NTSC's Dying Light

17-Feb-08 12:00 AM by
Filed under Television; 1 comment.

One year from today, American television stations will cease their analog broadcasts, switching entirely to digital signals. This transition will eliminate the need for both signals, thereby freeing up half of the currently-used television spectrum for the FCC to auction. Any television sold since March 2007 already has the hardware necessary to accept the new, higher-quality digital signal. If your home theater predates that cutoff, you may need to prepare for a conversion.

Let me decipher the criteria for you. If you use an antenna to receive your programming for free, then you will definitely be impacted: "Analog television sets receiving free TV using an antenna will not work after February 17, 2009. Television viewers with these sets that are not connected to a pay TV service will need to take action before February 17, 2009, to ensure their TV sets continue to work." This information comes from DTV2009.gov, where you can apply for a $40 coupon toward the purchase of a digital-to-analog converter box. The FCC defines these adaptors as such: "converter boxes are for the conversion of over-the-air digital television signals, and therefore are not intended for analog TVs connected to a paid provider such as cable or satellite TV service."

In other words, you can buy one of three solutions: a new television; a converter box; or cable, satellite, or other pay service. But even if you get (or already have) that third option, you should inquire with your service provider how they will be handling this transition — just in case.

If you do buy a new television, you'll want to ensure it's backward-compatible with older peripherals you may not want to also replace. Wikipedia states that a television with only the newer ATSC tuner and not the traditional NTSC tuner "prevents older devices, such as VCRs and video game consoles with only an analog RF output, from connecting to the TV." In other words, it's probably cheaper to just stick with your current, tried-and-true television.

Although champions of this upgrade declare high-definition television to be a necessary and inevitable future, the two truths I am gleaning from all the above are these: 1) The upgrade will primarily affect the minority who receive free programming, who are being offered free converters; and 2) The FCC and its industry is benefitting more from this optimization than the consumers are. Of course, if those older wavelengths are repurposed to some useful end, then we all stand to gain — but that's too big an "if" to label it a motivation for this change.

One Response to “NTSC's Dying Light”

  1. Ken Gagne adds:

    CNN.com has a review of two converter boxes. It's never too early to prepare for the switch!