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DTV Transition - What you need to know

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

DTV - What you need to know before February 17th, 2009
Updated: FCC extended deadline another year so changed 2-19-08 to 2-17-09

Television as we know it will undergo a big (and very expensive) change to only being able to broadcast their program in digital format after February 17th, 2009. If you love your television, there are some things you should know about the upcoming changes. To avoid missing your favorite TV shows, you might have to change the equipment you are using to watch television.

This change is mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and all television stations are required by law to switch from broadcasting in the old analog format, to only broadcasting their signal in compliance with the new digital system formatting standards.

Traditional television is broadcast in high frequency channels and received by our television through an antenna (unless you have cable or satellite).

The video for each television station is broadcast on multiple frequencies (a frequency for video, a frequency for audio) which worked fine until computers turned the world digital. The old analog signals waste a lot of bandwidth, which requires the use of a lot of different frequencies. By switching to digital, more data can be transmitted while using a much smaller footprint of frequencies. With the whole world going wireless, the FCC are going to force the broadcasters to free up a huge amount of frequencies that can be used (and resold) for other purposes. By using digital technology, we will be able to see high definition television while using a much smaller range of frequencies.

After the deadline, you will have a few options:
1. Buy a new television that can decode the digital signal.
2. Add a converter box and new antenna to your old TV set.
3. Subscribe to cable, satellite, or Internet for your digital content.
The best (and sometimes easiest) solution is to purchase a new high resolution digital television.

Here is a tip to save some money:
If you are planning to buy a digital converter box, you should know about a coupon that will be available from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in early 2008. There are a few details that you must know about the coupons: You can get UP TO TWO COUPONS PER HOUSEHOLD. You CAN NOT COMBINE the two coupons to pay for a single box. You also can not use them toward other products or services. The coupons will EXPIRE NINETY DAYS AFTER RECEIPT. Be sure to plan ahead!

Some frequently asked questions:
Q: What is the difference from 1080p and 1080i?
A: The number "1080" refers to the number of lines in the complete picture. The higher the number, the better the resolution. The letters "i" or "p" refer to the method of scanning the picture. The letter "i" means the picture is INTERLACED, which first presents the odd lines (1,3,5,...1077,1079) of the picture across the screen, and then (faster than your eye can see) the even lines (2,4,6,...1078,1080) of the picture are displayed on the screen.

The "p" stands for PROGRESSIVE scanning, where all lines (even and odd) of the picture are displayed at once. Many people prefer progressive scanning, but if you buy a television with a very high "refresh rate" (<2 microseconds) either method will produce a high quality image.

Don't get caught by the fine print! Many brands of digital television are touted to have high resolution (such as 1080) display capabilities, but most brands do not have a way to accept the signal to be INPUT at the higher resolutions.

Q: Will the deadline be extended?
A: On February 17th, 2009 all television stations by law must TURN OFF all of their broadcasts in analog. The deadline has been extended many times, but the FCC says (at the time of this article) they have no intentions of extended the deadline again.

Q: Will all stations make the switch?
A: Not all stations will make the switch to digital. The digital equipment that is required is very expensive, so many broadcast stations will just shut down after the deadline. Many stations simply can't afford to make the switch to digital, Especially the stations in smaller TV markets. Atlanta is within the top ten TV markets, which helps a lot. Some Atlanta stations have already made the switch and are broadcasting both analog and digital channels at the same time. After the deadline, ALL television stations will be forced to shut off their analog broadcasts.

Q: Is digital television really better than the analog signal?
A: Yes! The difference in quality between analog and digital signals is like comparing the sound quality of a DVD versus a scratched up vinyl record in a jukebox. It is very easy to get hooked on the quality and resolution of a digital TV signal. Before very long, you will find it very irritating to watch a low resolution TV picture.

Q: Are their any drawbacks to the digital programming?
A: Yes. If there was ever a distortion in the analog signal, you might show a short blip or an artifact (line) in your picture. If there is ever a distortion in the digital signal, the whole picture will "freeze" as the TV ignores the damaged digital data stream. Until the TV receives a properly formatted signal, it is an all or nothing display.

Q: Is there a way to recycle my old television?
A: At the time of this writing, I have not yet identified reliable service to recycle televisions. They contain lead solder and several other environmental concerns. As the deadline gets closer, I'm hoping that a few companies step forward to handle the recycling portion of the process.

Updated: FCC extended deadline another year so changed 2-19-08 to 2-17-09

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