DTV Transition: FAQs

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Here's a list of some common questions and answers related to the analog-to-digital transition, coming on June 12, 2009.


Jun. 08, 2009 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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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THE DIGITAL CONVERTER BOX

What is a TV Converter Box?
The digital-to-analog converter box is a stand-alone device that receives and converts digital signals into a format for display on an analog television receiver.  The TV converter box plugs into your analog TV and allows you to continue receiving free, over-the-air TV using an existing or new antenna. A TV connected to cable, satellite or other pay TV service does not require a TV converter box from this program.

How much does a converter box cost? The TV converter box is a one-time purchase and costs between $50 and $70. However, since the DTV transition is government mandated, they are providing each household up to two $40 coupons to defray the cost of a converter box.

What is the TV Converter Box Coupon Program?
Congress created the TV Converter Box Coupon Program for households wishing to keep using their analog TV sets after June 12, 2009. The Program allows U.S. households to obtain up to two coupons, each worth $40 that can be applied toward the cost of eligible converter boxes. For a list of TV converter boxes that can be purchased with $40 government coupons, go here: https://www.dtv2009.gov/Boxes.aspx

How do I get the coupons?
Consumers can apply for up to two $40 coupons per household by calling 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009), by applying online or by mailing their application to PO Box 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000. Coupons will be mailed to requesters. Deaf or hard of hearing callers may dial 1-877-530-2634 (English/TTY) or 1-866-495-1161 (Spanish/TTY). TTY Service is available from 9 AM - 9 PM Eastern Time Monday through Friday.

Where can I use the coupons?
When the coupon is mailed to you, it should include an insert with a list of nearby participating retailers. You will be able to buy TV converter boxes and use your coupons at retail stores such as Best Buy, Circuit City, Radio Shack, Kmart, Sears and Wal-Mart where you would normally buy consumer electronics products. There are many online retailers as well that can be located here.

How can I tell if I need a converter box for my TV?
If you have an analog TV and want to continue receiving TV using an antenna (indoor or outdoor) you will need a converter box. TV sets made before 1998 were traditional “analog” sets. The only exception is a limited percentage of projection TV sets (and generally only those 42 inches in diameter or larger) included digital tuners before 2004. You will have to refer to your owner’s manual to verify if your set is one of these.

I don’t have cable TV or a satellite dish system do I still need a converter box?
Not necessarily. If you have a TV with a built-in digital tuner you can receive digital TV using an indoor or outdoor antenna without the extra converter box.

How do I install a TV Converter Box?
Converter boxes plug into TV sets, either in the back or front, depending on your TV. You will still need your antenna, which works with the TV converter box. Each TV converter box will come with installation instructions from the manufacturer. For specific questions, you should ask your retailer or call the manufacturer’s technical support hotline. A generic “Quick Start Guide” and installation video are available at www.DigitalTips.org.

How big is the converter box?
Most converter boxes are relatively small, about the size of a paperback book, and will fit on top of a small to medium sized TV set.

Do I need a converter box for every TV?
It’s advisable that each analog TV be set up with a converter box if they receive TV via an antenna. While it’s possible to split the signal and use one converter box for two or more TVs, the signal can be seriously degraded. Moreover, each TV would have to view the same channel, whichever one the converter box is set to.

Will I still need an antenna to receive programming?
Yes. If you currently use an antenna to receive your over-the-air programming, you will still need it after you install a converter box. In some cases, TV viewers may need a new antenna. For help choosing an antenna in order to receive your free, local broadcast TV channels, please visit www.antennaweb.org and www.fcc.gov/.

Which manufacturers are making the TV converter boxes? Are there differences?
TV converter box features may vary depending on the brand, however, all models will allow your analog TV to continue to operate after June 12, 2009. The best way to get information on individual converter boxes is to visit the manufacturer’s website—or visit one of the authorized retailers selling converter boxes. For a list of retailers log onto www.dtv2009.gov and a complete list of eligible TV converter boxes can be found here: www.dtv2009.gov/Boxes

What is the analog pass-through feature on some converter boxes and do I need it?
If you also receive over-the-air TV signals from a low-power TV station that does not have to make the digital transition, in addition to full-power TV stations that will be switching to all digital, you will want to consider getting a converter box with analog pass-through. This allows the analog signal of low power TV stations to pass through to your TV. If the converter box doesn’t have an analog pass-through feature, you may have to physically disconnect the box every time you change from a digital channel to an analog channel. For RV owners, a converter box with an analog pass-through is a great choice while traveling. It will allow you to receive TV signals from various TV stations whether they are transmitting in analog or digital.

