The Switch from Analog to Digital TV

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Digital TV Broadcasting

By now you’ve probably heard that TV broadcasting will switch over to digital (DTV) on February 17, 2009. You’ve probably also heard Cassandra-like warnings about everything you’ll need to be prepared for this event. The great likelihood, however, is that you won’t need anything, and that if you do, the effort and cost on your part will be minimal. With the help of a few Web resources, you can find out what, if anything, you need to be prepared.

The Switch from Analog to Digital TV

A lot of articles, blogs and online pundits have given out some alarming misinformation, whether due to the need to muckrake or sensationalize an issue, or due to simple lack of knowledge. Remember Y2K? There were a lot of pronouncements of gloom and doom and in the end, nothing serious happened. Now as then, it’s best to consult the authorities for information on what to do.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • The move away from analog broadcasting is a government-mandated program. No matter what analysts, pundits and electronics store salespeople have to say, the Feds have the final word on what you have to do, and are providing consumer-friendly information and subsidies.
  • The broadcast industry has a lot to say about the benefits of DTV. Bear in mind that their primary message will be rah-rah-rah, but their advice on what to do may be well taken.
  • Don’t accept the word of one single source, particularly in blogs, without feedback. Look to see if there are updates, corrections or clarifications after the original post or article was placed online.
  • Make sure the Web sites you visit are up to date. For example, some may tell you that converter boxes are not yet available, though several models have been available since February 2008.

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What You Will Need: Digital Televisions and Signal Converters

First off, you must determine whether you to need to change anything. Here are some sites that can help guide you toward a correct solution for your particular situation.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • The 2009 deadline has to do with how the signal is sent and received, not the display itself. The only TVs likely to be affected are those with old style “rabbit ears” or rooftop antennas.
  • If your current TV has only a standard or analog receiver, you’ll have to do one of the following:
    • Get a digital-to-analog converter box (DAC) that will translate the new digital broadcast signal to one your analog TV can display.
    • Replace your analog television with a digital television.
    • Get a cable, satellite or fiber-optic subscription service that will convert the signal in their TV-top boxes.
  • Regardless of the age of your TV, if you’re getting your service from a cable, satellite or fiber-optic provider, you’re already receiving a digital signal. This is primarily about over-the-air broadcast. Despite what you may read at some sites, it’s not about picture resolution, high definition (HDTV), flat screens, plasma, LCD or tubes.
  • As of March 1, 2007, all TVs shipped interstate or imported into the United States must include a digital tuner. Those sold without one must have a disclaimer on the box.
  • If you’re not sure about the basic service you’re getting from your subscription TV provider, give them a call to see whether they send your local and network broadcast channels digitally. Be sure to ask whether their service will extend beyond 2012, at which time subscription services will no longer have to provide signals capable of being decoded by an analog TV.

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The Benefits and Pitfalls of Switching to Digital Broadcasting

Any new technology—especially one that’s mandated—has its cheerleaders and detractors. More often than not, the truth lies somewhere in between. In this section we’ll explore both sides of the argument.

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  • In general, digital TV provides a much clearer picture quality than analog TV, especially when dealing with long distances from transmitter to receiver. Since digital technologies are, in essence, either ‘on’ or ‘off’ type signals, weak pictures and sound will be a thing of the past—in other words, it works or it doesn’t. Proponents claim digital TV can offer DVD-quality pictures with CD-quality sound. Of course, such quality will be dependent on the source material—you're not going to get DVD-quality images from a bad print of a 1930s movie.
  • Broadcast stations will also be able to “multicast.” That means that each local channel will be capable of sending five to six separate programs at the same time, providing you with more over-the-air programming venues. For example, station WKWK may offer one program on channel 3, another on channel 3.2 and so on.
  • DTV allows for interactive services ranging from viewer polls to enhanced captioning or Second Audio Program (SAP). Broadcast on-demand services (such as those already available or new subscription services) are likely to appear, though they may have a limited market. Of course there will be new ways to spend money on-air.
  • DTV is “backward compatible” with other video technologies that may work with your video system, including VCRs, Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) such as TiVo, camcorders or gaming consoles. These will continue to work and interact as they did before.

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The Rationale Behind Digital Broadcasting

Why did Congress mandate this change? Why are we being forced to adopt a new technology? In this section, learn what underlying factors motivated this transition.

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  • First and foremost, DTV looks and sounds better, and provides not only interactive features, but also such technologies as Digital Rights Management (DRM), which is used by music publishing companies and other industries to limit the number of times you can watch a particular movie, for example, or limit the number of machines on which particular broadcasts may be recorded or viewed.
  • To push through this improved technology, economic incentives were created to encourage compliance throughout the industry. A great deal of broadcast bandwidth that is currently taken up by TV signals can now be auctioned off by the government for use by new technologies, particularly mobile phones, wireless computing and medical telemetry devices.
  • There’s also some national pride involved here: the United States is trying to achieve a broadcast standard that’s either on trial or already commonplace in several other countries, including Japan and England.

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The History, Science and Politics of Digital TV

Ideas for improved broadcast quality and services have been knocking about since the 1980s, but as is always the case, standards had to be established among competing companies. Several good sites document the history and background of digital television technologies.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • There was a great deal of initial resistance to changing the method and technology of over-the-air broadcasting. There is still a certain amount of what technology enthusiasts call FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) being spread about by folks who either don’t understand the issues or are sometimes grandstanding as experts. The prospect of thousands of desperate people unable to watch their daily soaps or Monday night football games has been spread about, just as we were told that everyone's computer would crash in the year 2000. It's not going to happen.

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Community Links in Digital TV

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