can play back red laser DVDs at a 24p frame rate with 1080p upconversion. (This is not available through the analog HD outputs.) Your TV or projector must support native 24-frame playback for this to work correctly, and the choice of whether to output 24p or not can be left up to the Auto setting, plus a successful HDMI handshake with your display.

The VRS processor adds multiple levels of choices, including five different deinterlacing modes (Auto, Film, Video, 2:2 Even Field, and 2:2 Odd Field), two chroma upsampling error correction modes, four different color space setup modes (RGB Video, RGB PC, YCbCr 4:2:2, and YCbCr 4:4:4), and HDMI Deep Color modes (30-bit and 36-bit). An audio delay mode (lip sync correction) is also included.

The audio menu is also deep. For the initial setup, you’ll choose between linear pulse-code modulation (LPCM) and Bitstream modes, the first being used when the HDTV or AV receiver is unable to handle advanced Dolby and DTS formats. For compatible receivers, select Bitstream mode and let the receiver do the heavy lifting. You can, of course, go straight from the rear panel analog audio connections, if need be.

There are numerous digital audio output configurations that are detailed in the owner’s manual, so I won’t go into them here. Suffice it to say that the BDP-83 will support whatever standard or advanced multichannel audio formats you’re likely to encounter. Just make sure your AV receiver is as up to date!

IN OPERATION

In my review of the Pioneer BDP-09FD, I mentioned the precise, smooth operation of the disc tray and drive motor. While the BDP-83 doesn’t quite have that “Swiss watch” feel, it’s a lot closer to the Pioneer than to competing players from Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, and LG.

OPPO makes a big deal of the fast load and play times on the BDP-83. I measured them with a stopwatch, and it took just 11 seconds from powering up until the OPPO logo appeared, and I was prompted to load a disc. 12 seconds after I loaded a disc, the first video image or menu on that disc appeared. That’s REAL fast! Of course, disc loading times also depend on whether the studio added BD-Live content that will boot up at the same time, or needs to be accessed separately.

I ran the BDP-83 through my Denon AVR-788 receiver and used it to watch a 5.1 channel mix from Ice Worlds from the BBC’s Planet Earth BD collection (buy this one, it’s a keeper!). This series features one of the better DD 5.1 channel mixes around, particularly the dubbed-in and location sounds of nature. It’s immersive, to say the least.

The audio playback was smooth with no “hits” or dropouts and had plenty of dynamic range. The 1080p video, which went through my Mitsubishi HC6000 3LCD projector, had excellent contrast, color, and detail – although with a VRS processor on one end and a HQV Reon on the other, it would be hard to screw things up.

Just for kicks, I took the BDP-83 upstairs to my office and connected it to a Westinghouse Digital L2410NM WUXGA (1920×1200) LCD computer monitor, which has zero video processing. Here’s where you can really see the VRS chipset shine, spinning up the Realta Blu-ray test patterns perfectly and giving me gorgeous 1080p playback of Iron Man (in thrilling two-channel stereo, of course).

CONCLUSIONS

For $500, this is one sturdy, precision Blu-ray player. If you want to go high-end, it would be hard to justify paying a lot more for what the BDP-83 already delivers. As OPPO has demonstrated more than once in the past, you usually do as well (if not better) with their upscaling red laser DVD models, and it looks like OPPO’s unique combination of engineering and value has successfully migrated to Blu-ray platform. Grab one for yourself!

OPPO Digital BDP-83
Blu-ray Disc Player

MSRP: $499.00

 

Specifications:

Compatible disc types: BD-Video, DVD-Video, AVCHD, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, HDCD, Kodak Picture CD, CD-R/RW, DVD±R/RW, DVD±R DL, BD-R/RE

BD Profile: BD-ROM Version 2, Profile 2 (also compatible with Profile 1, Version 1.0 and 1.1)

Internal Storage: 1GB (Actual available storage varies due to system usage)
Analog audio output: Stereo, 5.1ch, 7.1ch (RCA)
Digital audio output: Coaxial, Optical, HDMI 1.3
Analog video output: Composite, Component (480i/p only)
Digital video output: HDMI (NTSC 480p/720p/1080i/1080p, PAL 576p/720p/1080i/1080p)
Other interfaces: 2x USB 2.0, 2x IR (1/8” Mini plug)

Optional interfaces: RS232C

LAN Interface: RJ45-type jack
Dimensions: 16.9” W x 13.3” D x 3” H

Weight: 11.2 lbs.
BD firmware updates: Through Internet connection

OPPO Digital, Inc.
2629 Terminal Blvd. Suite B
Mountain View, CA 94043
(650) 961-1118
www.oppodigital.com

Classic Product Review: Eviant T7 Card Portable Digital TV (2009)

It’s finally over. The United States has transitioned away from analog (NTSC) TV broadcasting after 60+ years, and moved to an all-digital system (8VSB) for full-power TV stations. (Low power and translator stations are still analog for a few more years.)

