Today is DTV Day!

Category: Television

After many delays, the much-anticipated digital television switchover is today. Older TV's with analog receivers will display only snow -- unless you install an analog to digital converter. Here's the scoop...

DTV transition

The Digital Television Transition

As I've written before, the digital television transition takes place in the USA at midnight on June 12th.
Just a reminder -- the DTV transition only affects people with older analog TVs who rely on their antenna to tune in free over-the-air signals. People with cable, satellite or fiber-optic TV service should not have a problem, even if your service is analog.

First, a little background on the issue... I suggest you read my previous articles Goodbye to Analog TV and the Analog to Digital TV Switchover FAQ, which will explain why this is happening, who is affected by the DTV transition, how to get a converter, and other burning questions. I encourage you to also read the many interesting user comments, since there is a lot of good information there as well.

So will the cutover to digital broadcasting go smoothly? I have my doubts. The US government has spent billions trying to educate the public about the end of analog television broadcasting, and has provided vouchers for those who need to purchase an adapter for older televisions. Still, the FCC estimates that over 2 million television sets will be left unprepared when the clock strikes midnight tonight. They either failed to heed the warnings, installed the converter improperly, or just decided not to fix it if it wasn't broke, yet. When these people turn on their TVs tomorrow, they will see either the "White Cow in a Snowstorm" marathon, or a short program explaining the DTV transition.

But since it's official government policy to reward failure, there's no need to panic. Consumers who need help can do one of these things:

  • Go Online - Visit, the US Government's website for information about digital TV and the analog to digital conversion.
  • Make a Call - You can dial 1-888-CALL-FCC (888-225-5322). But you can count on this number being swamped with calls starting June 12 and onward.
  • Visit a DTV Help Center - The FCC is sponsoring DTV walk-in clinics and in-home assistance in communities throughout the country.

Like it or not, the DTV transition is upon us. Some have called the DTV transition a ploy by the cable and satellite companies to force people to move from free TV to a paid service. But I'm not so cynical about it. Others are voicing the opinion that there's nothing worth watching on TV anyway, so this is a good excuse to drop a bad habit. And of course there's plenty of free TV content on the Internet. (See my article Watch Television on Your Computer.)

What do you think about the DTV transition? Is it a Vast Conspiracy, or are we just catching up with the rest of the world? Does TV even matter any more? Post your comments below...

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Most recent comments on "Today is DTV Day!"

Posted by:

12 Jun 2009

I don't think that it is a conspiracy, we are just adapting to the times, it just so happens that some companies will make money off of that. Although I am a little worried because digital has clear picture by can be messed up by passing cars check this out :

Posted by:

Cecilia Kruchko
12 Jun 2009

Thanks for the data Bob. I have been watching the DTV announcements for the past week. Some make it 'sound' like if you have rabbit ears (or such) you MUST have a converter(also ALL the cable ads make you think this). In fact this morning (Jun 12) CBS channel had a scrolling message at the bottom of the screan telling me "If you can read this message - you are not ready ...'
BS. I live in an RV and use 'rabbit ears' I do not have cable or satellite and never will. I have a 'bat wing' and a new LCD TV. I have been getting DTV since I got the new TV 6 months ago. I get 13 channels and the quallity is as good as waching a DVD. What I don't read about is all the wounderfull extras one can get for free now.
Channel 4 has also 4.1 which is the new DTV broadcast, 5 has 5.1 (DTV),5.2 (DTV Weather), and one other which is all DTV Sports. Then there is another new one - channel 5 I believe which is all Movies called THIS. There is much more. An artical about this would be helpfull. Now I'm woundering if my Sunday paper is going to start including all these stations in it's weekly line-up. I agree with you that this will be much better service for the guys who want it free. PS I'm in Santa Clarita CA area and my stations will be different then others so this is just an example.

Posted by:

Mike M
12 Jun 2009

A few years ago, my new Olevia 32" LCD HDTV, highly rated by Consumer Reports, cost about $250 less than the 15 year old CRT that had just died. Another CRT would've been cheaper still, but HDTV for that price--it didn't feel like I was paying a premium for being an early adopter. And it was HDTV. showed excellent over the air reception in my area, so I installed a rooftop Channel Master 4228, moved my PC into the living room, and now I can watch and record 45 digital channels--Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS and the CW in HD. Not to mention HotForWords on YouTube in HD!

