On February 17, 2009, major television networks will be broadcasting in digital, moving away from analog signal broadcasting. There's a little bit of confusion right now as to just what a person will need to be ready for the transition. Do you have the right equipment? Will you need a digital-to-analog converter box for your CRT ("tube") television? Let's take a look at some basic facts below to get you started. As with other DigitalDingus articles, the DTV Transition series is meant to help you and assist you in making informed decisions about converting to the upcoming changes to digital television early next year. The process should be rather smooth overall, but I do have comments on the quality of the content and believe unsuspecting consumers need to be aware of.
Smart Box Help
Note: Be sure to use the resource links listed in this "Smart Box" for getting your $40 coupon for a digital converter box. The FCC's website link is listed below for those who want to dive more into the transition.
$40 Coupon Website: https://www.dtv2009.gov
Please note you must apply for the $40 coupon before March 31, 2009. After this date, no more coupons will be offered.
FCC Website: https://www.fcc.gov
Setup Guide: Converter Box Setup Guide
This is a pretty good and simple online guide created by the FCC to assist you in setting up your converter box, once you have purchased it.
Just Who Is Mandated To Broadcast All-Digital Signals?
The Digital TV Transition which occurs on 2-17-2009, ONLY applies to Full-Power broadcast TV stations. This is rather important because you might be living in an area which does not accept direct TV signals from a full-power TV station. How do you know if you are receiving signals from these types of stations? Well, the first step is recognizing where you live. Cable company subscribers aside, if you live in a large city, chances are, you are in fact receiving direct full-power transmissions from television stations. Now, let's discuss three other types of broadcasts which are NOT effected by this transition. The FCC says they will be required to go digital in the future, but haven't given a date just yet.
Low-Power Television Broadcasts (LPTV)
Have you ever accidentally come across a television channel which is coming from your local community? You know what I mean. A bunch of weird people talking with no fancy studios, lighting, or equipment? Audio dropouts, people running across the screen, sometimes dancing and chanting weird stuff? Yep. You've just tuned-in to your local community's talent, and entered...the LPTV Zone.
LPTV broadcasts are specifically designed for small communities who want to get the word out about local events, and concentrate on a wide variety of interests. LPTV broadcasts are actually a rich resource for cultural understanding, as your major broadcasters are more concerned with making money and sending you a signal of what they want you to see.
The FCC states there are about 2,100 licensed LPTV stations in the United States.
Class A TV
Class A television stations are basically the same as LPTV stations, but they differ a little because they have more FCC interference rights, which protect them from certain signals that an LPTV station must accept. Class A TV stations must also provide at least three hours of locally-produced content each week, as well as abide by some of the regulations of a full-power broadcaster.
The FCC states there are about 600 licensed Class A TV stations in the United States.
If you live in mountainous geographic areas and areas which are just too far away from a full-power broadcasting station, you are more than likely receiving a broadcast from a translator. Generally, you'll see the translator station on the highest hill in the area, with a massive antenna shooting into the sky. When you watch a translator station, you'll see the broadcast of a full-power station, but will also be notified you're watching a translator station signal.
If you live in an area which receives signals from a translator, you more than likely will not be affected by the DTV Transition of 2009. However, it's probably a good idea to take advantage of the $40 Converter Box Coupon towards a converter box anyway, because eventually, the FCC is going to mandate the conversion to digital for these services as well. In addition, there are various translators all over the United States who are undergoing a change already.
The FCC states there are about 4,700 licensed translator stations in the United States.
Cable TV Subscribers Who Own CRT Televisions
Your cable company sends hundreds of signals through its massive cable network into a cable box which then sends the signal into your television. Cable companies have recently sent out notices about their conversion to digital, but we must remember, this was voluntary. The FCC has not required cable companies to upgrade their systems at all. However, it's a great way to force you to upgrade your existing analog cable box to a "Digital" or "HD" box, which will more than likely cost you a few bucks extra each month.
It is unfortunate some cable companies are taking advantage of the DTV transition. Comcast has already sent notifications to its subscribers with regards to "moving" almost all of its analog television channels to their digital service package. What this means to you, is you will now need a digital converter box, costing more per month to lease.
Now, we're going to get a little technical...
Comcast says the reason for the analog channels being removed is because analog TV channels take up much more bandwidth than a typical digital channel. They say about 10 digital channels can fit in the same bandwidth as one analog channel. This is probably correct, however another issue Comcast does not discuss, is their compression of digital channels. You see, you can't compress analog channels like you can digital channels. With digital channels, Comcast is able to compress the bandwidth to your digital cable box, sending you content which will at times display digital artifacts--and in some cases, extreme artifacting. If you have digital cable already, you know what I'm talking about. Those little squares which dance around your television at the most inopportune time. This is a serious problem I foresee coming rather quickly to a television near you, and will be as common as those analog artifacts known as "ghosting", weak signals (colored snow), and a host of other symptoms we've been experiencing for decades.
So, for you cable subscribers, there is good news and bad. You won't necessarily have to outright buy new tuners for your analog televisions, as your cable company will provide you with the equipment. However, you will be paying a few extra bucks a month for the new digital boxes.
From what we know so far, the most people affected by the DTV Transition of 2009 will be those who live near full-power television stations, and those who aren't cable TV subscribers. For these television watchers, a digital-to-analog converter device will be necessary and should be purchased between this December and the end of January of next year. Sure, a person could buy the converters now, as they are readily available, but be advised these are products on the retail market, and as such, will probably be more susceptible to a heavier discount around the upcoming holidays.
For Cable TV subscribers, you will more than likely need a new cable box, and expect to pay a few dollars extra per month for it. Be sure to take advantage of any promotions your cable company provides you to possibly insulate the increase in lieu of some HD programming (if you plan on purchasing an HDTV that is) or some other package deal.