Switching Signals

U.S. TV Is Going Digital… With, Or Without You

An era in American broadcasting history will come to an end before the decade is out. As a matter of fact, before the end of February 2009, analog signal TV will be a thing of the past. If you don’t have a converter box on top of your television set by then, all you will get to watch is “snow” on your screen.

If you already have satellite TV or cable, then you don’t have anything to worry about. But if you’re still watching TV over the old fashioned television with rabbit ear or outside antennas, you’ll need to “go digital.”

Who is most affected by this legislation? Mostly, rural residents and people living outside of larger cities. Rural communities are scrambling for solutions to their television needs and are finding it with satellite television. Cable TV isn’t available in a lot of out-lying areas due to the high cost of cable. So, the only economical solution is satellite TV.

Early in 2009 all over-the-air TV stations must switch the way they transmit their programming, bringing a number of changes not only to broadcasters and viewers, but to emergency responders and digital innovators as well.

Since the advent of television in the mid 20th century, stations have sent their programming via analog signals. As a result of legislation passed by Congress in 2005, broadcasters will have to convert their transmission to digital signals by February 17, 2009.

With the switch to digital, the space freed up by the unused analog signals will be returned to the federal government and auctioned off to new providers and services, according to Brian Dietz, a spokesman for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

New equipment

For viewers, the change will mean different things depending on the type of TV set they have and how they get their signal.

Sets that only pick up an analog signal over the air will need a set-top box to convert the new digital signal to analog. The legislation that mandates the digital conversion includes subsidies toward helping consumers buy the converter boxes. However, a coupon worth $40 doesn’t provide much of a subsidy to consumers when converter box prices range from $100 to $500 apiece, or more.

Even with a converter box, analog TV sets won’t display the better picture than a digital television. But, at least for the time being consumers can still watch television on their old sets.

Consumers who own High Definition digital televisions will receive the full spectrum signal with all the benefits of better clarity and sound. By March of 2009, all televisions and other equipment that receives broadcast TV signals must have digital tuners, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Many TV sets in stores – and some already in homes – are equipped to receive a digital signal. Some even receive high-definition television (HDTV) — a type of digital TV service that offers super-sharp pictures and sound in a widescreen format.

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