Tuesday, February 17, 2009

D Day - Not Today

This was supposed to be the day.

The end of analog television as we know it.

Of course, that's been delayed, since a small portion of really dumb and/or naive people aren't ready yet. So yes, the new date for the end of analog television broadcasting and the adoption of DTV as the official standard will now be June 12. Kind of.

In most markets around the country, the estimated 5-7% of the population still watching in analog will notice a few stations missing come tomorrow. See, although stations have the authority to continue cranking out analog waveforms until June, 491 of the nation's 1,796 full-power TV stations across the country have chosen to stick with today's original changeover date and will go digital-only by midnight tonight. Most of them are full-power independents or affiliated with lower-tier networks (i.e. The CW on down). Many of the country's Big Four-affiliated stations (i.e. the ones that carry NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX) are likely to keep their analog transmitters going until June, though some are going through with today's original changeover date.

So, in the instance of Madison, WI, the only full-power stations that will still be doing analog tomorrow morning include the FOX affiliate and the public television station (which will turn off analog in March). The NBC, ABC, CBS and CW outlets there are going all-digital. Therefore, the stone-agers there will still get their Sesame Street and America Idol. In San Diego, only the NBC affiliate will remain in analog. In the Waco and Temple markets in Texas, virtually the entire dial will be all-digital.

So, what's a stone-ager to do?

Well, first of all, pull your head out of your ass. Then, get out of the cave. There are many sites on the web that will explain what to do, such as the official DTV2009.gov and DTVanswers.com.

If you currently get your television from cable or satellite (i.e. pay a bill for TV every month), you need do nothing. This applies only to those who rely on an antenna (the pointy thing on top of the TV or on the roof) to get TV signals. If you just bought a TV in the past several years, it may be all ready to receive DTV signals. Make sure it's in the digital tuning position rather than the analog one. Consult your owner's manual if you're confused.

If your TV is older, it is likely analog-only. You need either one of the above or you need what's called a converter box. They retail for roughly between $40-60 dollars. And there's a lot of them out there. One webmaster sent me an email over the weekend telling me about a site he has that lists and reviews all the major converter boxes, so if you're confused, you're in luck.

Converter boxes are available generally at general retailers like Wal-Mart or Target, or electronics dealers like Best Buy and Radio Shack. Some mom-and-pop places sell them too. In fact, Target is currently featuring a $45 box in this week's circular. Now, that's a lot of scratch to come up with, especially with this crappy economic market. Luckily, your Uncle Sam will cover the first $40 for you. You can order up to two plastic cards good for a $40 discount on any approved converter box, meaning that box at Target will cost you $5. If you can't come up with that, recycle some pop cans, sell bodily fluids or brew some backyard meth. It ain't that much money, especially since it's one of the cheapest forms of entertainment available. Better than sitting on your sofa in denial watching snow and crappy VHS tapes on that fancy box, right? Now, do it ASAP, since there is a backlog of people requesting these vouchers.

As for those of you (us!) that are DTV-ready, via a newer set or converter box, you may still be affected somewhat if your favorite local stations shut down their analog tonight. Some outlets plan on moving their digital frequency back to their original analog channel assignment (with DTV and analog, they get a channel for each). A channel rescan tomorrow should ensure that all your local stations come in. In addition, some stations may increase power or change broadcast facilities for their digital signals. A rescan and maneuvering of the antenna should work.

So you see, DTV ain't that complicated. Maybe that's why they call it an idiot box.


betty said...

DTV has been handled incompetently by the government. I did everything right. I ordered my coupons as soon as they were available. Too bad. The coupons expired before there were any boxes available and can't be replaced.

Worse, the government is SELLING the frequencies? Since when do they SELL frequencies? Never. Bandwidth is owned by the people and has always been LEASED, not sold. Crooks!

ltr said...

I ordered my coupons immediately last year (late January/early February). Finally got them around the first of April and got my two boxes. I like the whole DTV thing. Nice to be able to watch over-the-air TV where all the channels come in and there's no static. And some of the subchannels are nice too (I like NBC Weather - though they're not really NBC anymore - and PBS World).

The government handled this whole thing better than I expected. The big problem was running out of money for the $40 coupons and not having a backup plan in place immediately.

Other than that, as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. It was obvious that there would be a few people not getting with the program, such as the 5-6% or so who allegedly aren't ready for the digital switch. They probably never will, and it makes no sense for the government to coddle these people. However, perhaps with so many channels turning off analog yesterday (two local channels in my area that made the switch are currently running 'nite lite' programming - essentially an NAB promotional video about DTV on a continuous loop).

As for the 'sale' of the bandwidth, I don't think it's a 'no strings attached' 'sale' per say. Sounds to me more like a lease. In that AT&T, Verizon and the other companies set to use it won't have pure anarchy there. The FCC likes to meddle, and meddle they will here. And I'm all in favor of the government bringing in as much revenue as possible from this. Nice to pay down some of the national debt.

There is, of course, going to be leftover bandwidth. Some of it will be used for first responder emergency programs, and I'd certainly like to see some used for community use (like public WiFi and various noncommercial purposes).

yosemit3 said...

easier said than done.
I've been trying to coach my 80+ parents through the change.
they live 1000 mi away.
they are 26 mi from the towers, and could get 5 channels with rabbit ears, on the set downstairs.
we're up to a $60 amplified antenna, in an upstairs window, with another $50 in wire. Still no reception. Everything is placed according to antennaweb, and tvfool. We will find a solution, but not as advertized in many cases.

ltr said...

What may help is that come June 12, some stations do plan on increasing power (which they cannot do while doing analog).

My advice is to contact the local stations. Let them know your parents' situation

Lopaka said...

Channel 6 from Tijuana was to have dropped analog, which is surprising since Mexican stations weren't under any requirement to do so. If I had owned channel 6 I would have put the English programming on DTV then put a new Spanish language channel on the old analog channel 6 for Mexico, as Tijuana is a very large city with only one other VHF TV station.

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