If I attach a digital converter box to my old analog TV, will the quality of the image be as good as before? Will it be better or worse?
According to TV broadcasters, consumers should notice a clearer picture with the converter box, moreover, additional programming will be available because DTV makes it possible for stations to broadcast multiple channels of free programming simultaneously through a technique called “multicasting,” instead of broadcasting only one channel at a time.

Is there any benefit to purchasing a digital converter box and hooking it up before the February 2009 switch date?
Since most full-power stations are currently broadcasting both in digital and analog, viewers can plug in their converter boxes now and generally receive a clearer picture and “multicast” channels (where they are available).

Will my cable company be providing converter boxes?
No. However, if you are using cable then you will not need a converter box.

I have a handheld or battery-powered TV. Can I use a converter box with this to continue receiving TV after the transition?
In some cases it may be possible for portable, battery-powered analog TVs to receive over-the-air programming after June 12, 2009. However, it will have to have the necessary plugs to allow it to be connected to a digital-to-analog converter box. As it’s not likely that battery powered digital-to-analog converter boxes will be produced, an external power source would also be required.

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USING THE CONVERTER BOX

Will I still be able to tape my shows to my VCR?
Yes. The other analog equipment you currently use will continue to work with (output to) your analog TV set just as before, but they will not be able to receive over-the-air programming without the TV converter box. Attach the converter to your VCR, TiVo, DVD-R, etc. instead of hooking it directly to your TV. You must set the tuner in the DTV converter box to the channel you want to record prior to the start of each recording period programmed in the VCR.

Will the DTV transition effect my Closed Captioning?
It should not. The NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Association), who is overseeing the transition, requires that all new converter boxes continue to provide Closed Captioning.

How does digital TV use closed captions?
Closed captioning for digital TV offers more choices of font, color, and size, resulting in better visibility and ease of use. Digital TV carries captions as data along with the digital audio and video content, however, the captions are not embedded in the video signal like analog TV. So that means, it’s up to the originator of the programming to provide the captions for any given program.  When the captions are decoded and displayed, the resulting text and symbols appear on the screen. The caption decoding function, by U.S. government mandate, is included in all digital TVs that have a screen size 13 inches or larger. It is also included in all separate, stand-alone digital TV tuners (e.g., set top boxes or “STBs”). In either case, the digital TV tuner reads the closed caption data, interprets it, and writes it into the video so it becomes visible when the video is displayed on a screen.

Will I be able to get HD with the converter box?
No. This is not a substitute for a high definition TV because analog televisions are not capable of displaying high definition resolution. However, picture quality on your analog TV should be improved when using the converter box. If you want to view High-Definition TV, then you will need one of the newer sets rated for “High-Definition” resolution. The converter box only makes it possible for consumers to continue using an older analog TV and receive free-TV via antenna.

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DIGITAL TV OWNERS

How can I tell if my TV has a digital tuner?
If you purchased a new TV set since 2004, your chances of having a built-in digital tuner are good. Starting in 2004, many of the TV sets sold at popular electronics stores featured digital tuners that will work after the DTV transition on June 12, 2009. That said, some of TV sets are purely display monitors that lack the internal circuitry needed to pick up digital broadcasts. To determine if you have a digital tuner, which is often referred to as an ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) receiver or HDTV tuner, check the labels and markings on your TV/monitor. They may be found on the set itself or in your owner’s manual. Any or a combination of the following words/phrases indicate you have a TV with a digital tuner. [Integrated Digital Tuner, Digital Tuner Built-In. Receiver, DTV, ATSC, or HDTV]

A digital tuner allows reception of digital television (DTV) signals that are broadcast over-the-air by TV stations. These digital tuners may be integrated into a TV, VCR, digital video recorder or set-top box.

If a digital tuner is not installed then the following should appear on the set itself or the owner’s manual. [Digital Monitor, HDTV Monitor, Digital Ready or HDTV Ready] These sets can display digital and high-definition signals, but they need help getting those signals in the first place. You’ll still need the converter box or a cable TV connection.