Plus, there's still DirecTV in SD. As an existing customer I'd have to pay a three figure lease down payment for an HD receiver. No thank you.

Posted by:

12 Jun 2009

In RI, all the stations stuck to the original February 17 schedule. Still nothing on, but 45% commercials and reality junk.

Posted by:

13 Jun 2009

Have 2 analog TVs and 2 converter boxes. Both boxes work on TV A (so both converter boxes work) but TV B does not work with either converter box. Is there another device I can add to the connections to make TV B work?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm not Sherlock Holmes, but my best guess would be that something is wrong with TV B.

Posted by:

Todd Heydt
17 Jun 2009

For two + years now, I have received exceptional HD reception over the air using a Samsung HD receiver and an amplified UHF outdoor antenna. All the stations in my metropolitan area came in great, including 4 more over 50 miles away. Now that the switch has come and gone, 2 of the big networks, FOX and NBC, don't come in. WHY? After a little research and contact with the FOX engineers, I come to find that these two networks, FOX and NBC, are broadcasting their digital signals via VHF! What is up with that? I thought I was all set. Now I have to pay twice as much for a huge, ugly VHF/UHF antenna just to get their signal. What a rip-off. I can't imagine I'm the only one with this problem.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Odd, I thought all digital TV was supposed to be on the UHF band...

Posted by:

Jean Starr
18 Jun 2009

Comcast managed my transition, placing something called a DTA box next to my TV. No problem. - The huge problem, which I can't believe hasn't happened to many people, is that it TRASHED my VTR, which can now only record a channel that I am currently watching. What happened to "time shifting"? Am I really forced to buy a DVR? Since TiVo appears to be the only one that can meet the requirements that my VTR met just fine,the transition has added non-trivial dollars to my monthly cost-of-living. Am I the only one that minds?

Posted by:

18 Jun 2009

Regarding battery-powered converter boxes, all of the regular converter boxes that I have seen are powered by one of those plug-in-the-wall transformers. This supplies 12VDC to the connector on the back of the box. It seems it would be a simple thing with the proper connector to power the box directly from a 12V battery.

Posted by:

18 Jun 2009

Before DTV and via a master roof-top supposedly VHF-only antenna, I received Boston channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 38 and 56. and Providence channels 6, 10, 12 and 36. Via the same antenna, I now get a very pixellated and highly erratic Providence FOX/ABC on VHF channel 12 and a hint that UHF 38 might just possibly become available when it goes to full power. DTVdotorg says that ABC Providence should be on UHF 49 while FOX Providence should be on UHF 54; Boston's channel 38 should be on 39. When they switch over, I will have no way to learn of emergencies, foul weather or my local RI news (Not that the FOX/ABC programming is set up to provide that kind of information anyway: It's 99% junk.).

In the billions spent by the feds was not one dollar for more TV-signal masts! This conversion will definitely fragment markets. Somehow yet another federal program to improve the quality of my life and decrease my costs has failed miserably: My budget will not run to cable in the foreseeable future, especially now that the price of gas is climbing again.

The converter box works fine as does the TV set. The feds failed to say that digital signals are far too feeble to reach those in dead zones such as the one I live in. This conversion just shows up the failure of mathematical projections and the pressing need for dry runs! There was not so much as one pilot program to see if it would work in the field!

Posted by:

19 Jun 2009

Something most people and web sites, including apparently this one, and the FCC and the DTV official site and the major media outlets, and the newspapers and anyone else has NOT said, is: This is also the day your VCR dies.

That friendly old VHS VCR you've been using to tape Law & Order while you're watching Grey's Anatomy will NOT work after DTV day, unless you also buy a SECOND DTV "converter box" for it. Otherwise, all you'll be able to do is tape the channel you're currently watching.

I wonder how many people who actually paid attention to the official info and went out and bought a converter box for their TVs are sitting there watching the "Cow in a snowstorm" they taped while watching a different channel on their new DTV box..? And... WHY was there NO mention of this anywhere..?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I can't speak for others, but I *did* mention it on my site. In "Analog to Digital TV Conversion" you see this:

>>>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.

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