written by: Mike Garcen•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 5/26/2009
The government has spent a lot of money to educate consumers and prepare them for the switch from analog television to digital. However, very few people are aware of just why this whole mess is occurring.
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What You Know About Switch to Digital TV
The government has spent a lot of money to educate consumers and prepare them for the switch from analog television to digital. The message is clear that beginning June 12th, 2009 broadcasters will turn off their analog signal and switch over to digital, making those old rabbit ear antennas you had useless. Purchasing a DTV Convertor box is easy and will allow you to continue to make use of those antennas. However, the number of channels available will most likely decrease due to the manner in which digital air television works. Unlike analog where you would see some static on lower signal channels, digital channels must come in fully or they will not air at all. This is because of the way the digital transmission is sent, which is in zeros and ones, versus analog, which is the entire feed. If any part of that digital signal is not received, then you will not see any picture. No more snowy picture, but no more picture at all.
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What You Don't Know About the Switch to Digital TV
What has not been clear was an explanation as to why this was done. Uninformed consumers might believe that this was done to gain more money for the cable companies, since most consumers would now have to subscribe with their Cable Companies digital services to regain access to their programming. According to the government’s DTV website, the reasons for the switch are the various picture and audio benefits which come with digital television—improvements in sound, picture, closed captioning, and more. While this is true, it is definitely not the deciding factor for cable companies.
To understand their motivation, you need to understand the current analog transmission methods. Cable companies have a certain amount of space they can transmit—frequencies either over the air or via your cable in the wall. With analog, every channel is broadcast at the same time. This is why your standard television set can tune to any channel without any converter, and why the channel changing happens instantaneously. While previously not a problem, with so many more channels being added to the lineup the cable companies were running out of space to make room.
Digital TV allows for the compressions of the channels across the pipe or airwaves. In other words, the same space, which could allot for 10 analog channels can now offer space for 30 digital channels, and in higher quality. This is the reason that digital television service requires a converter box, as your old analog tuner is unable to scan for and decode the digital signal. Where before every channel was broadcast at all times, with Digital the channel is blocked off until you change, or “tune" to the channel. The downside to this, besides needing the box, is that it will take longer to change channels. It is unclear why the real reason for the switch to digital TV has not been broadcast, as it makes understanding the switch that much easier, rather than informing people it is for simply better quality, since most people using the antennas simply wanted free television. While it certainly helps the cable companies most, it will also allow for more channels for everyone to enjoy…whether you were previously satisfied or not.