A year from now, television as America knows it will be gone forever. On Feb. 17, 2009, in accordance with legislation passed by Congress, the analog signal that has been used to transmit TV since its invention will be turned off, and all TV stations will begin broadcasting its programming using a digital signal.
Any TV viewers who still have an analog TV at that time will find themselves in the dark, without the ability to switch on their sets and watch favorites like â€œGreyâ€™s Anatomyâ€ or â€œAmerican Idol.â€ However, the government and TV stations alike are busy getting the word out in advance about the different options that viewers have to ensure that no one will have to go without their favorite TV shows.
The National Association of Broadcasters has provided TV stations with commercial spots they can air regarding the switch. The commercials tout the governmentâ€™s plan to provide continued TV access to homes by offering rebate coupons on converter boxes that will enable an analog TV to receive the new digital signal.
Each household can apply for two coupons that are worth $40 apiece to go towards converter boxes that are expected to retail between $50 and $70. The coupons can be obtained on the Web site www.dtv2009.gov, which also answers many questions about the switch. Converter boxes will be sold in stores after Feb. 17 of this year.
Another option viewers have is to simply buy a television set that has a digital tuner. All TVs are now required to be manufactured with a digital tuner, although some analog TV sets are still sold in stores.
Justin Cruz, the store service manager at Best Buy in Fresno, said that a lot of people have been coming to the store confused about what they need to buy to prepare for the switch.
â€œYou donâ€™t have to get a flat panel [TV]; thatâ€™s a big misconception,â€ Cruz said.
Many people think that they have to purchase a high definition television set (HDTV) in order to get the new signal, but Best Buy offers regular TV sets with the new digital tuner for under $200. Consumers simply have to look for TVs marked with ATSC tuner.
Jim Page, the marketing director for PBSâ€™s local affiliate, KVPT Valley Public Television, said that many people also seem to think that they will be receiving an HDTV signal once the switch is made, which is not the case.
â€œTheyâ€™re only going to have high definition if their television set is a high definition set,â€ Page said. â€œI think there is a lot of confusion out there.â€
Viewers can check their TV manuals to find out if their current TV sets are already digitally compatible with the ATSC or QAM tuners. Viewers that use antennas on rooftops or rabbit ear antennas on TV sets to receive their signal will have to have converters attached in order to use the new signal. However, if viewers are subscribed to a cable or satellite service, they will not need a converter to receive channels with their analog TVs.
â€œThe cable and satellite companies will do anything thatâ€™s necessary to make sure you donâ€™t lose your signal,â€ Page said. â€œAny sort of technological thing that needed to be done, theyâ€™ll take care of that.â€
Once the analog signal has been switched off next year, some of the analog bandwidth will be sold to emergency first responders such as firefighters and ambulances.
â€œItâ€™s in the public interest,â€ Page said. â€œ[First responders will] always be able to get through and communicate with each other.â€
Other advantages for the public include a stronger, better TV signal and the ability to receive a few more channels than before. KVPT has three channels â€“ 18.1, 18.2 and 18.3 â€“ which broadcast regular, high definition and Spanish programming, respectively. Right now, analog TV viewers can only receive 18.1, but after the switch, they will be able to view all of the channels.
Page said that KVPT has been broadcasting with both a digital and analog signal for some time now. The station wants to make sure that their viewers are well informed and wonâ€™t lose their ability to watch television once KVPT switches to all digital. The Valley has a higher-than-average percentage of analog TV users â€“ 24 percent compared to 13 percent nationally.
â€œBecause of the economic status of the Valley we have a much higher penetration of analog TV viewers than a lot of areas of the country,â€ Page said.
What we want to make sure is that we get the message out to these folks that you donâ€™t have to lose your TV signal. You can get this converter box; just hook it up and youâ€™ll be good to go.â€