Are all flat panel TVs digital?
Some flat panel TVs are known as monitors because they do not have a tuner built-in. Also, many early flat panel TVs were not high resolution TV’s, If the horizontal resolution is not at least 720, then the TV could be EDTV (enhanced definition) or SDTV (standard definition).

What is the difference between integrated DTVs and DTV monitors?
An Integrated DTV set has a built-in digital tuner and can receive digital and high definition broadcasts. If you have an Integrated DTV and live in an area served by a DTV broadcast station, you won’t need any additional equipment, with the exception of an antenna to receive over-the-air DTV broadcast programming. Integrated TVs can also receive and display current analog signals.

By contrast, a DTV-Ready monitor isn’t capable of receiving over-the-air DTV broadcast programming without additional equipment. A DTV set-top decoder must be connected between the antenna and the monitor to receive and display over-the-air DTV programming. Most monitors have a built in analog receiver and can display regular analog TV programming.  They can also display standard resolution video from DVD players and VCRs.

I already have digital TVs. Will the quality of the broadcasts be any different (better, worse, the same)?
Digital television (DTV) enables television stations to provide dramatically clearer pictures and better sound quality. By transmitting the information used to make a TV picture and sound as “data bits” like a computer, television stations can also carry more information using digital broadcasting than is currently possible with analog broadcast technology.

Do I need to change any of the settings on my digital TV to optimize it for the new digital broadcasts?
If you are currently receiving digital, HD broadcasts either on cable, satellite or with an antenna nothing will change. You will continue to receive TV programs.

If I have a digital TV, is there anything I need to do? Does my cable box have to change?
If you are using a pay TV service such as cable or satellite your existing box is already receiving digital signals and there should be no need to make any changes to your TV system.

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CABLE/SATELLITE SUBSCRIBERS

I am a cable/satellite customer. How will the transition affect me?
Cable and satellite subscribers can check with their providers before June 12, 2009, to see how they are handling the transition. However, TVs connected to cable, satellite or other pay TV service will not require a separate TV converter box. There should be no additional equipment required nor should you notice any disruption or change in your service.

Do I automatically have DTV if I am a cable or satellite subscriber?
You may have DTV if you subscribe to the digital package and get digital programming.  But, digital cable and satellite service aren’t necessarily “DTV.” Your cable or satellite system may be using digital technology as a more efficient way of delivering programming to your analog TV set. If you have an analog television set, then you aren’t viewing true DTV, even though the signal you’re watching may be somewhat improved. In order to view true DTV and enjoy all the attributes of digital television service, you must view television signals on a new DTV set. 

Similarly, in order to view programs in high-definition (HDTV), you must be equipped with a TV set capable of displaying pictures in high definition. Your cable or satellite set-top box or the CableCARD from your cable company must provide HDTV channels. Otherwise, you must have an antenna that can receive digital HDTV signals over the air.  Check with your cable or satellite provider if you have questions about your service.

My cable operator offers a digital cable package. Is this the same as HDTV?
No. “Digital cable” and high definition programming on cable are not the same. If you want to watch HDTV programming on cable, you will need to subscribe to your cable provider’s HDTV package and view the programming on an HDTV set. You may also need a set-top box or other equipment to view HDTV programming. Check with your cable provider to find out what kinds of programming you can receive, and what equipment you need to receive it.

If I am a satellite subscriber, does this mean I am receiving HDTV?
Not necessarily. If you want to watch HDTV programming on satellite, you will need to subscribe to your provider’s HDTV package and view the programming on an HDTV set. You may also need to change your current set-top box and satellite antenna to view HDTV programming. Contact DirectTV and Dish network for questions about what you will need to receive HDTV programming.

Does my cable box work as a digital converter box?
Technically yes. However, if you are currently using an older analog TV, you may want to check with your provider to ensure that the existing cable set-top box you are using will accept the digital signals and convert them to analog.

If I have a cable or satellite set-top box do I need a converter box too?
No. The only people who need a converter box are individuals that only receive TV broadcasts via antenna.

As a cable customer with an analog TV, will I have to buy or rent any special equipment from the cable company because of the transition? If so, how much will it cost?
First, it’s important to know that the June 12, 2009 deadline for the digital television transition only applies to full-power broadcast stations. Cable companies are not required by the government to transition their systems to digital, and can continue to deliver channels to their customers in analog. In fact, cable companies are required by FCC rules to continue offering local broadcast stations to their customers in analog as long as they offer any analog service. This requirement will continue for at least three years after June 12, 2009. The Commission will decide in 2011 whether the requirement should be continued beyond February 17, 2012. This means that customers who receive analog cable service (without a cable set-top box) will be able to continue to do so until the FCC requires cable companies transition to digital broadcasting.

