The Digital Switch


Scott McGrew

We have posted a lot of information about the “digital switch” on our website (you can find it here), but I thought I would take the more casual tone the Breakfast Blog affords me and give you a thumbnail sketch of what’s going to happen.

In February of next year, terrestrial television stations like this one will switch from an analog broadcast signal to a digital broadcast signal. Only TV’s with a digital tuner will be able to receive this new signal.

Now, if you have a cable or satellite box hooked to your TV, you have nothing to worry about. The cable or satellite company will deal with this problem for you.

If, however, you get your television signal from an antenna – rooftop or rabbit ears – you will not be able to receive this new signal. There are a couple of solutions, the most obvious one being to buy a new TV. TV’s sold these days will include the digital tuner. The second solution is to buy a digital converter box, which will take the inbound digital signal and convert it to an analog signal your old TV can understand.

Common questions:

I have cable, but no cable box. What do I do?
It’s likely your cable company will contact you – they will probably switch you to digital cable and will give or sell you a cable box.

So if I get one of these converter boxes, will I get high definition (HD) TV?
No. All high definition television signals are digital, but not all digital signals are high definition. Your analog television set is not capable of displaying an HD picture.

Will I have to change my antenna?
Possibly. All current TV antennas can (in theory) receive a digital signal – radio waves are radio waves, regardless of what information is contained within. Some companies are selling digital TV antennas that they claim are better able to pick up the new frequencies, which is probably legitimate – differently shaped antennas receive different wavelengths better. But try using your original antenna first.

Will I get more channels?
Yes. Most TV stations plan to carry several different subchannels on its frequency. So, for instance, on Channel 11 digital, you will get 11.1, 11.2 and so on. What will be on those channels is up to the TV stations. They could be the same TV show in a different language, full time weather coverage, etc.

I have trouble receiving channel X right now. Will that be easier when Channel X is broadcasting in digital?
Maybe. The digital transmission will be “cleaner” and less vulnerable to interference. However, digital reception is an on/off proposition. You will either get the signal or you will not. You will not get a faded signal or a ghosted signal. It will either be there or it will not.

How much do I have to pay?
TV received by antenna will continue to be free. You do NOT need to pay anyone to receive a digital signal. You do NOT need to pay anyone for the extra channels. You do NOT need to pay anyone for an HDTV signal (assuming you have a TV capable of displaying HD). If you need a converter box for your old analog TV set, you will have to buy one, but the government will issue you up to two $40 vouchers to help pay for them. More details

Scott McGrew
NBC11 Business & Tech Reporter


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