DTV Transition: FAQs
Here's a list of some common questions and answers related to the analog-to-digital transition, coming on June 12, 2009.
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June 08, 2009 by Kim Wilson

What is analog television?
Analog television is the traditional method of transmitting TV signals. Since the inception of television, analog transmission has been the standard broadcast technology. Radio Frequency (RF) waves are used to transmit and display pictures and sound, however, this traditional method of broadcasting is less efficient because analog signals are susceptible to interference and “snow,” degrading picture and sound quality.

Once the DTV transition is completed, those frequencies once used to transmit analog TV signals can be reallocated to public safety organizations, such as first responders including fire and police departments. The remaining audio spectrum will be auctioned off for the production of new services. Analog broadcasting will continue until the end of the transition period, which currently is set for June 12, 2009 (original date was February 17). Most television stations will continue broadcasting their programming in both analog and digital signals until then.

What is digital television?
Digital television (DTV) is a new type of broadcasting technology that is transforming television, as we now know it. By transmitting the information used to make a TV picture and sound as “data bits” (like a computer), a digital broadcaster can transmit programming that contains more information (such as high definition images with increased resolution) than is currently possible with analog broadcast technology. The difference between analog and digital broadcasting is similar to that between compact discs and cassette tapes. Digital TV offers a better viewing experience with vastly improved picture and sound quality.

Since analog TV uses up so much more of the valuable RF spectrum, broadcasters could only transmit one channel at a time, over a given frequency. Using the same amount of spectrum, a digital signal lets stations broadcast up to four or more programs at once. This is known as multicasting.

What is the digital television (DTV) transition?
The DTV transition is the switchover from analog, the traditional method of transmitting television signals, to exclusively digital broadcasting. The transition from analog to digital television represents the most significant advancement in television technology since color TV was introduced. The DTV transition will be completed on June 12, 2009, as set by Congress. At midnight all full-power television stations in the United States must stop broadcasting in analog and switch to 100% digital broadcasting.

Full-power television stations have been preparing for the transition to DTV since the late 1990s, when they began building digital facilities and airing digital channels alongside regular analog broadcasts. Today, 1,624 out of 1,762 full-power television stations nationwide offer digital programming.

Why is the digital transition happening?
Digital broadcasting is far more efficient using a fraction of the airwaves now allocated for analog broadcasts and provides a superior television viewing experience. Once the DTV transition is completed, some television channels will be turned over to fire and police departments for emergency communication and others will be auctioned to companies to provide new wireless services.

Who is affected by the transition?
If you currently use an antenna to watch TV on an analog set or you don’t subscribe to cable, satellite or any other pay TV service, you will be affected by the transition. At least 19.6 million households receive over-the-air signals exclusively in their homes, and 14.9 million households have secondary over-the-air TV sets in their bedrooms or kitchens. Overall, nearly 70 million television sets are at risk of losing their signals.

Will my television work after the DTV transition?
Analog television sets receiving free TV using an antenna will not work after June 12, 2009. Television viewers with these sets that are not connected to a pay TV service will need to take action before that time to ensure their TV sets continue to work.

However, it is not necessary for you to get rid of your current analog TV after the transition. If you receive your TV programs for free using an antenna—that is, your TV set is not connected to cable, satellite, or any other pay TV service—you can purchase a TV converter box and plug it into your existing TV set to continue receiving TV programs after the DTV transition.

How can I prepare for the DTV transition?
Preparing for the DTV transition is easy and requires one of three steps by June 12, 2009:
-Keep your existing analog TV and purchase a TV converter box. A converter box plugs into your TV and will keep it working after the transition.
-Connect to cable, satellite or other pay service
-Purchase a television with a digital tuner.

Any of these steps will ensure that “over-the-air” television consumers will continue to receive programming.

Will all stations end analog broadcasts?
Federal law requires that all “full-power” television stations must end analog broadcasts after June 12, 2009, but this does not include “low-power” TV stations, which include:
-“low-power” or “community” stations of very restricted range (LPTV)
-“Class A” stations
-“translator” and “booster” stations
These stations may continue to broadcast in analog even after the digital conversion deadline that is set for full-power television stations. You need to know if one of the stations you watch is in this category because it could make a difference in the choices you make as you prepare for the transition to digital television.

What do I need to do if I want a low-power TV station?
Some low-power stations will remain in analog, so you may need specific equipment to watch analog and digital broadcasting after the transition. “Pass-through” converter boxes allow your TV set to receive both analog and digital signals. To learn more about low-power television and to find out if the stations you watch are low-power log onto www.lptvanswers.com.

If you watch TV via cable or satellite, or via antenna on a “digital” TV you should not have to worry, because this issue concerns only over-the-air signals. Also, TVs with digital tuners also have analog tuners and will be able to receive signals from these low-power TV stations.

Will I still be able to use my same antenna?
Probably. Currently, over 1500 local stations across the country are broadcasting digital TV, covering over 99% of the U.S. More than 90% of these digital transmissions are normal UHF channels (14 through 83). However, after the digital transition some broadcasters may opt to use their current analog VHF channels for digital transmissions instead. So to be on the safe side, an antenna that receives UHF and VHF (channel 2-13) may be appropriate to ensure you receive all the digital broadcasts in your area. For more information go to: www.antennaweb.org

Will I see any difference in the broadcasts once the stations switch from analog to digital?
In all cases, picture quality should be far superior. However, the level of improvement will depend on your TV. If you are using an analog TV and plan to upgrade using the converter box, you should notice a significantly clearer picture. If you have a digital tuner, then you may have been receiving a digital signal already, in which case, there should be no change. However, if you are receiving a digital transmission for the first time, the difference will be remarkable.

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