The NTIA converter box program is slowly winding down, and the latest estimates from Nielsen (June 21) showed that about 2.1 million homes, or 1.8% of all over-the-air TV viewers, were still unable or unprepared to watch digital TV.

The upside? Over 62 million converter box coupons had been mailed as of June 24, with 32 million redeemed and 24 million expired. And of course, every new TV set that supports NTSC reception must also support the ATSC DTV standard. So, we’re out of the woods with DTV reception issues, right?

Not quite. Everyone that ever bought a portable TV, from Sony Watchman LCD sets to tiny tabletop CRTs, just saw their investment reduced to zero on June 12. None of these legacy sets can receive ATSC signals, and it’s impractical to connect an NTIA converter box as a “retro move,” since there’s only one model that can run off batteries.

Never fear; Eviant is here! The company recently introduced two new LCD portable TV sets that are fully ATSC-complaint. Both sets are being featured as “hurricane TVs,” or sets you should keep around in case of a weather emergency.  But they’re also good-looking and small enough to use for everyday viewing on the go.

The T7 “Card” is the larger of the two models and the one that’s currently shipping to retail. According to the press release, “…The Eviant “Card” series 7-inch digital portable TV is available now in leading retail outlets including Kohls, JC Penny, Walmart.com, Target.com, Belks, Aafes, Bon Ton, D&H, HSN, Amazon.com, Shopko, Marsan and more with a MSRP of $169.99.”

Figure 1. Eviant’s T7 “Card” portable digital TV, shown in a white finish.

OUT OF THE BOX

Eviant’s T7 is about the size of a thick paperback book, and not all that heavy. It measures 7.3 inches wide by 5.7 inches high and is 1.1 inches deep. With the included lithium ion battery, it tips the scales at just over a half-pound. The supplied lithium ion battery charges up quickly (less than one hour), and is supposed to provide 2.5 hours of viewing time between charges.

Eviant has shown this TV with different color finishes. The official press photo shows a white housing, but my review sample was black and I also saw a red version at the CES summer line show. The shipping box shows pink, blue, and green as additional “skin” options, so you can knock yourself out with color coordination options!

The T7 isn’t just a TV. Eviant has also included a composite video input and mini audio connection to go along with it, plus a matching cable. If you have a portable media player with these connections, you can at least watch your videos on a larger screen. There’s also a mini-stereo headphone connection for private listening.

The whip antenna is actually a slide-on whip, which means you can pull it off and hook up other types of antennas to the threaded F connector. (Bravo, Eviant!) Eviant’s also included a little vertical UHF antenna with a magnetic base that you can stick just about anywhere.

The TV has a swing-out support stand for tabletop use. There’s even a credit card-sized remote control that has extremely limited functionality — basically, you can adjust volume and channel, plus access the menu. There isn’t even a power button on the remote (strange!), but there is a “channel +10” button for moving around faster.

The LCD display measures 7” and has a working resolution of 480 x 234 pixels, so don’t go crazy expecting to see HDTV on this product. Remember — it’s a portable TV, first and foremost. Besides, trying to put a 7” HD display in a product like this would be overkill.

Figure 2. The T7 (and its “coming in the 3rd quarter” 4.3” companion) grabbed more than a few eyeballs at the CES NY Line Shows in early June.

MENUS AND OPERATION

Eviant has included a surprising detailed menu. There are five sections you can diddle around with — Picture, where you can select the AV input or regular TV mode, plus choose between Personal, Dynamic, Standard, and Soft image presets, and fine-tune contrast, brightness, and color.

The Audio menu is where you can adjust balance, plus select the preferred language when more than one audio track is available. The Clock menu lets you set the OSD duration in 15-second increments, plus toggle to your time zone and switch Daylight Savings Time on and off.

The Tools menu is where you can set the OSD transparency (on or off), color temperature (Warm, Normal, Cool), and the picture Zoom mode for when 4:3 content is displayed on the screen. The default (factory) setting for this control is Wide, but you can switch everything (including HD broadcasts) to 4:3. Or, you can just select Auto, and let the T7 provide the correct screen size, based on the video format being transmitted.

The last menu, Channel, is where you’ll scan for ATSC and NTSC channels. Believe it or not, the T7 will also scan for and receive NTSC and QAM digital cable channels (handy for when there’s a cable TV feed near your campsite, I guess?). The NTSC support means you’ll still be able to pick up local community TV stations, which converter boxes won’t receive.

