In Move to Digital TV, Confusion Is in the Air [Telecom]

In Move to Digital TV, Confusion Is in the Air

By ERIC A. TAUB The New York Times December 22, 2008

The Federal Communications Commission sponsored a Nascar race car as part of its effort to inform Americans that on Feb. 18, television signals transmitted over the air will be transmitted solely in digital format. Old TV sets will no longer work.

It paid $350,000 to emblazon "The Digital TV Transition" and other phrases on a Ford driven by David Gilliland.

So how's that going? In November, the car crashed during a Nascar race in Phoenix. It was the second crash in as many months.

And how is the digital TV transition going? According to critics, about as well, despite a major marketing campaign that includes nightly ads on TV.

According to surveys conducted by the Consumers Union, a consumer advocacy group that also publishes Consumer Reports magazine, while

90 percent of the nation is aware of the transition, 25 percent mistakenly believe that one must subscribe to cable or satellite after February, and 41 percent think that every TV in a house must have a new converter box, even those that are already connected to cable or satellite.


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***** Moderator's Note *****

The FCC is _very_ worried about the transition: they've even asked ham radio operators to distribute information and act as local experts to help their neighbors cut over. Pretry much everyone else is hoping that it goes smoothly, and the cable and satellite companies must be licking their chops at the thought of all the new customers they'll be getting.

Unless I get some really good weather between now and February 18th, I'm going to be out of service too: I've tried using a Zenith adapter box with my old rabbit ears, but digital TV doesn't do nearly as well with them as analog, so I need to put an antenna on my roof if I choose to watch tv on February 19th. If I don't, I'm pretty sure the networks won't miss me: I'm in that too-old-to-sell-to demographic that already has everything it wants and isn't impressed by "discounts", cleavage, phallic symbols, or product placements.

There is, however, a positive note: without OprahSallyEllenDarkShadows, ex-tv viewers might have to resort to the long-forgotten art of conversation in order to entertain themselves. It's likely that there will be an increase in Internet use as well, and that will help to add new voices to Usenet as well as the blogosphere.

Bill Horne Temporary Moderator

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Reply to
Monty Solomon
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[Moderator snip]

The FCC now has asked some TV stations to continue broadcasting Public Information Messages over the Analog channels for up to 2 weeks after the switch. Also I have heard that some people have had to sign up for the adapter coupons as many as 5 times before it was sent out. I had to request one for my sister-in-law because she could not get one since she rents a room in a house that as gotten 2 cards already. I have a Digital HDTV and I'm really not happy with it at all.

You problem might be that you are located at the fringe broadcast area, some 14% of people will have problems after the switch, almost the same as was the problem when Cellular switch to Digital.

Reply to
Steven Lichter

The same goes for Cellular. Another problem is that many of the broadcasters have moved their transmitters to different locations which again will cut many people off, but it also allows some to watch who could not before. I have satellite on my 2 main TVs, but one of my computers has a tuner on it and I don't have that one hooked up, So I bought a converter for that one, also Dish is not offering multi-digital channels for many stations, our local NBC channel has 3 other sub channels which are raw news and I like to watch them. it is like CNN Headline only it updates more then a couple times a day.

I kept my old Bag Cell phone as an emergency phone since there were a lot of dead spots on the 15 freeway to Las Vegas which I traveled each week, not it is no longer working, but I must say there is now better coverage with more cell sites and repeaters there, that is what the TV stations are going to have to do in many areas.

Reply to
Steven Lichter

Our moderator wrote in news:p0624082bc57ce695ac3a@[]:



Your mention of rabbit ears raises concerns, becuase most digital broadcasts today are on UHF channels for which a standard-sized rabbit ears antenna is not effective. At the very least, you would need a modern dual antenna, such as a rabbit ears (for VHF, channels 2-13) and a loop (for UHF channels 14 and up). Also, for digital channels, the channel number is just a convenient number pulled out of thin air (but usually the physical channel number of their analog signal), and the actual broadcast is on another channel. For example (analog) WNET New York is on channel 13, and WNET-DT New York is on channel 61, but still calls itself channel 13. Buried in the signal is a marker that tells the receiver to display the channel to the user as channel 13.1 (and to use 13.2 and 13.3 for two auxiliary channels), and to remember that when the user asks for

13.1, .2, or .3, the tuner needs to tune to 61. Thus, even though physical 13 is a VHF channel, digital 13.1 is physically on 61, a UHF channel requiring a UHF antenna.

You can't judge post-transition conditions from what you see today, especially if you are seeing bad reception today. I don't know about the rest of the country, but in the NYC Metro market most stations transmit their HD service at less than full power, and will only go to full power after the transition. I suspect the same is true on many other markets.

