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...
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