You can initiate a general channel scan in this menu, and also an overlay scan to pick up any channels you may have missed the first time around. This secondary scan is also handy if you rotate antennas or travel, and don’t want to lose digital TV channels you captured previously.

PERFORMANCE

I first tested the T7 by connecting it to my attic antenna system, which feeds my home office. It takes a while to scan — about two and a half minutes to saunter through channels 2 through 69 — but once done, works as well as any PC-based digital TV tuner I’ve tested. As you step through channels, you’ll see a blue display in the upper right corner of the screen showing you each station’s virtual channel number and call sign.

One thing you won’t see on the T7 is PSIP. For whatever reason (and it may be that cost is the reason), there is no way to display electronic program guide information on the T7. It will, of course, display closed captions. But the only way you’ll know what you’re watching is to change the channel up and down to get the virtual channel display to appear briefly onscreen again.

The next step was to connect the T7 to my rooftop antenna via a splitter, with the other leg feeding a Zenith DTT901 DTV converter box. My goal here was to see how the two compared in terms of sensitivity and ability to handle multipath.

The answer? They were equivalent in performance on both close-in and distant DTV channels. I installed a 20 dB step attenuator in line to both sets and began cranking back signals 1 dB at a time until they started to break up or drop out. That point was exactly the same for every channel on both the T7 and the DTT901( the latter is effectively running Generation 6 8VSB receiver technology).

An inquiry to Eviant’s PR firm came back with the response that the receiver’s chipset is made by MStar Semiconductor of Taiwan, and is the MSD110. From my tests, it appeared functionally the equivalent of the LG 8VSB front end used in the DTT901.

The next test took place during my Super Tuesday session at InfoComm. The session, attended by 180+ people, was held in Room 303 of the Orlando Convention Center. I scanned for channels and picked up over 25 different NTSC and ATSC programs, most of which played just fine without any dropouts, no matter where I placed the TV in the room. (This location is over 20 miles distant from the Orlando TV transmitters.)

Figure 3. Yep, I was able to watch snippets of “Wipeout” on WABC-DT, while zipping along in a double-decker train through the Jersey Meadows!

Figure 3. Yep, I was able to watch snippets of “Wipeout” on WABC-DT, while zipping along in a double-decker train through the Jersey Meadows!

The final test was to take the T7 into New York City for some press meetings. One was uptown at the Hilton Times Square, and the others were at the Metropolitan Pavilion on 18th Street. Reception was perfect on 42nd Street by Times Square on all channels, including high-band VHF channels 7 (WABC), 11 (WPIX), and 13 (WNET). Reception deep in the Hilton was spotty in places, but still better than I expected.

Later on that afternoon, I plunked the T7 on the wooden bar of an Irish pub on 18th Street, as our group tossed down a quick round of Harp lagers before Pepcomm’s Digital Experience opened. Once again, I experienced flawless reception of all NYC DTV channels with the whip first extended halfway, and then fully extended. (The T7’s whip is actually more resonant at UHF frequencies when somewhat collapsed).

Just for laughs, I pulled the T7 out seconds after my westbound, double-decker NJ Transit Midtown Direct train exited the New Jersey side of the Hudson River tunnel. I flipped it on and was able to watch quite a bit of programming on WABC-7 and WPIX-11, even with the train moving at a pretty good clip — 50+ miles per hour. I could see the Empire State Building through the opposite train windows for a good part of the trip, so I figured it was worth a try.

Of course, signals were lost completely when we went through the Secaucus train station and also when we crossed lift bridges and went under other tracks. But the video and audio were there about 70% of the time. And once the train pulled to a complete stop in Newark to take on and pick up passengers, VHF and UHF DTV reception was rock steady.

CONCLUSION

Eviant’s T7 delivers the goods. It has an excellent DTV receiver front end and worked very well indoors in what are difficulty high-multipath environments (Times Square, 18th Street, and the Orlando Convention Center). Audio is surprisingly loud for such a small TV, although frequency response is limited. Images were very clear and crisp, even at low resolution.

What I didn’t like: Even with a +10 channel jump button, it takes a while to move from one channel to another. There should also be a power switch on the remote control. And I’d like to see at least a “mini program guide” button included, so you at least find out what the heck program you’re watching.

The time (broadcast by every digital TV station) isn’t even displayed, unless you go into the menu. Oops! That info would be very helpful on a “hurricane TV.” Oh, and by the way, Eviant — how about a car charger adapter for this TV, in case of a power failure that lasts more than 2.5 hours?