With the loss of the WTC in the 9/11 attack, they are almost all crammed onto the Empire State Building, along with a number of FM radio transmitters that had been there before. Some relief came from the Conde Nast Building a few blocks away, which was designed to include FM facilities, backup site facilities for TV and an antenna tower. Neither is nearly as tall as the WTC or the new Freedom Tower that will replace it. I (somewhat jokingly) suspect that if the digital services were turned on full power from the ESB while the analog and FM broadcasts continued they'd have microwave cooked pigeons dropping from the sky, or at the very least an ESB observation deck unfit for human visitors.

Some digital channels have directional antennas with notches in their patterns to protect analog stations in nearby cities on the same channel. Post-transition, the old analog stations won't be there, and/or the digital station may be moved onto a new channel, so those notches may go away. (For example, I believe Fox NY DTV has a notch to the South to protect an analog station in Atlantic City, NJ, and I think some Philly stations may also be notched to protect AC, NJ.)

Also keep in mind that many stations are temporarily broadcasting digital on temporary high-UHF channels and will be moving back to lower UHF or in some cases even VHF channels that have better (much better in the case of VHF) propagation. So, as I said up front, don't judge your future by what you see today. And, remember to rescan for channels the morning after the transition because many stations will be shifting frequency and your box will need to rebuild the map relating physical channels to the logical channel number used in the user interface and station IDs.

Reply to
R. T. Wurth

[Moderator snip]

In this connection, may I solicit your advice as to which digital converter boxes to avoid, which to seek out, what sales outlets to seek them at, and what net prices might resemble?

My two $40 coupons *should* be entering the mails January 2 :-) .

Thanks, -- tlvp

***** Moderator's Note *****

I'm not qualified to recommend a particular box, but Consumers Union did tests a few months back, so your local library will have their recommendations in an issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

The online version of the report is at -

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... but I think you have to be an online subscriber to read the actual product ratings. The site, however, has a lot of links and a video explaining the various options, so it's worth a look if you're in the market.

IIRC, my zenith box was about $65. BTW, if you'd like a bigger analog TV to go with it, people around here are giving them away as they buy digital sets: in my area, Craigslist and FreeCycle have at least one per week, and the recycle bin at my local drop-off center is filled to the brim.

Bill Horne Temporary Moderator

Reply to

tlvp wrote in news:

[ ... ]

There's a chart on Wikipedia (sorry, too lazy to look for it myself) that compares features. I bought in the Spring, and from the feature list, I bought an Insignia (Best Buy house brand) NX-DXA1, which seems to be a re-labeled Zenith unit. Best Buy discontinued that one, and has a new one from a different manufacturer that I looked into but didn't like the features of. The one thing that's lacking is analog pass-through, something that a later updated model from Zenith has.

When I looked $59.99 seemed to be the going pre-coupon price point, give or take a buck or two. Frankly, I think the manufacturers' research determined that the market could bear a $20.00 price and aimed for that, then added the $40.00 coupon value to their prices as pure excess windfall profit. (What's worse is that it's $40.00 going to the Far East, not staying in the US.) Lately, I think I've seen some a bit closer to $40.00, but none actually as low as $40.00. Since I have my two, I haven't been following them all that closely. Also keep in mind that if your state levies a sales tax, that tax may be due on the full pre-coupon price (at least in NJ, that's the way it works, your mileage may vary).

Features I like in my Insignia/Zenith:

- Remote has an extra button that can be programmed to send the power on/off code for many TVs so you don't need a separate remote.

- Converter box has volume adjustment that is remotely controlled.

- Signal strength meter

- Baseband A/V output (Yellow video, red/white right/left audio RCA plugs) as well as broadcast channel 3/4 output

Misfeatures/missing features:

- Analog passthrough - I get poor reception on some channels, I wish I could just hit a button to re-wire the box out of the connection and tune the TV to the analog channel. (Also, some people live in areas where low- power TV stations broadcast -- LPTV is not required to go digital yet.)

- Audible signal strength indication is through TV speaker, not through a sounder built into the box.

- Audible signal strength indicator doesn't kick in until there is considerable signal strength. It works OK when trying to fine-tune your aim, but not for trying to locate or sweep for a station.

- Would like to see a BER (bit error rate) guage as well. You may have lots of signal, but if it's all multipath, it's not receivable, which would show up as high strength but high BER.

- The remodulator for channel 3/4 produces very noisy audio. One almost has to leave the box set for full volume and use the TV volume control to adjust volume, which defeats the purpose of having a converter box volume control at all. OTOH, baseband analog audio is very noise-free

- (minor nit) - Since the front panel has power and channel up/down switches, it would be nice to have volume up/down as well.

Some commentators complain the the most sophisticated output is composite video + stereo audio, whereas they'd like S-video. Sorry, folks, but the powers that be deemed S-video an advanced feature that made the box ineligible for the coupon program.

Reply to
R. T. Wurth

These two mean you don't need to use the TV's remote as well.

These are required for the coupon to apply; some, but few, boxes have S/Video as well. None will have component output.

The DTX9950 from RadiosHack has better than this. If you chose the composite output; the RF passthrough works while the 9950 is in use; so I have an Insignia that feeds the VCR at the same time.

Reply to
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