February 12, 2009

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No DTV for you
Switch is delayed until June

By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

I bet you were all ready for it, weren’t you?

You were sitting in your fluffy couch, remote controls splayed out before you, just waiting for the switch to all-digital television broadcasting. No more of those pesky analog signals wasting bandwidth and carrying nothing but picture and sound. Static-free images, adjustable aspect ratios and program guides, all totally free over the airwaves, were right around the corner.

And then Congress happened.

Yeah, someone got word to Congress that some people weren’t prepared for the digital transition. I don’t know who these people are, and how they’ve missed the commercials every five minutes yelling about the transition if they supposedly watch TV so much, but apparently they just need four more months. Then they’ll be ready.

Instead of Feb. 17, the last day television stations may broadcast analog signals is now June 12. That whole $40 government coupon program for buying a converter box was extended as well; instead of March 31, you can still apply for a coupon until July 31.

Then again, in New Hampshire, it’s mostly moot.

What really matters isn’t what the government does. What matters is what the television stations do. Channel 50 in Derry — also known as MyTV, WZMY and formerly as WNDS — cut off its analog signal way back in December. As of this writing, New Hampshire Public Television is still planning to stop analog broadcasts on Feb. 17, and so is WMUR (ABC channel 9 in Manchester) pending President Obama’s expected signature on the DTV delay bill.

Can you blame them? This date has been dangling in front of them since it was set into law in 2005. They’ve held up their end of the bargain. By ending analog broadcasts, they’ll be able to allocate more power to their digital signals, so even if you haven’t been able to pull in anything with your converter box yet, maybe you will then.

Of course, you probably don’t need a converter box. Do you have any kind of cable? Don’t need one. Satellite with local channels included? Don’t need one. New television with a digital tuner built in? Don’t need one. Watch all your TV online? That’s right, you don’t freakin’ need one.

You only need one if you use an antenna for TV reception and there’s no digital tuner in your television, VCR, DVD player or anything else hooked up. Admittedly, this is a touch confusing — I don’t mean “digital tuner” in the sense that you change the channel by pushing a button rather than turning a dial. Technically what you need is an ATSC tuner. An old analog tuner is NTSC. Check your manual.

If it turns out you do in fact need a converter box, and you haven’t gotten a coupon yet, head to www.dtv2009.gov. There are tons of informational sites out there, but that’s the official government one. Apply for your coupon, head to just about any electronics/department/grocery/drug store and you’ll find what you need.

Me? I picked one up at Circuit City’s liquidation sale. I couldn’t pull in many stations, but the ones I did get were pretty much the same ones whose analog signal I could pick up, depending on where I positioned my antenna. Except the digital pictures were crystal clear. When the signal got too low, instead of increasing static I saw a frozen picture for a second or two.

That can be irritating if you just barely have a signal, but that’s digital — it either works or it don’t.