Thursday, March 13, 2008

Preparing for the Digital Television Transition

The U.S. government imposed deadline for the 2009 digital television transition is steadily approaching. Why has the FCC enacted this initiative? Their stated objective is to “allow stations to deliver more programming and to free up space on the airwaves for emergency services”. Surely it has more to do with bolstering the country's lagging economy, than providing viewers with more programming or unclogging the airwaves. Analog broadcasts have little effect on DTV signal strength; digital and analog broadcasts could coexist forever, as they do now.

However, we are a consumer based economy so basically making folks buy a conversion box, or even better a new TV, with Bush's economic ‘rescue’ package is a good strategy; sound a bit cynical, maybe; true, most definitely. There are very few things that will get us Americans out in mass to buy consumer electronics as powerful as messing with our television broadcasts.

Usually, a pile of confusion is what is encountered when the subject of an analog to digital television transition is brought up; this post’s goal is to clear up some of that confusion.

First, you don’t have to get a new TV, just a conversion box, and if your antenna works well now you won’t need to replace that either. Digital signals are sent over UHF, the antenna you have now will pick up these signals. This fact seems to have been pretty well publicized considering the response the FCC had to their $40 off an analog to digital conversion box coupons. Half a million people signed up to receive the $40 voucher in the first 40 hours after the application form went live on the FCC web site. (When did the FCC become a marketing firm?) Although, free is free so fair enough.

Second, if you subscribe to cable you don’t have to do anything until 2012. Until then, cable, satellite, and fiber optic companies are required to keep sending a signal your analog TV can read, but you’ll have to pay to convert eventually.

Third, even if you have an HDTV, to receive free over-the-air HDTV your television needs a digital tuner (televisions sold as HD ready do not have digital tuners), an HD capable antenna, and a station that broadcasts HD programming over-the-air no more than 70 miles away from you. Your distance from the signal source will determine the range antenna needed. Some DVR’s and DVD-R’s have digital tuners built in so if you have one check this out before dropping any cash. To help ease the transition, new laws, that went into effect at the beginning of this month, state any TV or any A/V components equipped with a tuner imported in to the US or shipped in interstate commerce must contain digital tuners.

So, if you’ve decide to go with a new TV, buyers beware. Analog tuner TV’s will be floating around for a while so double check to see which type of tuner the set your considering has. Resellers are required to blatantly advertise if the stock they’re selling is an older analog set. Still, surely some nefarious retailers will try to slip some older sets by unsuspecting consumers.

Lastly, a few notes about what to do with your older sets. Simply put, reuse them or recycle them. Reuse old sets to run DVD players or gaming systems. If you just want to be free of your old set, recycling it is extremely important. TV tubes have up to eight pounds of lead and numerous fire proofing toxins that need to be dealt with properly.

The amount of waste that this transition could produce is astronomical, 30 million households receive only over-the-air analog broadcasts and those homes have on average 2.6 televisions each. This would be a huge influx of waste, even if only half the people replacing their sets were to just put them on the curb to be carted off to the landfill. Please check the electronics Industry Alliance’s Web site, at to help identify a recycling program in your area.

..via Consumer Reports..