Digital Television Is On The Way

by Gabe Bullard on March 21, 2008

One year from now, all television broadcasts in the United States will be digital. Across Kentucky, thousands of television viewers will need to get new equipment to keep receiving over-the-air transmissions.

The crew at Clarksdale TV repair have pulled the back off of a plasma screen tv set. And they’re pointing to a small silver box wired into it.

“There’s a digital tuner,” says Chief Engineer Daryl Harlow.

That box is how any TV made in the last year gets picture information from over the air signals. In a year, it’ll be the only way to get over the air signals.

After February 17th of next year, all TV signals will be digital. For cable or satellite users, nothing will change, but regular television antennas won’t be able to interpret the information.

“I have the old fashioned kind that really is rabbit ears with the two metal antennas and the metal loop in the center,” says Lee Burchfield, a Louisville resident with an analog TV.

He thinks he’ll buy a new TV for next year, but he doesn’t have to. Nobody has to buy a new TV to get the digital signals. All you need to do is get a converter box, which costs between 40 and 60 dollars. The FCC even offers a coupon for 40 dollars off converter boxes. So the total to pay to get the new signals is dramatically less than buying a digital TV.

But there is a drawback to keeping your old television.

“You won’t be watching a high definition picture,” says Harlow.

The new digital signals will be high definition, but if you’re using a converter box won’t get the HD picture. You will get a clearer picture. Since digital signals are all or nothing, the picture either comes in perfectly, without snow or static, or it doesn’t come in at all. Harlow says that’s a problem in his shop.

“We’ve tried on a television in this downtown area with an antenna to get an actual signal, but this is a bad area,” he says. “You’re right in the middle of downtown so you’ll have to have an antenna on mast or something to get a picture.”

Digital signals are more likely to be blocked by buildings and trees, so antennas will have to be placed on roofs or towers to get the best reception in urban areas, which is where most non-cable or satellite viewers in Kentucky are.

“Urban areas often have higher over the air percentages than rural areas,” says Tim Bischoff with KET. “In rural areas lots of users have gone to satellite.”

Bischoff is leading KET’s efforts to tell people about the digital switchover. He says KET reaches almost all of Kentucky households, and of those, about 15 percent of urban viewers get the signals over the air.

“In urban areas sometimes you have more channel choices over the air,” he says. “So that makes it more attractive than a pay service.”

And if urban viewers can pick up the digital signal, their channel choice will improve. Digital TV lets stations broadcast multiple channels on the same bandwidth. KET currently puts out five digital viewing options. But to get those, you’ll need a digital TV, not a converter box.

Harlow says it comes down to paying for TV. With a coupon, you can get a low-priced or possibly free converter at the local electronics store and keep watching TV on an analog set. If you pay the equivalent of a year or so of cable for a new, you’ll get more channels over the air and see them in HD.

Or, you can pay for cable or satellite and experience no change next February.

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