One day soon, TV as we know it will enter a new era: the digital era. While many stations have been broadcasting in digital for the last few years, at midnight on June 12, 2009, analog signals will be turned off completely, and only digital broadcasts will be delivered to your TV set. Say goodbye to the analog era of snow and static. You will have no other option as a consumer than to watch digital television, which, according to Megan Pollock, spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association, will really only impact 15% of consumers—specifically those watching free, over-the-air analog broadcasts. In fact, her number-one piece of advice for consumers is “Don’t freak out.” (See “Consumers are Clueless about DTV Transition) The transition is going to be a simple affair, despite consumer trepidation. If you have cable or satellite, the transition to digital will actually be completely seamless. More on that later.
Let’s cover some basics first. If you’re confused about the difference between analog and digital, you are not alone. Digital Television, aka DTV, is broadcast in ones and zeros, rather than over the radio waves. Digital TV offers several benefits to the consumer, including:
• Enhanced Picture and Sound Quality. Because digital TV is broadcast in ones and zeroes “all those ones and zeros have to come back together to work, so you don’t lose picture information as the signal travels,” says Pollock. Because digital information is compressed, you also can get a lot more data in a smaller amount of bandwidth, such as 5.1 channels of surround sound for a more immersive audio experience or more lines of resolution for HDTV transmissions, which are inherently sharper, more detailed, and more lifelike.
• Multicasting. In addition to better-quality programming, with DTV, broadcasters will have the ability to multicast. On the old analog spectrum, a broadcaster might have been able to offer one channel on given bandwidth. With digital TV, broadcasters can offer more: More channels and more programming options. “Consumers really won’t have a good understanding of how great multicasting is going to be until they see it,” says Pollock. “Imagine a station broadcasting in English, another station broadcasting the same content in Spanish or another language.”
• Public Safety. On March 18, 2008, the old analog spectrum auction was concluded, raising a whopping 19 billion dollars. Different groups, such as public service associations, will use the old analog spectrum for public service announcements, such as emergency broadcasts. “The analog spectrum travels a long distance,” says Pollock. “I live in Virginia near the border of DC. I can imagine the analog spectrum being used for better communication, for example, between these two areas.”
• Wireless. The old analog spectrum, now freed up by TV broadcasters, can be used in ways that we are only beginning to understand. “In addition to things like ubiquitous wireless internet in towns and cities, applications like internet in the car, and faster internet on mobile devices, the analog spectrum can be used in ways we haven’t even thought about. We are just at the beginning of realizing how exciting this could be,” says Pollock.
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