Digital TV transition made simple
According to the FCC, just 163,000 Tampa Bay area households are still at risk of losing TV signals on Feb. 17, when the law mandates all analog television broadcasts must end. Nationwide, it's about the same -- just under 10 percent of households with TVs are at risk, mostly because they're not hooked up to cable TV, satellite TV or have a digital TV-capable TV receiver. And those homes are often among the elderly, non-English speaking and rural populations.
Still, the one thing I noticed while pulling together all the material for the mega-guide to the DTV transition that the Times published Sunday, is that even some people who won't lose their TV signal, still don't understand everything about it. So here's a quick FAQ answering some questions about the coming switch.
How do you know if you're affected?
Just ask yourself a few simple questions. Do you receive cable or satellite TV service? If so, your service will continue with no problems for several years.
If you get TV through “rabbit ear” or rooftop antennas, do you have a TV set capable of receiving digital TV frequencies? If you bought a new TV after March 2007, retailers were required to prominently label non-digital TVs; if you have a digital TV, it should have a marking designating it as a digital receiver or digital tuner or DTV set; and when in doubt, consult the owners manual or look up your television’s model number on the Internet.
If you have an analog set, you have three choices: obtain cable or satellite TV service, get a digital TV converter or upgrade to a digital TV set. We’ll cover all those possibilities in other stories, but here are the answers to a few other questions you may not have considered, with facts provided mostly by the Federal Communications Commission from their Web site, www.DTV.gov.
Do I need a special antenna for DTV signals?
No. Whatever antenna you were using to receive analog signals should work. But, unlike analog signals, digital TV signals don’t come in "partially" -– either they are strong enough to deliver a good picture or they won’t come in at all.
Will my TVs in the bedroom and kitchen be affected?
Depends on how they receive a signal. If they use an old-school analog antenna, they will not work after Feb. 17. If they are connected to cable service in your house, no problem. And those emergency, battery-powered TVs for use in hurricanes or on fishing or camping trips face the same problem: You must find a new, battery-powered digital TV or a battery-powered converter box. But, at some point in the future, cable providers may also go all digital (Verizon's FIOS TV has already done this), requiring a converter for TVs that don't have a set-top box.
Will the switch automatically give me high-definition television?
Not necessarily. Unfortunately, there are a lot of similar-sounding names for different kinds of TV technology, and high-definition TV is different from digital TV. Digital TV technology allows broadcasters to “multicast” several smaller channels on one frequency, or use the space of several channels for a sharply defined, high-definition picture. Most local stations offer anywhere from two to four channels, with at least one in high definition. Every channel will likely look and sound better than analog broadcasts, even when seen through a converter box on an analog TV.
Will connecting my digital TV to my cable box automatically give me high-definition TV?
Nope. You also need a special set-top box from your cable TV provider, and a high-definition TV to receive the high-definition channels. In cable television, there are often four levels of service: the basic broadcast channels and government channels; the standard cable channels such as CNN and ESPN, numbered to about 80; digital cable channels, which can include video on demand services and music channels; and high-definition TV channels, which include the channels multicast by local TV stations.