Although I am very much a techie, I often lag in adopting the latest consumer technology. I don’t need to be the first one on my block to own the latest gizmo, since that usually means paying more for less, compared to waiting until next year. However, since our household has this pressing “need” for a new television, it forced me to confront this business of Digital TV and HDTV.
The FCC has decided that good, old analog TV will end in February 2009. Many, but not all, television stations are already transmitting in digital format, whether high definition or not. After February 2009, the analog transmitters will be pretty much shut down. This makes me wonder how this is really going to play out as the general public seems to be rather clueless about the great analog-to-digital switch that is coming. Sure, they are starting to buy those super-sized big screen HDTVs to watch The Big Game. But do they realize that the little 19-inch color tube will go dark in 2009? Consumer information is starting to show up on various web sites telling the general public about the change. The NTIA is running a coupon program to subsidize converter boxes to keep those old analog TVs running. It seems that the feds felt a little guilty taking Grandma’s TV away while pocketing the money from selling the vacated spectrum.
This will directly affect viewers that receive the signal over the air. Television viewers that get their signal from cable or satellite are likely to be buffered from the change to digital by the settop box that decodes the signal for them. I also stumbled across an exemption for Low Power TV stations and translators. Translators are used in rural areas to retransmit television signals from the larger metro areas. Apparently, the FCC decided to not force the digital transition out in the sticks.
We brought the DTV home and hooked it up. Its role in life is to be the kitchen TV, where there happens to be no convenient TV antenna jack. (I’ve got a decent VHF/UHF TV antenna on the roof of the house that picks up signals from two major cities, Denver and Colorado Springs, but the coax doesn’t go to the kitchen.) Anticipating the problem, I bought a $10 “rabbit ears plus UHF loop” antenna to get the TV on the air quickly. I figured this would be a dismal failure and the next job on the list will be fishing RG-6 cable up through the wall. To my surprise, the DTV picked up all of the Colorado Springs stations flawlessly. And I do mean flawlessly…that’s the thing about digital…the signal is either there or not. Previously, on analog TV, we’d see all kinds of interesting lines and snow come and go, depending on the phase of the moon and the multipath distortion off the nearby mountains. But the digital picture is rock steady. Really impressive. I temporarily hooked the DTV to the roof antenna and the Denver stations popped in picture perfect as well.
One by one, the analog stuff in my house is converting to digital. The biggest exception: amateur radio equipment.