Sunday, January 11, 2009

Helping Others with the Digital TV Transition

As most of us know by now, the US is scheduled to transition to all digital TV on February 17, 2009 (now postponed until June 12) when stations around the country will discontinue their analog signal. This is not unique to the US. Other countries around the world have either completed their own switchover to digital or are in the process. Although this coversion to digital is a pain for many, digital has tremendous technical advantages, not the least of which is the ability to give us high definition TV.

But there is still a small percentage of people who are not ready for the transition. Let’s face it, this whole digital thing involves a lot of technology and some people find technology intimidating. Whether the transition date is pushed back as proposed or not, the same people are still going to be intimidated and resist doing what is necessary to get on board.

Help is available. But unfortunately most of the best help is via the Internet so it won’t do much good for those without computers. The only way to get around this is for those of you with an Internet connection who can read articles like this to volunteer to help those without this resource. And since I am a technical guy with an electrical engineering degree who likes to explain things, I will do my part to help you help others who may need it. Deal?

Step Number 1 is to determine which digital channels can be received and with what kind of an antenna.

Many people have just purchased a digital converter box only to find that their existing antenna will not pull in the digital forms of the same channels they watched before. This is especially true for those in outlying rural areas and in places with hilly terrain. Why? The nature of digital TV only allows us to enjoy a perfect picture or nothing at all. (For technical dweebs, check out this link on the
cliff effect.) So locations that can get a less than perfect but acceptable picture on the present analog stations may now get nothing when only their digital forms are being broadcast. When this happens, the only choices are to buy and install a more expensive antenna or get cable/satellite service to pipe in the channels.

The good news is that there is a way to accomplish Step 1 without first spending money — but it requires going on to the Internet. For those without home computers or Internet connections, public libraries offer computers with Internet connections as a free service.

Just click on
this link which takes you to the website and fill in the address where the TV is and it will produce a list of stations and type of antenna that you will need. If all of the desired stations are marked with the “yellow uhf” label, there is a decent chance that the existing indoor antenna will work and a converter box (to provide the missing digital tuner) will do the job at no additional expense. If not, go to Step Number 2.

Step Number 2 is a decision on whether to invest in a bigger antenna setup or go with cable or satellite. An outdoor antenna running about $100 can sometimes be mounted in the attic. For those further away from stations, directional rooftop antennas (with a motor to point them in the right direction) along with amplifiers are needed which gets even more expensive. With the most basic service from cable to receive over-the-air networks (CBS, ABC, NBC, etc.) running about $15-20 per month, this is often a more practical choice than investing in expensive antenna equipment. And the antenna cannot receive networks like CNN and ESPN for those who may want to eventually receive channels like these.

For those in more remote areas, cable may not be available but satellite TV usually is. Satellite TV services offer local channels but require you to also bundle the local channel package with another package of programming. You can check out
this link to see if Dish Network can offer local channels to your area for as low as $5.99 per month in addition to their least expensive $19.99 Family Package. And DirecTV offers a starter package for $29.99 per month which includes the local channels (where available) in addition to many of the traditional cable channels.

A more detailed article on all of the options is available in
this link to an article by the people at Consumer Reports.

Because of difficulties in getting government $40 coupons to help defer the cost of converters for all who want them,
a delay is being requested for the scheduled February 17 transition. In the meantime, we need to help those who have not made the digital TV conversion and I hope this article will help either you or help in your efforts to help somebody else make this transition to digital and preserve their TV viewing.

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