HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

October 23, 2006, Herald Journal

Good-bye to analog broadcast TV

By MARK OLLIG
Remember back in those carefree days, when starting to watch your favorite television show, just as you get comfortable on the living room couch – the neighbors turn on some “electrical device” which of course causes “analog-interference” and the picture on your TV screen begins to look like a good old fashioned Minnesota blizzard? Yes, not only snow, static, horizontal and vertical flipping that would sometimes cause nausea, but that sound coming from the TV set was like that of something you might hear on the nature channel. The joys of analog television reception.

Get ready, because the days of analog television reception are soon to be over forever.

The Congress of the United States recently passed a law specifying the date of Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009 to be the deadline for all television broadcast stations to stop transmitting their analog signals over-the-air and convert to all digital television signal broadcasting.

Digital Television (DTV) is going to take over the center seat and analog-broadcasted television is to be sent into retirement.

You no doubt are asking the question “What about my analog television set?”

If you already have digital cable or digital satellite and a digital television set you already are receiving and watching your broadcasts digitally, the conversion made elsewhere. But if you are not watching them on a HDTV or digital television set, you would have had the digital to analog converter box already installed, of course.

Analog TVs receiving over-the-air programming will still work after that date, but owners of these TVs will need, actually be “required” to buy “converter boxes” to change or convert the over-the-air digitally broadcasted signals into the analog format that will work for your analog TV. These converter boxes will no doubt be available from the major consumer electronic retailers.

Satellite subscribers receiving analog transmissions should contact their service providers about obtaining converter boxes for the DTV transition.

A year ago before I had cable, I used “rabbit-ears” and they seem to work fine when connected to the old television set I had. I could get the local channels and the public broadcasting channel pretty good on a clear day.

At night the signal was better, but during thunder and lighting storms it would get a bit annoying, but it was still free. I saved a lot of money not paying for cable or a dish. I did not have many choices, but it was still a good bargain. I consider like “free” a very good bargain.

Now the question also comes up about who will need to be paying for these converter boxes?

Well, the good folks at your Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have come up with a program under Section 3005 called the “Digital-to-analog-converter-box-program.”

Yes indeed. In 2008, households will be able to obtain “coupons” that can be applied toward the purchase of the digital-to-analog converter boxes.

These coupons are good for $40 off the cost of each converter and know that there is a two coupon limit per household.

Where they came up with the $40 number is beyond me.

Of course, we have no idea what the retail cost of these converter boxes will be.

Here is part of the “official” government description (yes, someone in the government actually had to come up with this) of a digital-to-analog converter box: “. . .means a stand-alone device that does not contain features or functions except those necessary to enable a consumer to convert any channel broadcast in the digital television service into a format that the consumer can display on television receivers designed to receive and display signals only in the analog television service, but may also include a remote control device.”

Got to have that

remote control

See, already this has tricky wording that sounds like a controversy, do we get the remote control or not? If I already have the remote, can I get a discount for that off of the $40 coupon?

The program is being paid for out of the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Fund. They have a dollar limit of $990,000,000 for these converter-coupons. So, let’s see, if you divide that amount by $40 that would mean 24,975,000 analog television sets will be saved from the soon to be “analog-less television broadcasts” and be forced, or willingly “converted” to accept the digital signals, which will be the only way you will be able to watch anything on TV after February 17th of 2009. The program itself is to be administered by The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

I noted in the section language that the converters will also be delivered by the United States Postal Service. All right, I can hear those witty comments out there, but do not get upset and send me emails, I am only your humble columnist reporting what I learn.

What I do want to find out is who will be making these new converter boxes and under what stock ticker they are listed. I have a feeling some one is going to make some money when this starts.

I would think that most of today’s digital to analog converter boxes would work, but I imagine the marketing people will come up with a very “special” digital to analog converter box that will cost a bit more, but is “specially designed” to work with the new over-the-air TV signals being sent digitally. Digital Snake Oil in a bottle? Gosh, what a surprise.

Of course.

We should also understand that two coupons may not be used in combination toward the purchase of a single digital-to-analog converter box. The documentation I read states this one.

Less you forget, make sure you use those converter-coupons within three months of issuance or they will not be accepted. Once again, this was language from the FCC sources.

Some of us might like to know what digital TV is and why the American broadcasting stations will soon be converting from analog to digital transmissions.

All right, here is a quick explanation: the switch from analog-broadcast TV which is the traditional TV system using analog air-waves that varies in frequency and amplitude to transmit and display TV pictures and sound – this is being replaced by digital-broadcast television (DTV) which is going to be the “all digital” method of transmitting the pictures and sound from the television broadcasters location to your TV. The channels of programming content will be transmitted as “data bits” ones and zero’s (yes, those little bits and bytes that we have come to know and love). It is the “language” to be used that can re-create those high definition quality pictures and clear CD quality sound. This is referred to as the digital TV (DTV) transition. These digital signals require less “bandwidth space” than the analog signals.

In fact, DTV can be compressed to provide up to five or more channels in the same bandwidth required for one analog channel that is used over the current standard television.

In 1996, when the analog to digital conversion program was launched, the U.S. Congress authorized the distribution of an additional broadcast channel to each TV broadcaster so that they could introduce DTV service while simultaneously continuing their analog TV broadcasts. In addition to improved picture and sound quality, an important benefit of DTV is that it will free up parts of the broadcast spectrum for public safety as well as other valuable uses.

This is possible because the modern technology of DTV is more efficient than analog TV technology. DTV allows the same number of stations to broadcast using fewer total channels (less of the broadcast spectrum) which will free up what has become scarce and valuable spectrum for public safety agencies and the new wireless technologies to be made available by commercial service providers.

The ability to transmit the television signals digitally in ones and zero’s is the same binary code that your email “data packets” (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) use as it is sent over the Internet. The ability to transmit your voice, and now your television video in this manner is why you will also be hearing more of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) in the very near future. Soon you will be watching DTV over Internet Protocols in real-time using the Internet itself as the network.

I am seeing this application applied today in the technology I am working with. The company is using very high speed ADSL2+ broadband transmission technologies which provides the capability to transmit up to 25 Mbps over a local copper pair of telephone wires to a small electronic “box” in your house which is called a router or a “gateway.” This gateway can provide the transmission paths for your telephone (voice), internet (data) and video (television channels ) services. A bit of a side topic with this paragraph, as there are many details…which I will save for a future column.

I would like to note here that some of the analog broadcast frequencies that will be available after the conversion to digital will be sold at public auction by the FCC.

This new spectrum will no doubt raise many millions of dollars for the federal government.

I learned that the FCC holds regular auctions for airwave frequencies as they become available. Most wireless companies, cellular and telephone companies are looking forward to these soon to be available choice airwaves for providing the transmission medium for their service offerings. Check out the FCC auction link I list at the end of this column for more information.

If you are interested in learning more about this TV digital transition, here are a few of the links I used to obtain some of the information contained in this column.

The US Government websites I looked at include:

http://www.dtv.gov/DTVAct.pdf

http://www.dtv.gov/DTV_booklet.pdf

http://wireless.fcc.gov/auctions/default.htm?job=glossary

http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/frnotices/2006/couponprogram_nprm_07202006.pdf

http://wireless.fcc.gov/auctions/default.htm?job=auctions_home

You can email the FCC at: fccinfo@fcc.gov, or call the FCC at: 888-225-5322.