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Only 25 days remain until the shift from analog to digital transmission for television takes place. At midnight, on Feb. 17, over 600 stations will move to new frequencies and households across the country will face the day of reckoning on Feb. 18 either with no interruption of signal â€“ or with no picture.
The government has been airing information on the switch for months, urging Americans to participate in the converter-box coupon program if they do not have satellite or cable television services. If you are a cable or satellite subscriber, you should not experience any problems.
It is estimated that over 40 million households still rely on the analog signal. Those households, and many of them are in the country, have three options. They can either sign up for satellite, cable, or another paid television service, buy a new digital television, or keep their analog television and purchase the converter box.
The least expensive option is to purchase the converter box. To aid with that option, the government converter-box coupon program issued up to two $40 off coupons per household that requested them. With at least 200 converter boxes to choose from, priced at $50 and higher, it offered some relief for the impending change. Consumers Union tested more than 30 boxes and lists their evaluations at www.consumerreports.org.
â€œThe DTV converter-box coupon program has been a major success,â€ said National Telecommunications and Information Administration spokesman Bart Forbes. The NTIA conducts the program under the direction of the Department of Commerce. â€œSince its inception, over 21 million households have requested over 38 million coupons and 16 million have been redeemed as of early December.â€
The program hit a snag when the $1.34 billion funding limit set by Congress to provide the coupons was reached on Jan. 5. A waiting list was implemented for requests still coming in, however it is unlikely that those households will receive their coupons by the Feb. 17 deadline. Apply for the coupon at www.dtv2009.gov, or call 888-388-2009.
This news prompted then President-elect Barack Obama to request last week that the transition deadline be delayed, to allow more households to get ready. So far, no delay has been issued. Congress has ordered an additional one million coupons from IBM in an effort to supply the demand, however the deadline to request a coupon remains March 31, 2009. Coupons must be redeemed within 90 days of receiving it.
While the government has been diligent on advising the public about the converter-box coupon program, and given important information on the boxes themselves, they have not stressed the antenna requirements for those that do not have cable or satellite service.
DTV requires VHF and UHF and even if you purchased a high-definition television, due to differences in the digital signal coverage, a new roof top antenna may be necessary.
Even with the converter-boxes, some are reporting signal interruptions that in turn cause the picture on the television screen to freeze, to cut in and out, or to disappear for seconds or minutes. Others are experiencing problems in recording programs.
Customers should be careful in going out to purchase new television sets as some analog sets are still for sale, and big screens are among them. â€œDigital,â€ or DTV, refers to the way the television signal comes into your home. High definition, or HDTV, refers to the image quality of your television. That means that some HDTV sets may not be â€œdigitalâ€ and may actually require the converter-box and proper antenna. Most televisions built since 2004 receive digital signals. To be sure, go to www.dtvtransition.org for more information.
Regardless whether you already have your converter box on Feb. 17, after midnight, consumers will need to re-scan their channels in most markets said John Taylor, a member of the DTV Transition Team (www.dtvtransition.org). â€œFortunately, with most boxes it just takes a matter of seconds. This message to re-scan has to be communicated to all these consumers,â€ said Taylor.
â€œThis will be the biggest transition [in television] since the 1950s,â€ said David Dombrowski, senior electronics engineer with the Philadelphia branch of Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau, in reference to the change from black and white transmission to color nearly 60 years ago.
Actually, the idea emerged in the 1980s as a way to free up airwaves on the UHF frequency for two-way radios and emergency radio systems, according to a Jan. 16, 2009 dailygazette.com article by Lee Coleman.
Digital television, now known as DTV, has been around for more than a decade. One could say television is just undergoing the same changes that occurred with cassettes to DVDs to Blue-Ray discs; from boom boxes to iPods and MP3 players.
Is the nation ready? The Nielsen Co. survey reports 82 percent of U.S. households are ready for the transition, but that still leaves millions unprepared. The clock is ticking. Practice runs in several U.S. cities has revealed many households waited until the last minute to hook up their converter boxes, didnâ€™t adjust their antennas, read the manuals or scan the channels.