You've heard about it by now. It's all over the TV and Radio. The Digital Transition is coming! But what does it actually mean?
To put it simply, all Television Stations in the United States must stop transmitting an Analog Over The Air (OTA) Signal and switch to an entirely Digital Signal. The main reason for the switch is "Bandwidth". The Analog signal that has been used since the invention of television is very inefficient. In the "Space" used by an each "Channel" of an Analog Signal we can fit many Digital "Channels". Not only can we fit many Digital Channels, but each Channel can contain Sub-Channels using what is known as "Multi-Casting".
If you are already receiving Digital Television, you may have noticed that the Channel Numbers have changed. You are used to seeing Channel "5", but what you see now is "5.1". What's this ".1" business? Well, that is the Multicast number. Each Channel can have up to 4 Multicast Channels, so you can possibly have Multicast Channels 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4!
But, what's on these other Multicast Channels?
That's up to the TV Station. The ".1" Channel is the main Channel, that is, it's what is normally broadcast by the TV Station. The ".2, .3, .4" channels can be anything the Station wants to transmit. Some TV Stations broadcast Weather Radar, Sports, or Alternate Programming on those Sub-Channels.
That's cool too, right? So, what do you need to do to get this new Digital stuff?
If your TV was made in the last 5 years or so and has a Digital Tuner. Maybe nothing. You can just scan for channels and see what you get. (See your TV User Manual to learn how to do that). If your close enough to the TV stations you should be able to get any Channels and Multicast Channels that they are broadcasting. If you're further away, you may need a powered antenna or even a roof antenna to get a good signal.
Want to see what channels you should be able to receive at your location? Check out AntennaWeb, type in your address and AntennaWeb will tell you what stations you are in range of, or what type of antenna you would need to receive that Channel and what direction to point the antenna.
What if I don't have a Digital Tuner in my TV?
In that case you will have to buy a Digital Converter Box. The Government is giving out coupons for a $40 discount on the converter boxes. You can apply for the discount here https://www.dtv2009.gov/ApplyCoupon.aspx. The coupons are on a first come, first served basis and with less than 2 weeks left, you'd better Hurry!
So what does the Digital Converter Box do?
The converter box is basically a new Tuner for your TV. It will scan for and receive the Digital TV Channel signals and then convert them into a signal your Analog TV can use. It has it's own antenna and remote control. It works in a similar fasion to a CableTV box. You set your TV for a certain channel (usually 3 or 4) and connect the Converter to the antenna input for the TV. The Digital Signal is then Down Converted from the Digital signal to an analog signal.
If the signal is Down Converted to Analog, what kind of picture quality can I expect?
Even though the signal is Down Converted, the picture quality will be much better then what you are probably used to since you are starting with a much Higher quality picture to begin with.
I have a DigitalTV or I purchased a Converter Box, does that mean everything is in High Definition?
No. Your new Digital TV or Converter box is Capable of Receiving High Definition TV (HDTV), but not all stations are transmitting HDTV programming. All older programs that were not recorded using HD will be broadcast in the old Standard Definition TV (SDTV) quality.
My TV is not capable of displaying HDTV, how will the HDTV picture look on it?
There was a lot of discussion on how to deal with displaying an HDTV picture on a non HD TV set. Whether to show the whole picture in Letterbox format and have black bars on the top and bottom of the screen, or to Pan & Scan the picture to allow it to fill the screen. The industry decided that it would be best to show the Letterbox format. Here's why.
Let's say that you are an advertiser and you make a High Definition commercial selling some product. You put text over a picture of you product.
Notice the black border top and bottom, this is what the picture would look like in Letterbox. Looks great that way and the advertiser would be happy with it.
But, what happens if the TV station decides to convert the signal to Pan & Scan to fit your screen?
9 Dodge Challengers for $995.99!! What a bargain! No wonder the auto industry is in such trouble.
As you can see in this simple example, although you may like the picture filling the screen, a lot of important information may be lost in the conversion process.
I have CableTV or Satellite, how does the conversion affect me?
It doesn't, or rather, it doesn't have to. Since the Cable and Satellite companies use their own Bandwidth (The cables and/or satellites) they are not required to do anything. The purpose of this transition is to free up space on the airways, not on the cables or satellites that are owned by those companies.
But my Cable/Satellite company says they are converting to digital too. Why? If they don't have to.
That is the choice of the company. They are not required by law to convert, but for the same reasons that the government wanted to convert to digital, the Cable/Satellite companies also want to get rid of the old analog signals. By converting as well, they will be able to carry more programs, channels and other information like internet access for homes and businesses.
I hope this little blog helped you understand the conversion. For more information check out the website.
There is also a great video done by Channel 5 WCVB Boston on how to setup your converter box.