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Analog TV Has 10 Days To Live

It's been going on for decades, but 10 days from now the digital-TV transition will end.

At the stroke of midnight on Friday, June 12, all remaining full-power analog broadcasts will vanish from the airwaves. (Many of the nation's local stations shut down their analog signals earlier this year.) Not all of the work of the transition will be done -- some low-powered stations will be permitted to stay on the air after that, and many stations will then have to fine-tune digital transmissions that in some cases will have moved to new frequencies.

Your best resource in these last throes of analog television is probably DTV.gov, a Web site set up by the Federal Communications Commission that has outgrown its hucksterish beginnings to offer a wide variety of tips and tools. Start with its interactive maps, on which you can plug in an address to see which stations you should be able to receive after June 12.

If you have specific questions about digital-TV hardware, you can also check out my prior attempt on this blog to address the queries that have repeatedly come up. To summarize that post's contents: If you pay a cable or satellite service for TV, you don't need to do anything; if you want to keep your old analog TV, get a digital converter box; try your existing antenna before investing in a new model; "digital cable" has nothing to do with the DTV transition; you can use a VCR with a converter box, but it'll be easier to buy a DVD recorder with a digital tuner; there are portable digital TVs and at least one battery-powered converter box; there's no digital equivalent to those radios that tune in the soundtrack of analog channels; I can assure you from months of tests in my own home that over-the-air DTV works and, with an HD set, looks fantastic.

At this point, most of the reader questions coming in focus on reception issues. They fall into three broad categories:

* People who live within 10 miles of their local stations' transmitters but still have trouble tuning in. For example, one case I'm trying to figure out now concerns a reader living on Capitol Hill who says she loses reception when it's windy. After consulting with a few experts on DTV reception, I suggested that she unplug the signal booster on her indoor antenna, which may be having a counterproductive effect. I haven't heard back from her yet.

* People who live really far out in the country and receive a passable analog signal, but can't get digital to work. One of them is a colleague who lives outside of the rural Virginia town of Hamilton. Tom's got a rooftop antenna and is now trying out different signal boosters; I'm cautiously optimistic that he can get this to work, based on a lengthy consultation with Pete Putnam, the author of the HDTVExpert.com blog.

* People who have been misinformed and are therefore going about things the wrong way. A couple of months ago, a reader living in Reston asked for an indoor-antenna recommendation, explaining that in her neighborhood "external antennas are prohibited." They're not -- not there or anywhere else outside of certain historic districts, as per federal regulations that have been in force for more than a decade. If your homeowners' association or condo board tells you otherwise, I'd like to know about it.

If you're still struggling with digital-TV reception today, however, I have a counter-intuitive suggestion to make: Set it aside until after June 12. Once analog signals vanish from the airwaves and stations make their own adjustments to their digital broadcasts, you'll need to tell your TV or converter box to rescan for signals anyway. Only then can you even think about nailing your antenna in place.

How are the last two weeks of the digital transition shaping up for you? Post your report in the comments...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  June 2, 2009; 12:21 PM ET
Categories:  TV  
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Comments

I would like to report that I am having good success getting digital broadcast TV using cheap rabbit ears from Radio Shack. (About $12.) I did make sure that I got rabbit ears that included a loop antenna for UHF reception.

Posted by: Ghak | June 2, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Reception patterns & antenna requirements may change after the DTV transition. E.g., my local NBC affiliate will be moving their DTV signal from UHF to VHF Channel 12 after the analog shutdown. In addition, my post-transition NBC DTV will use a higher antenna. Every TV market may differ; check your market map or re-scan and re-evaluate after the transition.

Coverage maps - http://www.fcc.gov/dtv/markets/

Help -- http://antennaweb.org/aw/welcome.aspx and http://www.pintechcorp.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=19&Itemid=125

Posted by: fdzimmerman | June 2, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

A bunch of stations went digital back at the original switch date, not too much trouble except for one station. Local ABC affiliate is on channel 8.1. It was a terrible signal with lots of freeze ups and jumps, but figured it was because they were one of the few remaining dual band (analogue and digital) stations.

I finally discovered that the interference on 8.1 was entirely from the wireless internet card on the computer used as a media center near the TV. Had already known that the wireless phone interfered with the wireless network connection on the computer, but now the wireless network interfers with the TV!.

Why did they jam all consumer electronics into the same narrow band of frequencies?

Thanks

Posted by: noaccount | June 2, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Re: noaccount

It is hard to tell specifically what is going on without knowing what market you are in. DTV channel 8.1 is not necessarily on the same RF channel in every market. E.g., in the Richmond, VA market, DTV 8.1 is currently on RF channel 22 (519 MHz).

