Digital television is on its way. Soon the analog signals will be turned off. Here's what it means to you.
The switch to digital is on the way. On February 17, 2009, U. S. broadcast stations, who are currently broadcasting in both analog and digital, will turn off their analog signals and will transmit only in digital. What's this mean to you?
Most consumers who get their television from a cable or satellite provider won't notice a difference. Cable and satellite companies are not required to make the transition, so they can continue to broadcast in both analog and digital. Eventually, though, if your cable company moves to all digital, you will not be able to get the cable straight from the wall, but will need a box from your cable company. Most cable customers already have a cable television box, anyway. Don't worry about that now, your cable company will notify you, if and when that happens. And it may be years down the road.
The people who will be most affected by the transition to digital are those who get their television "over the air" with rabbit ears or an antenna in the attic or on the roof. Older analog televisions will not be able to pick up the digital signal. You don't, however, have to go out and buy a new TV. You simply will need to add a digital-to-analog converter box to your television. These boxes are already available in stores like Wal-Mark, Best Buy, Circuit City, RadioShack, and Target. They will be priced between $40 and $70.
Luckily for those with rabbit ears and old televisions, the government has created a $1.5 billion coupon program to subsidize the cost of the converter boxes. This program is being overseen by the National Telecommunication and Information Administration agency. Each household, regardless of how they receive their television, is eligible to receive two $40 coupons. The coupons are available now. As I write this, over 5 million coupons have already been requested.
To get a coupon you can apply online at www.dtv2009.gov or call the 24-hour hot line, 888-DTV-2009 (888-388-2009). You can also mail a coupon application to P.O. Box 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000. The program itself expires on March 31, 2009. The government is trying to get everyone ready as quickly as possible, so be aware that the coupons expire three months after they are mailed to you. Since many television stations are already broadcasting in digital, you can use the converter box immediately.
If you are still asking why we are doing this, the official government explanation is that switching to digital TV will free up parts of the valuable broadcast spectrum for public safety communications such as police, fire departments, and rescue squads. The bigger reason, though, is that some of the spectrum will be auctioned to companies for advanced wireless services. This, of course, will be very lucrative for the US Government.
It may also be a good thing for consumers, as well. With the digital converter box, even your old analog television may give you a better picture. You will also be able to see more channels as some broadcasters will choose to multicast programs. Multicasting means that a broadcaster can split up its signal into several channels, each with a different set of programs. This type of programming is only available with digital broadcasting.
One thing to remember is that digital television is not high-definition television. Although high-def TVs will display digital television, you do not need a high-def TV just because of this transition. Digital broadcast television includes both Standard Definition (SD) and High Definition (HD) formats. You can watch both standard definition and high definition programming on an analog TV hooked to a digital-to-analog converter box, but the high definition won't give you the full high definition quality that you would receive on a high definition television.
If you have a newer TV that you purchased in the last few years, it my already support digital. Look at the markings on the television to find out if it has a digital tuner built-in. Words like "Digital Tuner or Receiver", "DTV", or "HDTV" indicate that it will display the digital programming. However, if your television says "HDTV Monitor", "Digital Ready" or "HDTV Ready", you may still need a converter box.
If you need more information on the move to digital television, check out the Federal Communication Commission's DTV Web site at www.dtv.gov. They have done a good job explaining everything you need to know.
NOTE: The mass move to digital also affects communication services. This February most cellular service providers cut out their analog telephone service. Luckily there are not too many analog-only cell phones out there, but if you have an old phone and your service stopped, now you know why. This move may also affect alarm systems that use analog equipment.