Digital Television Is Here…Kind Of

by Gabe Bullard on February 20, 2009

On Tuesday, hundreds of stations across the country (include The CW’s channel 34 here in Louisville) turned off their analog signals, even though they weren’t required to do so.

Many of the stations that took the cost-saving step of going exclusively digital have had problems, mostly with viewers who have converter boxes but not antennas that are strong enough to pick up signals from far-away stations.

Why aren’t some of the old antennas good enough? Digital technology works on an all or nothing basis. Everything is broken down into zeroes and ones. As that principle is scaled up, digital signals can only be read as ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Static-filled signals on analog TV are more like a ‘maybe.’ When maybes hit antennas, DTV boxes hear ‘no,’ and don’t show anything. Sometimes the digital signal will freeze or create blocks of color on the screen. That happens when the signal is a very faint ‘yes,’ and the box can’t quite figure out what exactly it’s saying ‘yes’ to.

There are antennas that can pick up the digital signals better, but they cost more than converter boxes and there isn’t a federal voucher program for antennas.

Viewers who can’t get ‘yes’ signals and who don’t want to switch to cable or dish will have to either get a new antenna or put the current one in a better position to pick up the signals. Or, if you’re looking for an excuse to get a new TV to watch the high-definition signals, there’s this option, which isn’t recommended.

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