Similarly, wireless phone is commonly on 900 MHz, 2 GHz, or 5 GHz, depending on model.

Therefore, everything really isn't jammed onto the same channel. However, it is possible for a strong local signal to "swamp" a tuner that is receiving a weak TV signal.

Solutions -- distance between interference source and TV tuner, better antenna (stronger signal), use of wired internet (not WIFI) with your media center, and/or identifying what specific frequencies are being used and developing a plan accordingly.

Posted by: fdzimmerman | June 2, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

We've had the tv's in our house set up for digital for over a year. We use a directional rooftop antenna (one of the old-fashioned ones with a collection of different-length spiky elements) which works fine as all the major digital broadcasts come from the same general direction.

When we first connected a digital tv to the antenna (which had been put in place before in order to get analog signals) we had problems getting one channel we wanted (annoying since it was the PBS station which multiplexes, and which we watch a lot of). Adding an amplifier helped a little, but we still had spotty reception. So I dragged myself up to the roof and manually pointed the antenna a few degrees differently from where the installer had pointed it, and VOILA the problems disappeared.

We still get the occasional signal loss on windy days (I'm guessing it's tall trees in our neighborhood intermittently blocking the signal path), but overall reception is beautiful, even splitting the signal to five (!) tv's in our house.

From time to time I'll catch a glimpse of an analog tv broadcast, and I can only wonder why people ever put up with all the crap in the image.

Posted by: jheartney | June 3, 2009 12:51 AM | Report abuse

WHAT... when did this happen?

Posted by: whocares666 | June 3, 2009 1:19 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone have any data on hearing problems with digital TV.

thanks

Posted by: JohnAdams1 | June 3, 2009 5:13 AM | Report abuse

Here along the Gulf Coast we're awaiting the switchover with trepidation. Already we've had two heavy rain events that killed all digital reception (while the analog signals were still receivable) and it's a likely precursor to what we can expect when/if a hurricane approaches. Loss of signal, along with loss of information sources.

Digital may be fine under perfect conditions, but once you get into bad weather situations, it's going to be the analog signals (AM/FM) that will still get through and not the television.

Posted by: TalGreywolf | June 3, 2009 6:18 AM | Report abuse

Strictly speaking everything is true in the article. But there is going to be a lingering problem for people with analog TV hooked up to cable without set top boxes.

Yes, local over-the-air TV stations will be available over cable in analog for for several years in most cases. But cable operators are phasing out analog basic tier signals such as CNN, CSPAN, History Channel, etc. and such channels will be lost to users unless they get a set top box - usually rented at a fee. In particular the elderly are likely to have analog TVs with cable and no set top box. Try to explain to your grandmother why most of her channels are about to disappear!

FCC and the cable industry are splitting hairs and not calling this part of the DTV transition and legally they are right. But public confusion and resentment is also likely unless there is better information on the topic.

Michael Marcus
Marcus Spectrum Solutions LLC

Posted by: n3jmm | June 3, 2009 6:19 AM | Report abuse

I live in Northern Va and I have rescanned a zillion times in the last week or so to bring in the stations...I figure they are messing with their systems to prepare for the transition. I have one tv in a basement with a cheapie converter box. I did have to get a 20 buck radio shack antennae but I have more channels than I ever had before the converter box and the picture quality is better too. I have another tv that will need to be trashed since it's so old. It would cost me 75 bucks in hardware to get a signal on that one. I will pick up something used to replace it in the future and I have a converter box waiting for it.

Posted by: tbva | June 3, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

I live near Dupont Circle and prepared my tv for digital in October. Since then I have lost MHZ and MPT. WHUT and WETA go out frequently from wind, rain, and no reason at all. The more reliable channels have their periodic problems too. When everything is working the sound and picture are great and I have more channels than ever, but unless signals get stronger digital will continue to be a headache.

Posted by: pstenigma | June 3, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Just this morning when the power went out I used my portable TV in one of its last useful moments. Such a shame. Any ideas on where to send it now that its useless here?

Posted by: christmas23 | June 3, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Series 1 Tivos with lifetime subscriptions aren't going to be able to control the channels on a DTV converter box without hacking. That is my biggest problem with the transition.

Posted by: hesaid | June 3, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

We live in Columbia Heights. We get all the DTV channels we want except WETA 26, which we can usually get but which breaks up far too frequently. We have a very good indoor antenna (Winegard SS-3000), and we're considerably less than 10 miles from WETA's antenna. Putting up an outdoor antenna is going to be an expensive hassle, but it looks like the only thing to do. Any other suggestions?

