Consumers Confused About Digital TV Transition

digital Starting February 19th, 2009 all the TV transmitting towers in the United States will turn off their analog signals and only broadcast in digital … and this has many people very confused. What does this mean? How will it affect you? Do you have to buy new equipment? How much will it cost? In all likelihood, a vast majority of the people will have to do nothing.

There are three reasons for the transition from analog to digital. The first being, digital signals are much more efficient and use a much smaller radio frequency spectrum per channel. As an example, 3 digital channels can be broadcast using the same amount of spectrum as a single analog signal. The second reason is, it will free up a lot of the radio frequency spectrum for other uses such as wireless broadband, local emergency organizations and public safety communications. The third reason for the transition is a digital signal offers much improved picture and sound quality as compared to an analog signal.

But with this transition come a lot of misunderstandings and questions, the most misunderstood belief being digital means High-Definition (HDTV). This simply isn’t true. No one, under any circumstance will have to buy a new TV, even if your TV is 50 years old and connects directly to an antenna on your roof. There is a general fear among FCC officials that retailers are going to fool people into thinking they need to buy a new TV in order to increase their sales when this simply isn’t the case. And in all likelihood, this will happen. But hopefully we can educate these people before they make this mistake. Because once again, even if you have a 1950’s TV, it will work!

Another misconception is, those who receive their TV stations from a cable company or through a satellite provider such as DirecTV will also have to upgrade their TV or buy a converter box. Subscribers of satellite services such as DirecTV and Dish will be completely unaffected by the transition because these services require you to lease or purchase a digital box that connect your a satellite dish and then your TV (DVR or TiVo are examples). Even though some local cable companies may send an analog signal into your house, they are not required to go digital. Only the TV stations that broadcast their signals from transmission towers over-the-air which are then received by an antenna are required to transition to digital. It’s unlikely these few cable companies that send an analog signal down the cable line will change, for the simple fact they would lose a bunch of customers. However, if you are unsure about your cable company, call their support line and ask if you will be required to upgrade. Chance are, you will not.

The people who are affected by the analog to digital transition are those who receive their local TV stations for free via an over-the-air antenna and do not have a digital tuner in their TV or VCR. So, how do you find out if your TV or VCR has a digital tuner? Look on the back of your television or VCR for one of the following labels:

  • Integrated Digital Tuner
  • Digital Tuner Built-In
  • Digital Receiver
  • Digital Tuner
  • DTV
  • ATSC
  • HDTV (High Definition television)

If your television equipment contains any of these labels above, you should be able to view digital over-the-air programming without the need for a digital-to-analog converter box. Remember, you do not need an HDTV to view free over-the-air digital programming. As long as your television equipment contains a digital tuner, you can view over-the-air digital TV broadcasts. An HDTV is only necessary if you want to view High Definition programming in full HD quality.

If your TV is not digital ready and you receive your TV stations using an over-the-air antenna, then the cheapest solution is to purchase an analog-to-digital converter box to continue receiving free local TV stations using your existing TV and antenna. This box will covert the digital signal into an analog signal that can be passed to your television. Fortunately, the government has mandated that every U.S. household be eligible to receive up to two coupons, worth $40 each, toward the purchase of a digital-to-analog converter box. You will be able to request the coupons beginning in January of 2008. The coupons may only be used for eligible converter boxes sold at participating consumer electronics retailers, and the coupons must be used at the time of purchase. Manufacturers estimate that digital-to-analog converter boxes will sell from $40 to $70 each. This is a one-time cost. To inquire about the coupons and eligible boxes call 1-888-388-2009 (voice), 1-877-530-2634 (TTY) or go to http://www.ntia.doc.gov/dtvcoupon/.

Your existing antenna will not need to be replaced unless your current reception of your local TV stations is poor. With a digital signal, you either get the channel or you don’t. When you don’t have good reception of a digital signal, the TV screen will start to break up into small blocks and the sound will cut in and out. This is different than an analog signal that may cause the TV stations to look fuzzy or not come in all the way, yet you can still watch it and get sound.

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