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Super Size Your Super Bowl

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Oh, you know you want it. It's just that, like a lot of us, you aren't exactly sure what it is. I come to you today with this high-definition TV scouting report, because I care. Because I care, and because I damn well expect to be invited to your Super Bowl party. You supply the pixels; I'll bring the pizza.

If Santa didn't stuff your stocking with an HDTV and you're headed out this weekend to buy a big screen for the big game, take some notes. I speak from experience.

First and foremost: Hell, yeah, it's worth it -- the money and the trouble. Watching the Dallas Cowboys in hi-def for the first time, I could only imagine it was like when old-timers initially startled to see a program in color. Seriously, it was not unlike when I finally slapped contact lenses on my 20/280 vision. Then: I drove around for days just looking with wonderment as red blurs morphed into stop signs. Now: I watch shows about penguins in Antarctica just because I'm hypnotized by the details of the ice.

I won't get all techno-savvy on you, as the universe of hi-def can be a confusing concoction of asinine acronyms and tongue-twisting terminology. I'll just tell my tale and hope you embrace the good and sidestep the bad. Deal?

In a world of front-projection, rear-projection, LCD and plasma options, I recently chose a Samsung 56-inch 1080p DLP. Not because I knew jack squat, but because a friend of a prominent local pro athlete connected me with Gary Wilson of Plano-based WAV Electronics, and that's what he suggested.

"Samsung's been on the market the longest," Wilson counseled me, "and they've got the best features. For all that's out there, it's the best product at the best price."

Though prices have plummeted about $1,000 in the last year, expect to pay around the $2,250 I forked over. If you have deeper pockets, Wilson suggests Pioneer Elite 1080p Plasma -- you can mount it on any wall -- for a cool eight grand. Ouch.

You can get an HDTV at almost any retail store from Starpower to Wal-Mart these days, or, like me, you can frequent a smaller, local company like WAV because of its service and attention to detail. Your choice.

From rabbit ears we've matriculated to DLP, which stands for Digital Light Processor. And with TVs, like BMWs, you generally get more and pay more the higher the model number. Hence, 1080 is better than 720; the "p" better than "i," etc. But with hi-def, you don't just go home, plug it in and -- presto! -- commence couch-potato paradise.

Two words: Effin'. Accessories.

Even if you just want to watch your HDTV, you'll need a HD tuner. Time Warner cable rents them for, like $12 per month, per unit. And if you want to record programs, pause live TV, etc., off your HDTV, you'll have to buy a DVR (Digital Video Recorder). This is where equation gets tricky.

If you have cable, you can rent their DVRs for about $8 a month, or, better still, buy a TiVo box at places like Best Buy. Cost: eight-hundred smackeroos. If you have satellite, pay attention. DirecTV subscribers, consider yourselves warned: DirecTV is no longer associated with TiVo, and DirecTV's brand of DVR -- despite what William Shatner says in those commercials -- sucks. Sure DirecTV's HD programming costs only $10 a month and gives you access to great shows on great networks, but it's barely worth it.

I've returned two DirecTV DVRs. They freeze. They glitch, or "pixellate." They make you get up off the couch and physically push a re-set button at least once a day. The capper: I "bought" one at Best Buy for a cool $325, waited 10 days to get it because they are on back order, and was informed upon activation that if I cancel DirecTV I'll have to return the DVR because the $325 only gives me the right to "lease."

"It's just not a good product," says Wilson. "There are way too many bugs. I've got customers wanting to get rid of theirs almost every day. Dumping TiVo was the dumbest thing DirecTV ever did."

The only option for us DirecTV suckers is to go on eBay -- like I did -- and hunt for an old-school DirecTV high-definition TiVo. They're out there. But because of DirecTV's DVR debacle, they're getting more valuable/expensive by the day. Otherwise, you'll have to switch to Dish Network, which doesn't have TiVo, but a decent generation of DVR. The con to dumping DirecTV, of course, is losing sports packages like NFL Sunday Ticket and NBA League Pass.

Whatever you do, do it before Super Sunday. You never know when you'll get a Super glimpse of a hi-def flash. --Richie Whitt

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