In any event, the T7’s faults aren’t deal breakers. From what I’ve been told, pricing is very competitive on this product — a quick check online shows Target pricing them at $149.95, and Amazon had the black version listed as low as $119. For that kind of money, you can’t go wrong.

SPECIFICATIONS

Eviant T7 Portable Digital TV
MSRP: $169.99

Specifications:
Dimensions: 7.3” W x 5.7” H x 1.1” D
Weight: .55 pounds*
RF Input: “F” connector with fitted collapsible whip
TV Systems: NTSC, ATSC, QAM
Video inputs: (1) Mini-plug
Audio inputs: (1) stereo mini-plug
Audio output: 8-ohm stereo mini plug
* Owner’s manual says .55 pounds, press release says 1.39 pounds

Available from:

Eviant
1661 Fairplex drive
La Verne, CA 91750

www.eviant.com
(866) 935-4396

HDTV Tech Talk Tutorial: 3D Program Formats

Here’s a quick tutorial on 3D program and transport formats, all coming to a TV near you.

Have you heard enough about 3D yet?

Probably not. Samsung and Panasonic are long out of the gate, while LG just started its advertising campaign for INFINIA LCD TVs during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  And there will be more companies following with 3D TVs, Blu-ray players, and a host of accessories.

One question I’ve gotten repeatedly is this: “How do they pack a 3D signal into a conventional cable TV channel?” Another one: “How can DirecTV send out 3D, which is progressive scan? They’re not broadcasting in 1080p!”

Time to wheel out the whiteboard! In a nutshell, here’s how the different 3D transmission formats work.

THE DETAILS

Earlier this month, the 3D amendments for the HDMI 1.4 standard were released. These standards include a host of broadcast 3D formats, along with the Blu-ray top/bottom packed 1080p frame format. (I’ll touch on that, too.) These mandatory 3D formats must be supported if the HDMI interface is a ‘true’ 3D connection.

That’s not to say that a TV manufacturer won’t support other formats: They can, and they are! Examples of ‘other formats’ include checkerboard, interlaced 3D, line-by-line, and alternate frame. There are even 2D+ depth and other ‘overlay’ formats (think of the FM subcarrier for stereo from the 1950s) that are backwards-compatible with older TVs.

What we’re interested in is what DirecTV, Dish, Comcast, Cox, Discovery, and possibly major TV networks like CBS, NBC, and Fox are doing, and might do. Here’s the short list:

Side by side: This is the format that DirecTV will launch in June. It’s also likely to be used by Comcast, Dish, Cox, and any other multi-channel video system. In the side-by-side system, the left eye and right eye images are anamorphically squeezed to fit into a single 1920x1080i/30 frame. (Figure 1)

Figure 1. The side-by-side (2x 960×1080) 3D format. Image copyright ©2010 DirecTV. All rights reserved.

That means that each image has half the horizontal resolution, or 960×1080 pixels, when expanded back to its normal shape and presented sequentially. Does this look bad? Not really, considering there’s still over 1 million pixels in each eye. As it turns out, HDMI 1.4a calls for side-by-side exclusively with 1920x1080i video content.

Top + Bottom: This format is more likely to be used by stations transmitting progressive scan signals. Once again, the left and right eye images are anamorphically squeezed and packed into a single frame, except they are aligned one atop the other. This is the standard for 1280x720p/60 and 1920x1080p/24 transmissions. (Figure 2)

Figure 2. The top + bottom 3D transport format. Image copyright ©2010 DreamWorks Animation. All rights reserved.

In this case, each image has half the vertical resolution of a full HD video frame. For a 1080p program, that’s no big deal – each eye works out to 1920×540 pixels. But 720p comes up short, with an effective resolution of 1280×360 pixels in each eye.

The thinking here is that it’s better to sacrifice vertical resolution in a progressive scan TV system than horizontal resolution. I don’t think it makes much of a difference with 1080p content, but 720p? It may not look as good as it should.

What about the alternative? Using a side-by-side format, this would reduce the resolution of each left and right eye image to 640×720 pixels – not much more than a regular DVD. As a result, adopting 720p as an HD format may leave something to be desired with respect to 3D.

HDMI 1.4a: There are two formats here. One uses a top/bottom dual-frame structure (Figure 3) with a total of 1920×2205 pixels. (45 pixels are a blanking or metadata interval.) This retains full 1080p resolution and the frame rate is 24 (23.98) Hz. The other format is for video games, and oddly enough, it’s at a lower resolution – 1280×720 pixels, with either a 50Hz or 60 (59.94) Hz refresh. (Figure 3)

Figure 3. The HDMI 1.4 Blu-ray frame packing structure.

