Days from Digital TV Transition

An hour ago, I found out that my primary television is analog. Am I ready? After over 65 articles, resources, and instructional videos later, I know the answer.

- Brief History
- The Digital Transition: Three Scenarios

Brief History

In 1941, the National Television System Committee (NTSC) was established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create guidelines for analog technical standards in black and white television. A little over a decade later, the NTSC approved a color standard. Standardization is necessary so everyone has the same viewing experience.

In 2005, Congress passed legislation requiring all broadcasters to shift from the 1940s/50s standard analog to digital transmissions by 2009.

The Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) tuner inside a television allows for reception of digital signals. Analog televisions are only NTSC compatible. The digital transition deadline for broadcasters has been extended to Friday, June 12 though many cable providers already have full digital channel packages.

Why the switch to digital?

Broadcasting in digital takes up less broadcast channel space. Broadcasters can send out multiple signals on one digital channel versus analog's one signal per channel. Plus -

  1. Digital provides crisper pictures.
  2. Closed captioning has better functionality in digital.
  3. The digital format supports high definition television (HDTV).

Is my television analog or digital?

I own a flat screen Sony Trinitron bought in 2000. I assumed a TV set without that rounded glass was digital. The set looks modern.

For a definitive answer, I visited Sony’s esupport site, and typed in my TV model number, KV-27FS12 which I found on the back of the set, into the ‘Go directly to your Model Home’ box. Under ‘Hot Topics’ was the question ‘Is my Sony television ready for DTV?’

My answer?

1) Your Sony KV-27FS12 television has an analog tuner, so you may need a digital tuner or a converter box to continue to receive over-the-air programming.

2) If you subscribe to a cable or satellite service, your television viewing should not be affected by the June 12, 2009, cut-off date for full-power analog broadcasting. Please contact your service provider for complete information.

I do indeed own an analog television. What happens now?

The Digital Transition: Three Scenarios

A lot of information exists online about the transition process, buying gear, converter box coupon, and antennas but the average television watcher fits into one of three scenarios.

First, you must know how you get your television shows: a television hooked up to a cable provider, an analog TV and antenna, a television with a digital tuner and antenna.

  1. Scenario 1: You subscribe to cable television - you're OK, don't worry.

    Whether you have an analog or digital TV, you should be okay. If you want, call your cable provider to double check.

    My cable provider is Comcast. I called the general 1-800 customer service number to confirm my analog television with the basic cable package would automatically switch over to digital cable on June 12. My neighborhood has strong digital signals so all is okay.

    WHN TIP: June 13

    On June 13 re-scan your cable channels to make sure you are receiving all the channels in your plan.

  2. Scenario 2: You have an analog television with an antenna and no cable service - now you have three options.

    Option 1 - Keep your analog TV+antenna and buy a converter box
    Option 2 - Keep your analog TV and subscribe to cable
    Option 3 - Buy a new television with a digital converter

    • Option 1 - Essentially, a converter box will allow your NTSC standard television to read the data stream coming from a broadcaster’s digital tuner sent via the newer ATSC standard.

      A box costs about $60-70 dollars. The government has a $40 off coupon program which you can sign up online for on the program website or -Call the Coupon Program’s toll-free, 24-hour automated system 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009).

      Deaf or hard of hearing callers may dial 1-877-530-2634 (English/TTY) or 1-866-495-1161 (Spanish/TTY). TTY Service is available from 9 AM - 9 PM Eastern Time Monday through Friday.

      WHN TIP: The Coupon

      If you download the application to print out versus filling out the auto-form online, you will need to send the form to the government.

      - Mail a coupon application to: PO BOX 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000.

      - Fax a coupon application to 1-877-DTV-4ME2 (1-877-388-4632)

      The coupon is actually a plastic card. The turnaround time is about nine days from the time the office receives your application. You may not receive the coupon until after June 12.

      Each household can request up to two coupons. The application deadline is July 31. The coupon is only valid for 90 days. The program is first come first serve so depending on volume of requests, you may be put on a waiting list.

      Things to know about option 1

      - If you buy and hook up a box but the reception isn’t acceptable, you may want to research antennas. From what I’ve read, an antenna that receives both VHF (channels 2-13) and UAF (channels 14-51) is ideal though not necessary. Also, be mindful that digital signals are more fussy than analog. Trucks, shadows, location and wind can affect signal strength.

      - Depending on how far you live from a broadcast tower, your digital signal may not be as clear as the analog one. In that case, you may have to consider installing an outdoor antenna.

      - For information on indoor antennas, like rabbit ears and bowties, visit the FCC’s consumer facts page, and for outdoor antenna advice, the industry go-to site is AntennaWeb.

    • Option 2 - If you subscribe to cable, you will be receiving data over lines versus over-the-air which elmiinates the analog problem. You may or may not need your antenna. Call or visit your local cable company online to inquire about rates.

      If you are receiving over-the-air free broadcast, you are most likely not picking up things like HBO. You may be a good candidate for a basic or limited basic cable package which provides NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, FOX, and a few other stations for a reasonable monthly fee. I pay about $14 for my basic cable package though I’ve seen better deals out right now for new subscribers.

      WHN TIP: Order Nothing Special

      You do not need to order any special digital cable package or cable box. Basic cable packages usually don’t come with a cable box. I downgraded my cable package so I do have a box but the Comcast operator said I wouldn’t need one to still receive digital channels.

    • Option 3 - Most televisions made after 2005 have a digital tuner inside meaning the TV can read over-the-air digital signals. You may or may not need a new antenna depending on the strength of signals and the distance of the nearest broadcasting tower. You will want an antenna that receives both VHF and UAF channels.

      If you subscribe to Consumer Reports, their site has fairly comprehensive television set reviews. National retail sites often have compare/contrast features so you can analyze which set is best for you.

  3. Scenario 3: I have a television with built in ATSC digital tuner + antenna and no cable service - you're fine but you may want to think about an antenna

    You can continue to receive free over-the-air broadcasting without changing anything. If you feel the picture quality declines, you may want to look at the FCC digital reception coverage maps to check your area.

    You may or may not need a new antenna depending on the strength of signals and the distance of the nearest broadcasting tower. You will want an antenna that receives both VHF and UAF channels.

The answer to my situation? I have an analog television and cable service. I don’t need to do anything but re-scan channels on June 13.

Reviewed 6/2009