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Mary Robinson is all about real-world information on the switch to digital television signals. The success of the DTV switch will depend on regular folks understanding new technology and getting it running in their homes. Ms. Robinson is weighing in on those nitty-gritty details, sharing her enthusiasm for TV-signal technology with those who are less technically inclined. She’s developed an expertise through years of hands-on experimentation, pulling in signals from the rooftop of her Texas home. Now she’s a resource for consumers struggling with the digital switch. We discovered Mary right here on TVWeek.com, where she reliably dispensed information in the comments section of this story, First Digital TV Converter Box Wins Government Approval about the digital switch. Let’s keep the conversation rolling!

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Digital Transition Answers


January 2009 Archives

Changes to Expect, Delay or No Delay

January 30, 2009 7:33 AM

The mandated date for digital-only broadcasting is just a little over two weeks away, and it may or not be delayed from the current date of Feb. 17 to June 12. Regardless of whether or not the date is moved back, there may be some changes that are going to occur at one or more of your local stations.

The legislation filed to delay the transition date contains language that would allow television stations to go ahead and end analog broadcasting as they see fit. This would give stations that need to move from temporary digital channels the authority they need to start broadcasting on their final allotted digital channels.

I would not be surprised to learn that the majority of station owners and operators will decide to exercise this option. For several months now, stations' budgets have factored in an end to the analog broadcasts, and no money was allocated for continued utility costs associated with continuing to keep both digital and analog transmitters running. This may or may not affect your reception of one or more of your local stations.

If a station in your area is making the move from a temporary channel to their final DTV allotted channel, it will become necessary to program the new channel into your converter box, digital television or HDTV.

This can be accomplished in one of four ways.

First, a complete re-scan of channels can be performed. Beware, however, that this function erases ALL of the channels stored in the tuner's memory, and replaces them with the channels it picks up while doing the re-scan. If you receive stations from different directions, or you had a hard time locking in some channels, this could prove to be problematic.

The second way this can be done is to do what is called an "Easy Add" scan. Not all devices have this capability. Just go to the menu, and if this application can be accessed, it looks for new channels and adds them to the memory. Very simple and very easy, if your device facilitates this function.

Another way to achieve the reception of the new channel is go in and access the tuner manually. Most menus do not have an option for this task. My Zenith digital-to-analog converter box facilitates this function. There is usually a way to add the new channel and delete the former channel from the memory. The manual tuner feature is also a good way to aim your antenna.

The fourth way that I know to add a new channel is to go into the menu and manually add the new channel. I find this option quite cumbersome and frustrating. The only converter box that I have had experience with that had no other way than this to add new channels was the Magnavox from Wal-mart.

When trying to add a new channel, both by entering the virtual channel number or the true RF channel, the box would not recognize it and would fail to enter the channel in the memory. The Magnavox customer service number was totally useless. Good luck if you have one of these boxes.

So if you find that at some point in the near future you cannot receive a channel that was dependable before, then it may well be that the station has switched channels, and one of these tasks needs to be performed.

Here are a handful of stations that I know will "Flash Cut" (switch channels) on or near Feb. 17, 2009, despite a potential extension of the mandated transition date:

On Feb. 17
Baton Rouge, La. WGMB/WVLA/WBRL/KZUP
Shreveport, La. KSHV/KMSS
Alexandria, La./Natchez Ms. WNTZ
Lafayette, La. KADN

Soon after Feb. 17
Beaumont, Tx. KBMT (KBMT has asked for about 30 to 45 days to make the switch)

The DTV Transition Is Going Through Its Own Transition

January 27, 2009 4:14 PM

With 21 days to go until the transition period is over for the conversion to digital broadcasting, it seems the transition to digital will go through a transition period of its own.

It looks as if the mandated transition date will be pushed back to June 12. It is not official yet, but a compromise was reached between Democrats and Republicans that will allow a vote to pass the bill sometime this week.

Republicans have introduced legislation that will continue to fund the digital converter-box coupon program, which has run out of money. As of last Wednesday, there was a waiting list of 2.6 million requests for the coupons.

Another concern for Republicans was the added cost to television station owners if the transition date were to be moved back. PBS has estimated it will cost public broadcasting stations $22 million in added utility costs, continued rental on transmitters and delays of tower crews if the date is pushed back.

A compromise has emerged, however, to allow stations that want to switch to digital broadcasting and turn off their analog transmitters to do so. I would expect the majority of broadcasters will choose to do this sooner rather than later, but we will have to wait and see how this plays out.