However, since digital broadcasting is much more efficient than analog, some cable companies may decide to transition their systems from analog to digital delivery sooner than later. If a cable company goes all-digital (i.e. stops all analog transmissions), it must ensure that its analog customers can continue to watch their local broadcast stations. This may require customers with analog televisions to get a set-top box. If the cable company provides the customer with a set-top box, there could be an additional cost to you. You should contact your cable provider to ask if a set-top box will be needed, when it will be needed, and if there will be a cost.

Will my cable bill go up because of this switch?
The cost of service shouldn’t change, as the transition should not effect how the cable company transmits their programming. However, if you are currently receiving cable without a set-top box and the cable company switches to an all-digital format, you may need to get a set-top box. You should contact your cable provider to ask if a set-top box will be needed, when it will be needed, and if there will be a cost.

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GENERAL QUESTIONS ABOUT DIGITAL TELEVISION (DTV)

Are some networks sending digital signals now?Yes, all major networks (ABC. CBS, NBC) and over 1500 local stations across the country are currently broadcasting digital TV, covering over 99% of the U.S.

Are HD broadcasts already digital?
Yes, high definition broadcasts are always transmitted digitally.

Are DTV and HDTV the same thing?
No.  HDTV, or high definition television, is the highest quality digital television (DTV) available, offering more than five times the sharpness of today’s analog television, along with digital surround sound capability.  DTV is also available as EDTV (enhanced definition TV) or SDTV (standard definition TV), each with improved pictures and sound over today’s analog televisions.

What do DTV sets look like and what will they cost?
Most DTV sets have wider, more rectangular screens than analog TVs. This widescreen format allows for images that are more like those shown in a movie theater. Like current TV sets, a range of sizes is available.

As with most new consumer electronics technologies, DTV sets have become less expensive since their introduction. Prices are expected to continue to decrease over time and will vary depending on screen size, display technology, and other features.

Will I be able to use parental controls like the V-chip with digital TV the same way I now can with my analog TV?
Yes. The V-chip is a technology that enables parents to block television programming based on a program’s rating. The ratings are encoded within the television signal. The V-chip reads the encoded rating information of each program and blocks shows according to the parents’ blocking selections. FCC rules require that V-chips be built into digital televisions and other DTV reception devices just as they are in analog televisions. You can learn about the ratings system, also known as “TV Parental Guidelines,” at www.fcc.gov/vchip.

I already have a digital TV. I occasionally see the breaking up of the pixels. Will this still happen? What causes this?
Yes this could still happen as the cause of this is usually a weak signal, most commonly the result of bad weather such as rain or snow. However, extremely hot weather causes high atmospheric pressure, which can also affect signal strength.

If you are using an antenna (not a pay TV subscriber), check that it’s not blocked by another house or large tree. Your antenna should be mounted as high as possible with nothing blocking it. Digital signals are more sensitive than analog and need a direct line of sight to the transmitter. The problem could also be your built-in digital tuner as some are more sensitive than others.

While analog pictures will get ‘noisy’ or show ghosting or wavy lines in the background when there is a poor signal, a weak digital signal results in picture break up, freezing and sometimes complete signal loss.

Check your TVs set up menu and see if there is a “signal condition” or “signal strength” option. These normally show two scales: Signal Strength and Signal Quality. Both should be well into the top half of the scale to guarantee good pictures.

If I purchase a new TV, what can I do with my old TV? Will the trash man take it? Are there recycling programs?
The trash man will take it if you call the city and ask for a ‘bulky’ pick up. However, if you are thinking green, the likelihood is the trash man is only going to dump it in some landfill. Donating or recycling your TV is a far better choice and there are many organizations that you can find online that recycle old electronics.

Here are a some recycling options:
Offering residential and business pick up services, www.ynotrecycle.com, provides information and contact information for getting rid of your E-Waste. 1800gotjunk.com sponsors E-Waste Events throughout the U.S. and Canada. Go to their site to see where the next event is near you. Learn about disposal options and locate recycling programs near you: www.mygreenelectronics.org.

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