I just recently upgraded one of my my Dish Network receivers to HDTV with Dolby Digital. Despite the fact that there is very limited programming available yet (HBO-HD, Showtime HD, Discovery HD Theater and a PayPer View HD movie channel), the picture and sound are amazing!!
Last night, I watched the Soprano's on HBO-HD, at 1080 lines on my 120" diagonal 16x9 screen. Holy Crap! It was incredible. I could not believe I was watching "TV". The picture blows away DVD!!
As for the sound, the HBO is a DD signal, but is mostly uses the three fronts (L-R-C). Not much was happening in the rears.
I would love to see a football game or Leno, etc., but I cannot get the CBS-HD feed from Dish Network due to my local stations objections. I cannot get their horrible signals at all!!
If you cannot receive your local station's signal and can prove it, you can request a waiver from the chief engineer of the station. They might come out and perform a signal check. Hopefully all the air stations will be broadcasting in HDTV soon, though some of them may just be broadcasting upconverted NTSC, which is the old TV signal. When they do, please go back to them, on the antenna to support local broadcasting. Their HDTV signal will be crystal clear if you can receive enough of it. I am a broadcast engineer by trade and we have issued many such waivers, many even to people that didn't really need them, because though the signal was below the legal threshold, was still quite viewable. The waivers are harmful to free broadcast TV, because they cut us out of the loop. Many stations are starting their HDTV operations at low power, whch I think is a mistake. But the nature of the signal is such that if you get it, it will look good, or so I'm told. It is not the local station's fault if their NTSC signal doesn't look good, it's just old analog technology. It can still look pretty good with a proper antenna system. Rabbit ears don't cut it.
I am 30-50 miles from the network stations towers, and in a valley surrounded by high hills and trees. I tried a huge Cahnnel Master antenna on the roof, and can only get a marginal signal. This same antenna at my former location could pull in stations over 100 miles away (not clear, but would still get them).
I applied for the waivers, and only NBC granted one. The other 3 networks just denied them, period.
I wish they would come out and see what a crappy signal I get.....
You can file a complaint with the FCC. An informal complaint will result in a letter being sent to the TV station. You can also have a private company check your signal level, and if it is below the legal threshold, you can make them pay for the check as well as grant you a waiver. It sounds like the TV stations involved are not acting in accordance with the law.