February 17, 2009 will be the day that analog TV broadcast ends and the U.S. will jump into a new digital generation. The switch to digital has already stirred some discussion and will probably be talked about more and more as we get closer to ’09. I have already heard several misleading statements about digital television and what is needed in order to receive it. Hopefully this article will help you get a better understanding of what the DTV switch is, and what you will need in order to prepare for it.
We might as well start off with explaining why this change is occurring and how it will benefit the United States. Broadcasting digitally is a much more efficient broadcasting method mainly because of the size and stability of the signal. Analog signals are very large and tend to take up more air space than digital signals do. Once TV starts broadcasting digitally, the analog airwaves will be more plentiful for future wireless technology innovations. Another positive of DTV is that everyone who owns a TV equipped with a digital tuner will experience a better quality picture and higher quality sound on over-the air broadcasts. Digital signals also eliminate the static and ghosting that we have had since the beginning of television which will give us a clean picture at all times. As an added benefit, people who have HDTV’s with digital tuners can receive local High Definition Channels over the air for free. The third major benefit of DTV is the ability of TV stations to multi-cast their programming. Multi-casting allows stations to broadcast several different types of programming at the same time. For example: lets say your local NBC station is channel 7, with multi-casting that channel can be split into subparts 7-1, 7-2 or 7-3 with different programming available on each. This will give the viewer more options than were ever available before.
Hopefully you understand the many benefits of Digital Television and how your television experience can drastically improve because of it. Now you are going to want a TV that is equipped with a Digital Tuner in order to take advantage of digital programming. So how do you know what kind of TV to get? Obviously the first thing you want to look for is a TV with a Digital (ATSC) tuner. Any TV that was manufactured after March 1, 2007 was required to have a digital tuner. So TV’s that have been out for about a year or sooner are guaranteed to have a Digital Tuner. I have two more suggestions for you other than getting a TV with a digital tuner. First, get an HDTV so you can take advantage of the local High Definition channels you will get for free over-the-air. Second, get a TV that is made by a well known, reputable manufacturer like Pioneer, Sharp, Toshiba, etc. While TV’s from reputable manufacturers may be priced a little higher than off-brand TV’s, they will be higher quality units and usually have a better warranty. The right HDTV will give you the ultimate digital and High Def experience.
I’m sure that at this point in the article there are a few of you who are nervous because you have bought a brand new TV in the last couple of years and are wondering if it will work with DTV. Don’t panic just yet, there are a few methods of finding out if your TV is DTV compatible. The first and easiest way to see if your TV is DTV ready is to look at the specs in your owners manual and see if can find ATSC Tuner somewhere in the content. If your TV is equipped with an ATSC (digital) Tuner, then you will be able to pick up over-the-air digital broadcasts without a converter box. Also if you run a channel scan on your TV and you pick up stations that use two numbers like 7-1 or 10-1, you have a digital tuner because those are digital channels. Another way to find out if you have a DTV is the date it was manufactured. If you bought a TV larger than 36″ that was manufactured after July 1, 2005 it will have a DTV Tuner. TV’s larger than 25″ had to incorporate digital tuners after March 1st, 2006.
If you subscribe to a cable or satellite provider you probably won’t be effected by the switch because most cable or satellite signals are digital signals converted to analog. You can still receive over-the-air broadcasts on TVs without digital tuners after the DTV switch but you will need to purchase a set top converter box that will convert the digital signal back analog. However, if you use a set top box you won’t be able to notice any difference in picture or sound quality as you would with a TV that has a digital tuner. The converter boxes are estimated to run anywhere from $50 to $75 and are available online and at local retail stores. The government is issuing $40 coupons that people can apply for to help cover the cost of a DTV converter box. There are a few different ways to apply for a Government DTV Coupon. You can call 1-888-388-2009 and apply for a coupon or register for one on the Government’s DTV Website (follow the link to go there). You can also download a copy of the application from their site and fax it to them.
I don’t believe that people should be overly concerned with the switch because receiving DTV is very simple, either get a TV with a digital tuner, buy a converter box or subscribe to a cable or satellite provider. Just remember that you won’t get the full effect of DTV without a Digital ready television. Some stations in the U.S. are broadcasting digitally already so if you have a TV with a digital tuner run a channel scan and see if you can pick them up, you can usually pick up a few free local HD channels as well. February 17th, 2009 is less than a year away and will be here before you know it so don’t put off getting your new Digital Ready TV or Converter Box.