The United States government is requiring TV stations to cease broadcasting
analog channels. April 7th, 2009 is the current date the FCC is requiring U.S.
stations to broadcast using digital signals instead of existing analog signals.
With a conversion date slightly over three years from now and little publicity
on the topic, what is an American consumer to do?
First, let's take a look at what is driving these changes and
then we'll look at what options American consumers have regarding their home
Why convert to digital TV?
There are three main factors driving the industry change from
analog signals to digital. Standardized digital conversion will create a common
and effective way for TV broadcasters to encrypt their content and
protect against piracy. Digital content not only provides better content for
viewers, but perfect reproduction for content piracy. No longer is there a "copy
of a copy" effect. Every reproduction of digital content is as clear as the
original. Existing laws and standards don't allow broadcasters to protect their
content because they have to provide analog versions. The conversion to digital
broadcast will allow encryption to be employed.
The second reason for digital TV conversion is to raise money
through the sale of frequency spectrums.
VHF (Very high frequency)
channels are currently used for TV stations 2-13, but that frequency range is
also used for FM radio, navigation systems, aircraft communications and two-way
radios for police, taxis and marine communications.
UHF (Ultra high
frequency) channels are used for all other TV stations that are not digital.
This frequency range is also used currently for cell phones, cordless phones,
wireless networking, ham radio and other licensed two-way communications (GMRS,
FRS) and microwave ovens.
During the mid 90's the
FCC auctioned PCS spectrum frequencies, which current digital cellular
phones operate on and generated over $7.7 billion in revenue for the A and B
blocks alone. When TV stations convert to digital frequencies, the FCC plans to
auction the newly available spectrum to the highest bidder. Revenues from this
auction are expected to exceed $10 billion with $5 billion legislated to
pay down the
The final reason driving the conversion to digital broadcast
comes from providers themselves. In addition to being able to protect their
content, TV stations will be able to
content. Digital TV will be broadcast in higher resolution, meaning your
picture will be clearer and sharper. The aspect ratio, the way the picture is
displayed, will be different...more like the way movies in theaters are
displayed. Think rectangle instead of square. Digital TV will also supply Dolby
digital surround sound. Most importantly though is the ability to broadcast more
than one channel at a time. For instance, HBO
currently broadcasts eight channels on digital cable and
Subscribers who have analog cable only receive one HBO channel.
Is a new TV required?
So what does all this information mean to American TV
watchers? First of all, you won't necessarily have to buy a new TV. If you're
one of the less than 30% who still watches TV using only an antenna, your TV
will go blank on April 7th, 2009, but you'll be able to fix that situation using
a digital converter box instead of buying a new TV. The consumer electronics
industry is hoping the price point of that device will be
less than $70. For the remaining 70% of American TV watchers who subscribe
to cable or digital satellite
services, your current set top box will act as the converter for your TV.
However, some features that only a new digital TV will have is the ability to
display the full digital resolution and the wide screen aspect ratio.
Another benefit to a digital TV is you won't need a separate
cable or satellite receiver. Digital TVs have those tuners built in, but you may
need a decoder card to receive subscription based programming. Cable and digital
satellite providers plan on providing video on demand using these cards instead
of a set top box.
Digital TVs are already on the market and you may have one
without even knowing it! All large screen TVs, 36" and above, were required to
be digital ready July 1, 2005. Intermediate sized TVs, 25" to 36" are scheduled
to be digital ready by July 1, 2006 and all TVs above 13" should be digital
ready by March 1, 2007. This should be in plenty of time to meet the 2009
legislation. Manufacturers are hoping the deadline will be moved up as are
certain members of Congress like Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Will consumers know the difference?
The adoption of HDTV is a good measure of how consumers will
respond to digital TV. Purchases of HDTVs have been strong, especially with
prices dropping, but there is still a lot of confusion between the different
types of TVs available and the required HDTV services. A December survey by
Forrester Research showed that while 16 million Americans have purchased HDTV
sets, less than half of them have registered for services that will allow them
to view it.
Some HDTV programming is provided "in the clear," but cable or
satellite customers need to have a special set top box or decoder (CableCard) to
view programming in HD. The biggest reason consumers gave for not obtaining the
proper programming options to receive HDTV was they felt the picture quality was
improved just by the purchase of the HDTV set.
Cable and satellite providers will be providing consumer
education over the coming year to educate them about the additional requirements
for viewing HDTV. Hopefully, this education programming will help raise
awareness for the Digital TV conversion of 2009 as well.
Digital television - the bottom line.
The 2009 digital TV conversion should benefit consumers in
ways they can't even imagine. It won't require everybody to purchase a new
television set. Manufacturers and retailers will continue to provide analog TVs
as the law allows over the next 24 months and new VCRs and DVD players will be
made with both analog and digital tuners. TV content providers will be able to
provide better and more interactive content for viewers because of a defined
digital TV standard. And other consumer electronic communication devices will be
made better because of expanded frequency availability for things like cordless
phones, cell phones and walkie-talkies of all varieties. Digital TV should be a
very good thing indeed.
About the Author: Max Stein, Salt Lake City, UT, USA
Max Stein is a freelance writer who writes about a variety of
contemporary topics. firstname.lastname@example.org
would love to know what you think, sound off on the
boards and let us know what you think!