To summarize, these are the ‘mandatory’ HDMI 1.4a 3D formats. A compatible 3D TV will support all of them. On the other hand, set-top boxes and media players only have to provide one of these signals (for Blu-ray players, it’s the full 1080p top + bottom format exclusively), based on the content being served up.

It’s important to remember that, not matter what delivery (transport) format is used, the 3D TV will present ALL of these as sequential left eye/right eye images, using the same active shutter glasses. Only the physical resolution of the images will vary, along with frame rates.

And now you know the rest of the story…to quote the late, great Paul Harvey.

Game On! Early tests of 3D plasma vs. 3D LCD

Consumer Reports has posted a short video clip that shows their preliminary tests of Panasonic 3D plasma and Samsung 3D LCD TVs. You can find it here.

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/video-hub/electronics/televisions/16935238001/

During the clip, they point out that while both technologies exhibit high contrast 3D images, the Samsung images essentially go black if the viewer lays down while watching TV with 3D glasses. (This puts the polarization axis of the glasses at 90 degrees to the screen, and is not recommended in any case!)

Performing the same test with the Panasonic plasma resulted in a slightly dimmer image, and nothing more.

There’s an easy explanation as to why this happens with LCD TVs. Liquid crystals can only shutter light that is already polarized, which is why each LC pixel element has two polarizers – one mounted at the rear of the pixel wall, and one at the front. Rotating a pair of active shutter glasses 90 degrees in front of the screen in effect acts as a third light shutter and cancels out whatever light remains after the LC imaging process.

Ever hold two pairs of polarized sunglasses at right angles to each other? Then you’ve seen the same effect.

Now, let me state that lying down on your side while watching 3D is a pretty dumb idea all around. The images are oriented in the wrong axis with respect to your vision, and it’s also got to be uncomfortable!(Come on, how lazy can one get?)

Even so, this video demonstrates clearly that moderate changes in polarization angles make images from 3D LCD TVs noticeably darker, so if you tilt your head to one side or the other while wearing glasses and watching a 3D LCD TV, you will experience this effect.

Why doesn’t this happen with plasma? Because it doesn’t use polarized light, just a burst of light from color phosphors. OLED 3D TVs (if and when they ever get here) are also free from this cross-polarization problem.

This is another example of why 3D TV needs to be thoroughly explained to potential buyers so that they don’t run into any unpleasant surprises after the sale.

WABC, Cablevision Kiss and Make Up. Who’s Next?

Disney-owned TV station WABC made good on its threat early Sunday morning to pull its signal from Cablevision systems in New York and northern New Jersey after a dispute over retransmission fees could not be resolved amicably. But the two companies reached an agreement about 15 minutes into the Oscars telecast, restoring the signal just as the nominees for Best Supporting Actor were announced.

According to several published news reports, WABC was seeking a fee of $1 per subscriber, whereas Cablevision was countering with 25 cents per sub. Supposedly, the companies arrived at a figure in the range of 60 cents per sub, although that can’t be confirmed right now.

In a similar battle last December, the Fox network duked it out with Time-Warner, asking for $1 per sub but reportedly getting about half that in the final negotiations. It’s expected that Disney (the owner of ABC and ESPN) will play even harder ball against Time Warner in August, when those cable carriage agreements come up for renewal.

The timing couldn’t be worse for Cablevision subscribers, what with the Academy Awards telecast on Sunday. But it didn’t mean all was lost – it just meant folks would have to try and pull in the signal on channel 7 using an old-fashioned antenna.

WABC’s signal is quite strong down here in Bucks County, PA and I can receive it with a five-element VHF yagi plus a mast-mounted preamplifier, mounted about five feet above my roof . The straight-line path from here to the Empire State Building is about 65 miles, and there are two ranges of hills in the way.

Here's my rooftop antenna system, aimed at New York City. The lower antenna does a great job pulling in WABC-7.

So I’d expect almost anyone who is 30 miles or less from Empire with a reasonably clear path will be able to pull in WABC’s HD signal, using an outside antenna. Within 15 miles, you may only need an indoor antenna, preferably one that can be rotated and has a switchable amplifier built-in.

Get used to these retransmission fee disputes – you’re going to hear more about them with each passing year, as TV stations move away from the old “must carry” system – where a local station had to be carried on the cable system, but received no money for that carriage – to retransmission agreements, which place a value of the TV station’s content.

Traditional TV networks are realizing their programs are worth just as much (if not more) than that offered by cable nets like USA, TBS, and TNT. And with advertising revenue down, thanks to the recession, those per-subscriber fees are becoming vitally important.