Analog to Digital TV Conversion
Analog TV will cease to exist on June 12, 2009. Is this the end of free TV? Will your current TV set need to be replaced with a digital TV? Find out what the switch to digital television broadcasting means to you...
The Analog to Digital TV Switchover FAQ
For 80 years, over-the-air television signals have been broadcast in analog format. But a new federal law in the USA mandates that television stations must broadcast in digital format only, beginning
February 17 June 12, 2009. This FAQ will answer your questions about digital TV, who is affected by the analog to digital switchover, and what you'll need to do.
Who is Affected?
If you have an older TV with an analog tuner, AND you use an antenna to receive over-the-air signals, you ARE affected.
If you get your TV signal from a Cable, Satellite or Fiber-Optic service provider, you are NOT affected, even if you have an analog TV. If you currently receive analog cable service (with no set-top box) you can continue to do so for at least three years after the cutover on
2/17/2009 June 12, 2009.
If your television has a digital tuner, you are NOT affected.
Is My TV Analog or Digital?
So how can you find out if your TV has a digital tuner? Usually, there will be some indication on the TV itself, or in the manual. Look for the words "Digital Tuner," "DTV Tuner," "HDTV Tuner," or "Digital Receiver."
The US government has required that all televisions shipped into or within the United States after March 1st, 2007 must contain a digital tuner. But what about old models hanging around on store shelves? Another requirement states that all TVs sold after May 25, 2007 must have a digital tuner, or be clearly labelled as not having one. So if you bought your TV within the past year or so, it's almost certainly digital.
Here's another way to check if you have a digital tuner. Many stations are already broadcasting in digital, on the UHF band. Contact your local TV station and find out what channels contain digital broadcasts. If you can tune into those channels, you've got a digital TV tuner, and you don't need to do anything.
Still not sure? Get the make and model of your TV and check it out on the manufacturer's website, or ask at a local electronics store.
Will I Need a New TV?
So you have an old analog TV. Should you toss it out and buy a digital TV? Not necessarily... You can keep ol' Bessie until she kicks the bucket, as long as you install a digital-to-analog converter box. (This is NOT the same as a cable set-top box.) The digital-to-analog converter goes between your antenna and the TV, and will convert the new digital broadcast signal to an analog signal that your analog TV can understand.
And there's no reason you can't keep those old TV's in the basement or your camper, with a VCR or DVD player hooked up. Without the digital-to-analog converter, they won't get a TV signal, but you can still use them to watch movies.
How Do I Get a Digital to Analog TV Converter?
You should be able to find these digital-to-analog converter boxes wherever TVs or electronic equipment is sold, for around $40 to $70. But you won't have to pay that much, because the government will provide every household with two $40 vouchers, good toward the purchase of these converter boxes. To request your vouchers, visit the NTIA Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program website, or call 1-888-388-2009.
Do I Need Some Fancy Digital Antenna?
Your existing antenna should not have to be replaced, as long as you are currently able to receive UHF channels.
What About My VCR, DVD Player, etc?
Your VCR, DVD player, camcorder, gaming systems and other equipment that interfaces with your television will continue to work, no matter what kind of TV you have.
One thing to consider about your VCR, if you currently record TV shows. The digital-to-analog converter box will only convert one channel at a time. So if you want to watch digital TV on one channel, and record something on another, you'll need TWO converter boxes. To make this work, you'll need to connect a splitter to the signal that comes from the antenna, then connect one output to the converter that feeds TV and the other to the converter that feeds the VCR. You'll also lose the ability to do automatic timed recording, unless you get a converter box with a built-in timer.
Why The Switch to Digital TV?
To people who have older analog-only television sets, and rely on free over-the-air signals, the switchover from analog to digital may seem like a nuisance. So why is the government mandating that all television broadcasts be transmitted in digital format?
Part of the reason is that the FCC wants to make better use of the broadcast spectrum currently being used by analog television signals. Some of this spectrum will be licensed to companies that provide consumers with wireless broadband. And other frequencies will become available to emergency services such as police, fire departments, and rescue squads.
And part of it is keeping up with the times. Parts of Europe's TV broadcasting is digital already, and aside from national pride, digital broadcasting does provide better audio and video quality, in a more efficient manner. With digital multicasting, TV stations can transmit several channels at the same time, in the same broadcast spectrum. In addition, digital TV allows for interactivity that is not possible with analog technology.
Does This Affect ALL Television Broadcasts?
No, there are a few exceptions. The switch from analog to digital only applies to full-power TV stations, which use the public airwaves for over-the-air broadcasting.
Local "low-power" and "translator" television stations in certain rural and urban areas can continue to broadcast in analog format indefinitely. But there's one possible snafu... Some digital-to-analog converter boxes lack a feature that allows the low-power signal pass through to the analog TV. If you need to receive BOTH digital and low-power TV signals, make sure you get a converter box that has the "pass through" feature.
Is Digital TV the Same as HDTV?
No. Standard-definition TV can be broadcast in either analog or digital format. And surprise... High-definition TV (HDTV) can also be broadcast in either analog or digital format.
A "digital TV" is not necessarily HD-capable. Just remember, the "D" in "HD" does NOT stand for digital. At some point in the future, all television channels will broadcast in High-Definition, but that's not likely to happen any time soon.
(And although this is not strictly related to this FAQ, it's interesting to note that you DON'T have to subscribe to cable or satellite to get HDTV programming. There are many TV stations that broadcast HD signals over the free public airwaves. See Free HDTV on Your PC for related information.)
What are Analog and Digital Signals?Here's a little semi-technical information on the difference between analog and digital TV signals, and why a digital signal is preferable for television broadcasting.
An analog signal is a continuous electrical wave that varies in response to changes in the sound or image being transmitted. A digital signal is a sequence of pulses. The original information is converted into a series of ON/OFF signals (bits) before being transmitted, sort of like Morse code.
Why is digital better? Digital signals can be sent for longer distances and are less prone to interference than analog signals. And since a digital signal is just a string of numbers, it can be reproduced exactly, an umlimited number of times. By contrast, analog signals cannot be copied perfectly. Each copy of an analog audio or video recording will have deterioration.
Where Can I Read More About This?
My previous article Goodbye to Analog TV has some additional information on this subject, as well as many interesting user comments.
The US Government's DTV.org website is a good source of information about digital TV and the analog to digital conversion.
See also the FCC's Consumer Facts About DTV site.
And if you need a digital-to-analog converter, see the NTIA Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program website.
Got comments or questions about the analog to digital conversion? Post a comment below.
Posted by Bob Rankin on 24 Jan 2008
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