Built in Tuner: Do I need it? Pros and Cons

By Phil Conner

This is a frequently asked question to be sure. In answering, allow me to first point out what a tuner is and does. Most TV tuner "cards" or "boards" as they are sometimes called are set inside a TV to allow for decoding of - originally analog broadcast signals.

Today we have analog and digital tuners. Older, traditional CRT televisions will typically have an analog tuner built it. These sets will not be able to accept or decode digital television (DTV) transmissions. Newer televisions - including LCD, Plasma, and flat screen- often have a digital tuner built in (integrated) to receive either digital TV signals at 480i (interlaced) or 480p (progressive).

There are lots of different input scenarios. Smaller LCD TVs, flat screen CRT TVs, and DLP projection TVs will normally have the tuner built in for convenience. Plasma TVs and larger LCD TVs many times have the tuner built into an outboard "media receiver" which accepts and decodes and accepts all incoming signals for the plasma (which is just receiving the pre-decoded signal and displaying it - a monitor in other words).

What are the benefits of having the tuner built in a Plasma, or LCD TV?
Convenience or space limitations on having a receiver box placement are the main reasons to have a tuner built into the television. With the tuner built in to the monitor, the user will also be able to use one remote control for the television when changing channels. However, with the tuner built in, the TVs ability to accept different signal standards in the future may be inhibited. And with changing technology and FCC uncertainty this is a negative.

What are the benefits of not having the tuner built in the television (monitor)? Changing broadcast standards is the major reason. If the tuner is not built into the display you will have the option of newer and better technologies and standards in the future. This is one of the reasons that incoming signals for very high-end plasma and LCD displays are decoded through outboard options. Keeping the price down on the display is another. TVs with the tuner built in (or with the outboard decoder included) normally sell for at least 20% more.

If the tuner is not built in the monitor (TV) how do I receive and decode the signal and change channels?
If the viewer is watching cable - a cable box or VCR will tune the signal. A satellite receiver box may be used to tune an incoming signal from DirecTV or Dish. A VCR or separately sold TV tuner will tune an incoming broadcast signal. However the best option is an HDTV decoder box, which will also decode and display HDTV, as well as over the air analog and digital broadcast programming. Some receive and decode satellite and broadcast combined. Others will decode HDTV and digital signals through cable (available through your local cable provider). Many of the best decoders out there have upgradeable software, screen format adaptability, and Dolby Digital pass through for surround sound. Probably the biggest advantage of an outboard decoder is that upconverter/downconverter capabilities allow any received programming to be displayed in 1080i or 480i. In other words, the decoder can accept a poor quality broadcast analog signal and upconvert it to a much better display resolution. It acts as a line doubler in this capacity.

In sum, you don't really need to have a tuner built into a high-end display. It may limit your TVs compatibility in the future. However, there are situations where you will want the tuner built in i.e. a plasma TV on the bedroom wall with no place to put an outboard decoder. You would also want built in speakers in this situation.

Plasma Links