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New Transition to TV Technology Has Perils

There are a lot of advantages to digital TV. That’s why the US Congress has mandated that all over the air TV signals will be in digital TV format by February 17, 2009. At that time, analog over the air TV signals will be discontinued and only digital TV signals will remain. This will also free up a lot of telecommunications bandwidth for other telecommunications applications like emergency services communication and widespread wireless networks.

There are some major problems with this switch to the digital TV format. For one thing, many people don’t know exactly what digital TV is. Worse yet, even fewer people know that the switch to digital TV for over the air broadcasts is taking place.

There are many misconceptions about digital TV. Perhaps the most major one is that digital TV is the same thing as high definition TV (which is known as HDTV for short). In reality, while HDTV is digital, not all digital TV is high def. Digital TV simply means that the TV signal is transmitted in a digital format like how video is encoded on a DVD. This results in a much clearer picture that’s more resistant to interference. It also takes up less bandwidth, thereby increasing the number of channels that can be transmitted using any given number of frequencies.

Of course, people don’t need to know the technical aspects of digital TV in order to enjoy it. The much bigger problem with this planned transition is that most people don’t know that the transition is going to happen. While there are only about twenty two million Americans who rely on over the air transmission for their TV programming, less than half are aware that the transition is imminent or even what it will mean to them. Basically, anyone who’s been watching over the air TV in analog format and who doesn’t have a digital tuner built into their TV set or a special converter box to change the digital TV signals into analog signals before feeding them into the TV set, won’t be able to watch TV on February 17, 2009.

The prospect of people all over the country being taken by surprise when they wake up that morning and are suddenly unable to watch TV has led to reactions from analysts ranging from “Who cares?” to “The public will be outraged with us.” to “There will be riots in the streets and people will be looting consumer electronics stores to get digital TV’s!” While the last reaction seems pretty extreme, if things keep going the way they have been leading up to the transition, a lot of people could be very upset and justifiably so. So far, the government has set aside less than two million dollars to subsidize the purchase of converter boxes for analog TV owners and only five million dollars to educate the public about the transition. TV manufacturers- who have known about this for years- have continued selling analog-only TV sets and only recently bothered putting warnings on them stating that they will be obsolete when the transition comes. TV stations that broadcast over the air and are in the situation of being in the best position to educate the public- and have the most to lose by not educating the public- are waiting for the government to do something about the situation. All of this while the deadline approaches and many TV viewers remain blissfully ignorant that anything will change at all.

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