Analog to Digital: The Switch Over

Published by Steve Hedberg on November 3, 2008 Under Digital to Analog

If you haven’t seen the video before, it is kind of amusing. It is a public service announcement released to help raise awareness about the switch do digital TV on February 17, 2009.

While amusing, it also addresses a pretty serious issue.There are actually a lot of people who, like the woman shown in this Public Service Announcement, might not be completely prepared for the switch to HD TV in several months.

What is Changing?

For over fifty years, Americans have been able to get a free TV signal that is transmitted through the air. This signal is referred to as Analog TV. Some TVs have built in antennas, but traditionally people have used roof top antennas or ‘bunny ears’ to improve reception.

While analog TV is very popular, it has several limitations, so in 1996 Congress passed a bill that gave TV stations an addition frequency to transmit on. This frequency allowed the stations to transmit their programming digitally.

Why is Digital Better?

There are several advantages to using the digital frequency. The quality is vastly improved and it also allows the stations to use multi-casting.

Multi-casting lets a station send several signals over the same frequency. This means that the station can transmit several different types of programming at once. You could be watching the news on channel 7.1 and switch to 7.2 and watch a movie.

The end result is that you have a lot more channels to watch and at much higher quality.

How Does This Affect Me?

Congress passed a bill last year that requires all TV companies to switch to the digital frequency on February 17, 2009. When they make this switch, they will stop transmitting analog signals. This means that in several months, analog TVs and antennas will no longer work.

For people who are currently paying for their TV signal, there will be no change. This means people who are using the cable or satellite company, will not be affected. However, anyone that is currently receiving an analog signal for free over the air will be.

What Are My Options

There are several options for preparing for the switch. It is important to remember that if you are currently paying for television, such as through the cable company, you will not have to do anything.

If, on the other hand, you rely on antenna to receive a television signal, you will have to take action. Many newer TVs have built in digital antennas, so if you have a newer TV, you might not have to do anything except unplug your bunny ears.

If you have an older TV, then it probably won’t have a digital antenna, so you will need to buy a digital converter box.

Basically a digital converter box is a new type of bunny ears. Some are designed to use your existing antenna and some include their own antenna. If it uses an existing antenna, then you would need to plug the antenna into the digital converter box and the digital converter box into the TV.

How Much Do They Cost?

To help make the transition in February easier, congress has decided to subsidize the cost of the digital converter boxes.

Each household is allowed to receive up to two coupons that are valued at $40 each. These coupons can be used at most large retail stores towards the cost of a new digital converter box. This includes stores like Best Buy and Radio Shack.

Where Do I Get the Coupons?

Visit the DTV Transition Web Site to apply for your coupons. When you receive the coupons, you will also receive a list of places, both locally and online, where you can use the coupons.

How Can I Help?

For many, this switch is fairly simple and straightforward, but for some folks, like my grandmother, it is just too technical.

Around the country, there are programs being set up to help older Americans switch to Digital TV and ensure that they are not left without TV in February. I would encourage everyone to help their friends and family get signed up and switched over. There is no reason to wait until February, if you know someone who might have trouble setting up their digital converter box, give them a hand today.

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