TVs set to switch to digital

Published 1:21 am Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The holiday shopping season is rapidly approaching and residents with plans to search for a new television set need to keep Feb. 17, 2009, in mind when making their purchase.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) announced at a press conference last Monday new consumer education initiatives marking the 100-day countdown to the nationwide transition to digital television (DTV).

On this important milestone, NAB joined forces with government leaders and key industry and consumer groups to spur Americans into action during this critical last phase. By Feb. 17, 2009, all full-power television stations will switch from analog to all-digital broadcasting.

The switch will only affect those customers who currently receive broadcasts free and over the air using an outside or set-top “rabbit ears” antenna. The switch will not affect customers who currently subscribe to cable or satellite programming.

Mike Russell of TV Cable Company in Andalusia said most station broadcasts to their customers have already undergone the switch to digital.

“We have already began the process of switching our broadcasts to digital,” he said. “We have got a few stations we are still working with out of Montgomery that are still analog, but most are now digital.”

According to the NAB, nearly 150 stations in 49 markets have already conducted analog shut-off tests to help viewers determine if their TV sets are digital-ready. Many more are planned in top markets, including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Russell said that customers who subscribe to their cable service will have no need to purchase any additional equipment to enjoy the increased picture quality of digital broadcasts.

“There is no switch they will have to perform,” he said. “Not even with their television. Everything our customers have now will remain the same.”

The digital switch will free up large portions of the broadcast spectrum that can be used for other important services, such as public and safety services (police and fire departments, emergency rescue), and advanced wireless services.

The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) digital tuner rule specifies that as of March 1, 2007, all new televisions must include digital tuners. This rule prohibits the manufacture, import, or interstate shipment of any device containing an analog tuner, unless it also contains a digital tuner. Despite this prohibition on manufacture and shipment, retailers may continue to sell analog-only devices from existing inventory. As a result, at the point of sale, many consumers may not be aware that this equipment will not be able to receive over-the-air-television signals after Feb. 17, 2009.

Rus Jarvis, an employee of Covington Electronics in Andalusia, said the majority of the sets they offer are equipped with digital tuners and all televisions currently manufactured are equipped with digital tuners.

“We have maybe a half a dozen of the old sets that have analog tuners,” he said. “If customers choose to purchase those older sets and view their television using an outside or set-top antenna, then they will need to purchase a converter box.”

Jarvis said the digital switch will mean days of viewing snowy television stations will be a thing of the past.

“Digital broadcast will mean much better picture quality,” he said. “With digital it is either crystal clear or non-existent. You do not have a snowy picture. If the picture is snowy or has poor reception, then it will not be viewable.”

A converter box coupon program is currently in place to aid residents who still use antennas to view free, over the air broadcasts and will be required to purchase digital-to-analog converter boxes. Between Jan. 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, all U.S. households will be eligible to request up to two coupons, worth $40 each, to be used toward the purchase of up to two, digital-to-analog converter boxes. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has responsibility for administering the coupon program.

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