Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Digital TV Transition – Are you ready?

Recent surveys are showing that a surprisingly high percentage of Americans don’t understand the digital TV transition that is going to take place next month (Feb 17th).  I suspect most of the readers of my blog are more tech savvy than the average American, but in any case, here’s a quick rundown.

Are you ready?

If you get your television content via satellite (Dish Network or DirecTV, for example), you don’t need to do anything.  Satellite transmission is not affected by the transition in any way.

If you get your television via cable, you don’t need to do anything right now.  Cable companies are not affected directly by the switch to digital.   A few companies of ill repute are using this opportunity to begin transitioning to all digital service, with some are even deceiving their customers by saying that they must upgrade their service or equipment to continue watching TV.  If your cable company is transitioning, you may need to get a new converter box from the cable company at some point, or at a minimum, use a TV with a QAM tuner (most don’t have this).  But your cable company will tell you if and when you may need to swap out equipment.

If you get your television from an antenna (rabbit ear, roof, or otherwise) and your TV is more than a couple years old, you probably need a converter box, available at many locations for about $40-50.  This is especially true if your TV is mid or small sized.

If you get your television from an antenna and your TV is less than a couple years old, consult the TV’s owners manual to see if it can receive ATSC transmissions (it must have an ATSC tuner).  Larger HDTVs usually do.  If it does not, you will need a converter box (like those sold at many popular retailers).  If it does, you are ready for the transition.

If you are watching using an antenna on an older TV, you will certainly lose your programming if you don’t have a converter box.  You may also need a newer antenna, depending on your distance from a station’s transmitter. 

If you need a converter box, the US government has a coupon program in place that will cover $40 for each of up to two boxes.  Coupons are becoming scarce, so hurry if you need one.  Go to www.dtv.gov for more information.


The analog television system we have been using for more than 50 years is pretty inefficient in its use of radio waves.  It also occupies premium real estate in terms of radio frequencies.  By moving to digital signals, more channels can be transmitted in the same radio spectrum, and high definition becomes possible.  By reallocating and opening up bands of radio frequencies, new services can be offered.  Among these are dedicated frequencies for public emergency services, and new spectrum for wireless Internet and other data services.


Cathy Brian said...

Thanks, now could I just get you to come down here and hook the thing up for me. No really, that helped.

Lili and Jeff said...

We got a converter box, and it broke with in the first 5 minutes! And we can't take it back because we got it from my brother-in-law! And then we tried to get a coupon for a free one from the government, and they said they were all out!!!! The madness! Anyway, thanks for all your help on the subject. We are going to be looking into buying an HDTV soon enough, so hopefully that will solve the problem. You are ever so wise Doug.

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