Now that we've discussed who will be affected by the DTV transition of 2009, there's another important issue which is going to work its way into your home. The quality of the digital broadcast. Please note you might see the words digital and HD used in the same sentence or reference. However, these are two entirely different things. Digital means the method of the transmission of the content, and HD refers refers to a specification of the digital content (i.e., 720p, 1080i, 1080p, etc.) being transmitted.
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.
Digital TV: Quantity vs. Quality
If you haven't noticed already, DTV is exhibiting symptoms which were supposed to have disappeared with going digital in the first place, and that was, a bad reception. Digital broadcasts look great when they are allowed their full transmission bandwidth, but when compressed, a nasty symptom presents itself. Digital artifacts.
It was only last week while watching the Olympics being held in China, that I saw severe artifacting. My HDTV does not have a built-in tuner, and I use the Samsung DTB-H260F HD tuner. This is a great product (probably the best external HD tuners on the market), and I hope to review it the near future. In any case, I was watching the Olympics and while I was excited about seeing an OTA (Over-The-Air) HD broadcast, I also noticed a lot of digital artificacting. I was rather irritated. All this HD and digital excitement over superior image quality, and I was experiencing first-hand, on my 50" plasma television, some of the worst digital reception I've ever encountered. Why? Well, let's discuss it...
Compression: The Ruin Of A Digital And HD Broadcast
Yes indeed. While getting caught up in some awesome diving and running events of the Olympics, I found myself getting rather annoyed at noticing digital artifacts creeping up whenever there was a lot of movement in the picture. The HD broadcast looked great when everyone was standing still on the diving platform, but when the diver jumped into the air and into the water, artifacts were seen.
Digital artifacting occurs because the transmitter is compressing the amount of information being sent to you. Now, compression is not entirely bad, but if you compress your signal too much, artifacting will become much more prevalent in your broadcast. In my particular case, the local station feeding the signal to me was either compressing the signal itself while the original signal was just fine, or it was a combination of both. Unfortunately, I don't really know, and the local television station isn't too keen on letting me know the specifics. But regardless of just where and how the signal is actually being compressed, I saw artifacting and this shouldn't happen.
Why Have One Channel When You Can Have Ten?
The most important reason why broadcasters are embracing digital is not because of its amazing clarity or its superior detail. Let's just get that nonsense justification out of the way. The real reason digital is embraced is because you can instantaneously fit more channels into the same bandwidth space where normally a single analog signal would be. The reason I include the word instantaneously, is because your local broadcasters, cable companies, satellite broadcasters, and anyone who is broadcasting digital, can compress the content being sent to you by the second. The implications are rather disturbing.
For example, a cable company or satellite company could add dozens of new channels to it's lineup, creating a special "digital package", and the unsuspecting consumer is going to say, "Wow, I get so many more channels! This is great!" Yeah, well not so fast. What's going on, is the broadcasts of these channels are being compressed to their limits. Notice that premium channels such as HBO, Showtime, and such, won't be compressed too much. But of course, you're going to be paying for these "low compressed" channels. So, beware. Just because you get more channels, does not mean you're getting higher quality.
In my particular experience where the Olympics were highly compressed, I was watching them OTA with my HD tuner. So, the local TV stations were compressing the signal to an extreme. If I had cable or satellite and was watching the same broadcast, I may not have had such high compression. This type of problem is going to be commonplace when digital becomes the standard in 2009. The quality of the content is going to vary so much, the consumer is going to be confused on just why they switched to digital in the first place.
DTV: Be Patient, It Should Work Itself Out
Some viewers might inquire about my perceived doom and gloom about digital and HD broadcasting, but I'm actually confident the compression issue will work itself out. But it's going to take some time, and people are going to have to talk about it, write about it, and complain to their content providers. Which is why I'm writing this now, and letting you know about what to look for and to complain to your content provider.
Your content providers have the ability to increase the quality of the broadcast now more than ever. Digital has given them the keys and tools to the content box and let's make sure we inform them we know about it, and are perfectly aware they can increase the quality of the broadcast if necessary.