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(Some) Analog TV Broadcasts Died This Week

As midnight arrived Tuesday night, analog television broadcasting ended on Baltimore's CW affiliate WNUV much as any other night of programming might have concluded: with a recording of "The Star-Spangled Banner," followed by a test pattern.

But a few moments afterward, an all-about-digital-TV infomercial kicked in, counseling viewers that "if you're seeing this message, this television set has not yet been updated to digital" and offering instructions on how to hook up a converter box and fine-tune your reception. Several minutes later, a Spanish-language version of this ad aired, with subtitles in both Spanish and English.

WNUV's digital signal, on channel 54.1, had to have looked a million times better than the snowy analog mess on my TV. But from 40 miles away, awful analog reception on 54 equated to nonexistent digital reception on 54.1; a tabletop antenna just couldn't pick up that signal well enough to give a Sony LCD's tuner anything to work with.

How-to shows about the DTV transition are all you can hope to watch on WNUV and the 420 other stations that terminated their analog programming by midnight Tuesday [PDF].

News reports so far point to considerable confusion before this week's partial analog shutoff -- but relatively few calls for help afterward in such locales as Ft. Myers, Fla., Minneapolis and San Diego.

(The digital transition isn't over for all the viewers of those stations -- as an overdue, interactive signal-strength map on the Federal Communications Commission's site reveals, some will upgrade their digital signals in the coming months. More technically-inclined viewers can find additional details at a volunteer-run database, RabbitEars.)

The D.C. area was largely exempt from this week's partial digital transition -- WNUV was the only early switcher to provide even a minimally watchable analog signal in my home -- but many other parts of the country saw more than one analog channel vanish from the airwaves. So how'd all that go for you? Post your own report in the comments...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  February 20, 2009; 10:23 AM ET
Categories:  TV  
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Still satisfied with analog, since a sometimes fuzzy picture is better than a constantly dropping or pixelating digital one. And I can still time-shift using my VCR.

Once analog truly goes away, and the transmitters have been moved, and the frequencies re-shuffled, and the leaves are on the trees, I'll decide whether to invest more in OTA (replace the rooftop antenna, maybe get a DVR), or just bag it and switch to the internet.

The economy is going to cause people to reconsider paying subscription fees for TV, so OTA should be increasing in viewers. But the transmission characteristics of ATSC are simply not as good as analog was and I expect that the potential audience has actually dropped. Hopefully the broadcasters will realize this and do something about it (more power, repeaters, different frequencies, whatever). But if not, I think I can get by with broadband.

Posted by: iMac77 | February 21, 2009 7:01 AM | Report abuse

I was probably one of the last to receive a coupon (mailed to me Jan 16). I finally connected it. I didn't expect much, didn't get much, but the 2 channels I do get look almost as good as those on my other set connected to the Dish network.

Before I connected the converter I received about 10 channels, only about 2 of any quality. With the two I get after the converter I'm getting two sub-channels, so actually now get 6 channels. Too bad it's not great programming. I'm using rabbit ears, and am going to get an amplifier to see what that does. I live in Winchester va so i'm not all that hopeful.

Posted by: Tojo1 | February 21, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Did they die or did they end ?

Posted by: whocares666 | February 21, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Before you buy an amplifier, build yourself a coat hanger antenna.

It's super cheap, super simple, and will probably work better than an amplifier. I made one and it works great.

Posted by: techgenius | February 21, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Something I have found helping people with converter boxes.

The RF cable that comes with most, just pushes on. They tend not to make good connection.

The effect is a fuzzy picture that should be a clear digital one.

Either plug them in over and over to clean off any dirt or corrosion on them, or better yet replace them with a screw type connector cable.

Posted by: PapaPig | February 21, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I get great digital signals here in Northern VA, even a bunch from Baltimore. All hail digital!!! A tip - rabbit ears don't help with VA, DC and MD broadcasts. Local digital broadcasts are currently all on UHF - it's the bow-tie or loop antennas you need. I went with an amplified omnidirectional UHF antenna in my attic. The round white kind used on RVs. The amplifier makes a huge difference since the weak signal at the antenna has to travel 3 stories down to the HDTV in my basement. (yes, I hijacked the previous owner's cable coax to transmit the signal in the house.)

Two huge bennies from OTA HD - the HD video isn't compressed like cable or satellite so I get no pixelation during high action scenes, also many broadcasts include dolby 5.1 audio so if you hook your HDTV tuner to your home theater, you'll get 5.1 audio when it's included in the broadcast. Note the inexpensive converter boxes don't support 5.1 audio nor will you get the full benefit of HD video.

One more tip - some of the converter boxes are 12v powered and will provide video and audio input to the entertainment systems in minivans. You can get digital TV in your minivan or SUV, as long as you aren't moving. The HDTV broadcast signal standard isn't designed for mobile use.

Posted by: Rob22315 | February 21, 2009 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Rob22315: Channels 7, 9, 11, and 13 are switching back to VHF once analog goes away. That's one reason I'm waiting to make any final decisions on antennas.

I, too, can get some Baltimore stations, since they are line-of-sight, while the hill at Tysons is between me and the DC stations. That's a more significant problem for digital than it was for analog. WRC, in particular, is essentially useless.

Hopefully the post-switchover changes will improve reception for everyone.

Posted by: iMac77 | February 22, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

If you have had a converter box for a while, be sure to scan again for active DTV channels. Try to do it every month until July 09, as some stations are cutting over as their budgets permit.

Posted by: isenberg888 | February 26, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

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