Jan 11 2008

The National Association of Broadcasters’ (NAB) video spot about the switch to DTV on February 19, 2009 is big on scare “Your TVs may go dark” & “You may need an upgrade” but short on info.It certainly made me pause. We don’t have digital cable and have several TVs that predate the mandated digital tuner generation (which started less than a year ago). So, that could mean increasing our cable subscription services and adding extra boxes ($$$). Or digital-to-analog converter boxes ($$) with the added box & controller inconvenience. Or going satellite, which also has its boxes.What service(s) does DTV affect?The little known detail among consumers is that the DTV switch ONLY affects Over The Air television reception a.k.a. OTA.http://dtvanswers.com/dtv_what.html — ” Digital television (DTV) is an innovative new type of over-the-air broadcasting technology http://dtv.gov/whatisdtv.html — Analog TVs ” will require a converter box after February 17, 2009, to receive over-the-air broadcasts with an antenna because of the Nation’s transition to digital broadcasting. Analog-only TVs should continue to work as before with cable and satellite TV services “Why couldn’t the NAB ad just point that out the antenna part?If you have rabbit ears ;) or antenna, please pay attention. All others, relax. The analog cable signal is not changing.Don’t paint a broad picture about “digital tv” that confuses people with “digital tv subscriptions” and scares a whole generation of older people that they’re going to have to shell out a lot of money for new televisions and subscribe to cable or satellite. Maybe that is actually the hidden plot behind the scene? Scare people into a paid service, sell bunches of new gear and sell the analog spectrum. Win-win-win.A call to our local cable provider (Time Warner, formerly Adelphia) confirmed that there will no change in analog cable service due to the DTV switch.Converter box coupon. If your TV does not have a digital tuner and you have any type of analog antenna on your roof or TV set, you can convert the analog signal to digital and the government is subsidizing the converters.There is an application form at https://www.dtv2009.gov/ to subsidize up to two analog to digital cable converter boxes per family.Note that the coupons have an expiration date. They are only valid for three months, so you may want to wait a little bit.They have a pretty detailed FAQ at https://www.dtv2009.gov/FAQ.aspxI will personally wait till more products with more features are on the market and they start to compete price-wise and feature wise. ( I will get one converter for emergency broadcast reception when cable and power is out. )Which DTV / HDTV antenna can I use? What signal can I get over the air?You may only need a very compact indoor antenna to receive a couple signal in an urban setting. But if rabbit ears don’t work now, I doubt a digital capable equivalent will yield any results. How can you know what is out there before buying an antenna?Should you or a family member use some type of antenna now or maybe consider it for the future instead of paying for cable, there is a great online resource to check what signals are available in your area and what antenna you should use: antennaweb.org from the Consumer Electronics Organization.I have used antennaweb.org to check signal availability in a few areas and determined an antenna is simply not going to work (or worth the investment I should say) for two remote areas due to distance from towers & hills; but that with a dozen stations in two urban areas, an antenna is certainly a viable option.Antennaweb homepageOn their homepage, click on the choose an antenna button. No need to fill out all your personal information. You can just fill out your ZIP code, confirm your housing type and if there are any tall obstacles. It will then show you a map of your area. Use the controls and click to put the star roughly where your house is.Antennaweb sample mapClick continue and it will show you a list of stations in your area and make recommendations on what antenna type you could use to receive them.Antennaweb sample resultsAs you can see there is not much out there for people in the 04330 area. Add big obstacles, hills and the metropolitan areas being in two different directions and it would not be easy to get a good result. Even satellite is very low on the horizon here.Clicking through on the antenna color will give you some guidelines about the antenna type to use * and armed with that information you can go shopping.* Note that some stations will switch bands from VHF to UHFOnline shopping for a DTV HDTV antennaI have done a little bit of comparison shopping in the past and have been impressed with the guys behind solidsignal.com – no affiliation.I contacted them last year about a difficult location (which turned out to be unsuitable for antenna reception) and they were accurate with their evaluation and quick to respond. I am in touch with them now to order an antenna for a family member.They have a red antennahelp link in the upper right.Solid signal siteYou fill out a form and they respond with a recommendation in a few hours, after evaluating your location and answers you filled out.Their prices seem reasonable and I would not hesitate to order from them, but of course you can use their recommendations & pricing to shop around, as any smart web shopper would do.Other thoughts on the DTV switch I really do not think that the DTV switch is a good thing.I fear tons of electronic waste will go to the landfill.Handheld emergency TVs are now obsolete. Our little handheld Casio running on 4 AA batteries has been great during hurricane outages to tune into continuous hurricane coverage and stay informed about local weather conditions. Maybe one could rig an antenna to a converter box and then wire to the antenna? Still, you will need power for that converter box and the thing won’t be very portable.I am taking the DTV quality claims with a grain of salt. They’re supposed to be free of ghosts and snow. But DTV does not equal HD and it probably will suffer the same issues. Digital TV channels on cable and HDTV should be the nec plus ultra. Except that they suffer from pixelization due to upscaling / upsampling and / or over compression. HDTV channels are only broadcast at half the recommended bandwith at to ensure a continuous crisp picture that doesn’t take
a few seconds to catch up to scene change. It is especially bad through transitions, high detail scenes, fast action, … The only exception I have seen has been hdnet.Update February 11: I have installed one DTV set at a family member’s place and hooked it up to the existing and slightly ‘antique’ long directional antenna. I am not easily impressed but I am honestly very impressed with the image quality of DTV. So much so that I found myself watching TV I wouldn’t ordinarily watch, just to check their clarity. At certain times there were a few stations that we experienced digital artifacts (blocks of static / noise) in the signal, but I think that was due to the range and maybe inclement weather 60+ miles away. All in all, I give the DTV signal two thumbs up. It is way better than what we had less than two years ago on HD Cable with Time Warner / Comcast; and not to mention free.The additional weather channels on local stations are a real plus as well. Just tune to channel 8-2 or so to get the plus channel of your local station and get real time radar images and weather updates. When severe weather is in the area you can now track it live on tv, without needing the weather channel on cable. Update March 15: I noticed the NAB has started to air a new clip which specifically mentions that it is TV antenna users who may need to upgrade.I don’t know if my letter to them had anything to do with it (did not get a response) but at least they are no longer making it sound as if everybody might lose their signal and need to run out to buy new TVs or converter boxes.