It looks like instead of a hard date to make the switch, it will occur over the next few months. June 12 is on a Friday, and to me it makes way more sense to do it over a weekend than in the middle of the week like the Feb. 17 date was. I never did understand why in the world it would happen on a Tuesday night.

But I think the point is moot anyway. The compromise bill, if it is passed, will allow television stations to make the move at any time up until June 12.

Hawaii's Switch Goes Smoothly as Rest of Country Awaits Date

January 19, 2009 10:42 AM

Hawaii transitioned to digital-only broadcasting statewide at noon local time on Jan. 15. There are at least 30 more days to go for the rest of the country.

A delay of the mandated Feb. 17 transition for the rest of us was defeated by the Republicans in the Senate on Saturday, but the matter will be brought up by the Democrats again next week, it has been reported.

From all accounts that I have seen, the switch in Hawaii went smoothly. There are only an estimated 20,000 TV households in Hawaii that are not connected to cable or satellite, so the number of affected viewers was relatively small, no matter if they were ready or not. That can be contrasted with the city of Houston, Texas, where almost 1 million people will be affected by the transition.

There was only one PBS station in the state that was not ready for the transition at the time of the switch. They had not yet received the equipment necessary to get the digital signal to their viewing area. That glitch is expected to last for a couple of months or so.

I have heard that some viewers in Maine have already been told that after the switch, they will not be able to receive over-the-air television and will have to get cable or satellite to continue having television.

If a bill is successfully passed to postpone the transition for the rest of the country, the expected date for the switch would be June 12.

DTV: Out of Plane, No Parachute

January 8, 2009 5:17 PM

So, we are at just 40 days (and nights?) away from the transition to digital only broadcasting here in the United States, unless Barack Obama succeeds in delaying the DTV switch. All is not well in Camelot my friends.

The $40 coupon program has run out of money. Those who waited to order the coupons are now being put on a waiting list that is being funded by money returned to the program from coupons that were never redeemed. That funding has to trickle back into the system before more coupons can be sent to those on the waiting list.

The Obama presidential transition team is attempting to persuade Congress to delay the hard deadline for the end of analog broadcasting. High ranking Democrats are making the argument that the coupon program is in shambles, and that there are millions of households that simply are not ready, and cannot be ready in time for the Feb. 17 analog shutoff date.

High ranking Republicans argue that changes are needed in the accounting procedures for the coupon program to help stem the tide of applications that have flooded in requesting the coupons. They argue that changing the transition date at this time would create confusion with the public.

Nielsen reported in December that 6.8% of all U. S. households in were totally unready for the transition, and 10% were partially unready. They also stated that 11% of all Hispanic households were not ready for the transition, as well.

There is another plan to allow all television stations that are on the VHF low band (channels 2-6) to remain on the air with their analog signals, if they desire. The intent is to have them continuing to broadcast for emergency communications if necessary.

President George Bush signed a bill on December 23 known as the SAFER act that allows one television station in each market to remain on the air with an analog signal for up to 30 days after the Feb. 17 transition deadline. It is affectionately called the DTV "nightlight" bill. As was mentioned above, some want all stations on analog channels 2-6 to have the option to stay on the air. So far only 136 television markets out of 210 have a station that could remain on the air without causing undue interference with other stations.

The Consumers Electronics Association (CEA) is OK with the transition date. They did a survey with retailers and noted that converter boxes are in stock, and ready for purchase. But the converter box is only half the battle, as many of you well know who frequent this forum. On the other side is the antenna situation and I might add that it may be the "bigger" half.

The Consumers Union is urging a delay in the timing of the Feb. 17 deadline. Citing the current state of the economy and the under funding of the converter box coupon program as the primary reasons. Noting that this a federally mandated transition, they claim that millions of Americans will have to dig into their own pockets to navigate the transition at a time when many are suffering the effects of the down economy.

I made a statement in one of the posts here on the blog the other day that I felt like we had jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, and the transition date (read as “ground”) was rapidly approaching. I need to revise that statement a bit.

I feel like we were pushed out of that aircraft. Now I am confident that my parachute will open, and that I will be OK. I have a great outdoor antenna, and can get all of our local HD and SD digital stations, and one that is over 60 miles from me. But I worry about that steady stream of others who had to bail out behind me. I am not so sure that all will make it to the "ground" and survive.

I figure we will just have see how this all plays out, and once again, stay tuned...