Entertainment &Hardware Steven Kippel on 09 Jun 2008

The digital switchover

The digital switchover

FCC logoIn case you haven’t heard, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has mandated an end to analog TV signals broadcast over the air in February 2009. So what does this mean for you? I have heard a lot of misinformation about this. Let me help you parse truth and fiction.

On February 17, 2009 the USA will see the first ever mandated consumer electronics technology change. The local TV stations that provide off-the-air programming must shut off their analog broadcasts. Currently many stations are broadcasting in digital alongside their analog signal, so this isn’t a huge problem for most TV stations, but may affect some smaller independent broadcasts.

But what is real? Do I have to throw my TV away and buy a new one? Let’s explore the issues.

Myth: This change mandates high-definition broadcasts

A local news anchor (amongst many others) have expressed this myth. He said it is a good reason to buy an HDTV because everything will now be in high-def. It may be an excuse to buy an HDTV, but it certainly doesn’t mean high-def is mandated. In fact there is a greater myth that digital is more detailed than analog. The satellite companies perpetuated this myth trying to sell their services over cable when in reality it is not the digital signal that is inherently better, it is the fact that more data can pass in the same bandwidth so satellite companies do not have to compress as much compared to cable. However, analog broadcasts compress even less than satellite so those images (with the right receiving equipment) could look even better.

What is mandated is the lower-bandwidth digital signals broadcast through the FCC regulated airwaves. This means more channels can be fit in a smaller space to free up channels for wireless internet and emergency services. While Spirit and Verizon gobbled up the commercially available spectrums, the emergency services failed to reach the minimum bid at auction (another reason you can’t trust corporate altruism). This digital signal may be in high-def, but more than likely these channels will simulcast a standard-def channel and a high-def channel like they are currently doing.

Myth: I will have to throw away my TV

I read about this myth all over the internet as well as respected publications I receive in the mail. The only reason someone would need to replace their TV is because they’re misled by this mistaken reporting. While it is true that older analog TVs won’t receive the broadcasts off-the-air, they can use a tuner box available at everywhere from Wal-Mart to Best Buy which converts the digital broadcast to an analog signal. These converters cost about $40 and the FCC provides a rebate check for up to two converter boxes per residence. You can sign up for this program online or by calling an 800-number (provided below).

I’m aware that some TVs don’t have analog inputs, but they do have RF inputs and these converter boxes do output and RF signal compatible with every TV.

Myth: I will have to get a cable box from my cable provider

If you have been paying attention, and I know you’re smart like that, you will know this is an FCC mandate for over the air broadcasts. This means cable and satellite providers are not affected by this change over at all as they’re not broadcasting over the air. If you’re TV is connected via cable, you are not affected. You do not need a digital cable box.

Myth: This mandate is meant to boost the Japanese export business

I actually don’t know if this is a fact or not. What I do know is many countries around the globe are doing the same switch. The goal is to provide wireless broadband internet access to billions of people who are otherwise unreached and are therefore left out of the 21st Century global market. The telecoms look to benefit at least as much as the electronic magnates.

How do I prepare?

If you have cable or satellite: nothing. If you receive off-the-air signals on your HDTV: nothing. If you have rabbit-ears or some other antenna-fed TV, you should visit www.DTV2009.gov and request a coupon for a converter or call 1-888-DTV-2009. You can also write TV Converter Box Coupon Program, PO Box 2000 Portland, OR 97208-2000

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