Posted by: davidhilfiker | June 3, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Rob,
Great column. The biggest revelation for me is the DTVPalDVR from Dishnetwork. That looks like it will solve my issues completely (DirecTV and OTA broadcast timeshifting). BTW, I'm near Staunton, VA, in the Shenandoah Valley, and receive all of the local digital stations, Charlottesville's, and Richmond's using an outside antenna UHF with Winegard booster, aimed at Richmond.

Posted by: Barterbrook | June 3, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, as ever, for the comments! Some replies...

TalGreywolf: In really bad weather situations, don't you want to rely on the simpler, lighter device with better battery life--the radio--anyway?

n3jmm: It's not just legally right to call the digital-cable transition separate from the over-the-air digital-TV transition--it's right, period. The cable transition would be happening even if DTV had never been dreamt up. Analog cable wastes to much bandwidth that cable companies could instead use for faster Internet access, another 20 cooking channels or something else that would generate a better profit margin.

christmas23: There are battery-powered DTV converters and portable DTVs; see my "DTV questions answered" post for details on them.

hesaid: Sounds like your gripe is with TiVo, or maybe just with the cruel world in which we live. How would you expect TiVo's designers to build a remote control for a device that was years away from shipping when they were engineering the Series 1 DVR?

pstenigma, davidhilfiker: See what fdzimmerman said in his first comment. There's no point in breaking your back to debug your reception now when you'll have to rescan things anyway in nine days.

Barterbrook: Thanks for the report! See, this stuff does work... I'm not making it up, honest.

- RP

Posted by: robpegoraro | June 3, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Rob:
The FCC has a good summary of rules and regulations regarding antenna placement and allowable restrictions at http://www.fcc.gov/mb/facts/otard.html#QA

One thing to remember if you live in a condominium is that the FCC rules permitting the installation of an antenna only apply on property that you wholly own or have exclusive use of (what your condo documents would call a limited common element). An example might be your patio or balcony. While these elements are technically owned by the association in many cases, if only you as the resident have access to them you can install an antenna.

However, the rules do not permit you to punch holes in walls, roofs, or other common elements as in a condo environment you do not own these structures the condo association does.

Posted by: tskiba | June 3, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

I live in Arlington and just set up my DTV converter box. I was so disappointed to find I can't get MPT, it was my favorite channel. Right now I am getting some freezing and garbled sound on WETA. I'm using the same indoor antenna I had before. I will wait until after June 12 to see what happens, then will probably buy a new indoor antenna.

Posted by: Arlme | June 3, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I have Tivo Series 2 and use an LG HD tuner for OTA HD. It took a while, but Tivo eventually updated it so that I can control the LG tuner with IR. I'm guessing Tivo will eventually push out updated control codes for the DTV converter boxes?

Posted by: nuzuw | June 3, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

I really wish the Post would rerun the story from about six months ago (before the "crisis" required the slip in the transition schedule), you know, the one that claimed Hispanics were going to be disproportionately adversely affected by the switchover.

It was evidence that the old joke punch line, "womena and the poor hardest hit" in response to a fictional Post headline, "World to End," was highly accurate and forward looking.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | June 3, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Will my Philco Invicta still pick-up the nightly news with Walter Cronkiite ?

Posted by: whocares666 | June 3, 2009 9:15 PM | Report abuse

One thing I did which others can consider is to use a coaxial cable switch box. Use the main antenna for most stations and switch the switch box to a rabbit ears or other different antenna pointed in a different direction.

Here in Salem, OR all the stations are 40 miles north in Portland and can be gotten even with a rabbit ears if you are willing to fiddle enough. We are using a rooftop yagi and it works fine for all the stations except the local station channel 17. Its antenna is located due WEST of there and is not picked up by the rooftop antenna. With that switch setup and a rabbit ears, I can pick up channel 17 and enjoy retro TV network.

Posted by: eteonline | June 4, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Hey Michael Marcus n3jmm:

My grandmother is 36 years old!

Posted by: photodon | June 4, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

After witnessing this cluster cluck under various Republican and Democrat administrations over the last 15 years, why would anyone in their right mind think government run health care is a good idea?

Posted by: moonwatcher2001 | June 5, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I live in a digital black hole. New York City is 75 miles south, Albany NY is 75 mile north and Hartford, CT is 75 miles east. Two stations from Albany come in (three when the leaves are on the trees), one (sometimes) from New York City (WNYW), and none from Connecticut. This is off a roof mounted mast with one fixed VHF antenna (at NYC) and one rotating UHF antenna. I'd rather have more snowy analog channels than fewer crisp digital channels.

Posted by: TheNervousCat | June 9, 2009 3:49 PM | Report abuse

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