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Will Obama or McCain Inherit a DTV Nightmare?

Continuing the countdown to the digital TV transition, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing this afternoon to assess the status of the preparations.

Up to this point, most of the consternation on Capital Hill has been about whether consumers will be prepared for the switch. But Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, chairman of the committee, said the transition also has the potential to cause "serious disruption" to a "new President who will just be getting his feet wet."

After all, Feb. 17 -- the day all TV broadcasters will start airing only digital programs -- will be the 29th day of the next administration.

"Neither a President Obama nor a President McCain should have to deal with a failed transition, so soon after coming into office," he said.

He said he's worried the federal agencies in charge of the transition -- the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration -- will be flooded with calls from confused and frustrated consumers who are having trouble making the switch -- or who didn't know about it in the first place.

"As the current administration winds down, both agencies must remain vigilant so that the next administration does not inherit a communications crisis."

You've probably seen the countless number of public service announcements and commercials being aired on network and cable TV about the switch. What do you think? Will it be a "communications crisis?" Or will the DTV transition go fairly smoothly?

By Kim Hart  |  September 23, 2008; 4:39 PM ET
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I think the DTV transition is going to be a nightmare. First off, there are few out there who have even bought the converter boxes... and even those converter boxes have been having serious performance issues. Second, many of these Chinese made boxes do not even come with remotes, or internal fans. They are low quality and expensive if you have more than two TVs. Better DTV conversion boxes do come with a remote, but they are more expensive. On top of all this, cable providers, like Comcast are using the DTV conversion, as an excuse to force basic extended customers off analog service and onto more expensive digital services. The whole transition is going to be a fiasco of ginormous proportions! Hang on...

Posted by: Micster | September 23, 2008 6:58 PM

We applied for the 2 government coupons which took about 5 weeks for delivery. Ordered 2 digital TV converter boxes (RCA DTA800B1 - comes with a decent remote) on-line from Solid Signal ($22 after rebates). All you have to do is just connect the antenna to the converter box & another wire from the converter box to the TV. After you do the initial channel scan (we picked up twice the number of channels as before) your all done. The whole process was very simple & the digital signal quality is excellent! Yea - we've got Cablevision & satellite in the neighborhood too, but prefer not to pay for garbage channels we'll never watch. Really don't think the conversion process will be a big deal.

Posted by: Bob | September 23, 2008 9:13 PM

"Micster: On top of all this, cable providers, like Comcast are using the DTV conversion, as an excuse to force basic extended customers off analog service and onto more expensive digital services."

I've seen this happening in the Boston area as well. When a senior citizen calls them up concerned about the transition, Comcast pushes a digital box on them when they don't really need it. The FCC should take a look at this.

Posted by: pwt | September 23, 2008 9:36 PM

I have a digital set and the signal is horrible I refuse to buy an outside antenna because I did not need one before with why is digital better??? if you can not get a decent signal you have no picture at all.. to me its a step backwards and forcing people to go cable or satilite!!!!!

Posted by: Steve | September 23, 2008 9:55 PM

If people don't get the converter box and get it hooked up with all the ads and hype that has (and will continue) to happen then they are just plain stupid. My complaint is that (1) the $40 coupon does not cover the cost of any of the converter boxes I've seen and (2) the digital reception does not die gracefully like analog. Digital just breaks up and is unwatchable where analog just kind of gets fuzzy, but still watchable

Posted by: Greg | September 24, 2008 9:16 AM

I live near Toledo, Ohio. I got 2 Converter Boxes for $44.00 each minus the $40 Card; Cost- $4.00 each. I have had an outside tower-antenna-rotor for 30 years. I get all Toledo and Detroit + Bowling Green Ohio Channels. Picture is great and I went from 17 Channels to about 50 Channels since many Digital Channels can send 4 different Signals. I love it. Get used to it. It's PROGRESS !!!!

Posted by: Jim M. | September 24, 2008 9:22 AM

As for Cable getting rid of Analog Channels, it has to happen anyway. They have a spectrun about 900 Mhz wide for ALL signals. My cable co. says Channels 2-75 occupy about 450 Mhz, or one half of the bandwidth. The other 450 Mhz carries everything else, Premium, HDTV, and other std. channels. The 450 Mhz presently used for Ch. 2-75 needs 6 Mhz per Analog Channel. With Digital Compression, these 70+ Channels will become 400-500 Digital Channels, allowing many more in HDTV format. Within 3 years, my system will require everybody to get a Cable Box to allow this move. Again, get used to it. IT IS PROGRESS !!!

Posted by: Jim M. | September 24, 2008 9:32 AM

I got my $40 debit cards promptly and used them to buy a couple of Channel Master CM-7000 'D2A' boxes. Big reason for choosing that particular box, it has an S-video jack which is a small round multi-pin connector that resembles a mouse or keyboard connector. The advantage of using S-video is better color. Then I put a splitter on my big antenna to have a direct comparison, when the signal faded, the analog got snowy and noisy, the digital stayed perfect until it suddenly went to ribbons of color and the sound stuttered. Greg has it right, my friends at CBS call it falling off the digital cliff.

Posted by: Bill | September 24, 2008 9:44 AM

Your television comes with its remote, your cable/satellite station comes with its remote, and now your Over-the-air digital reciever needs a remote.
all these freaking remotes. All this freaking technology and seventeen freaking remotes to catch the Price is Right. We're being "remote" to death by the hardware suppliers for home television.
Junk from China, as usual, coming in. No quality control, now a potential fire hazard sitting right on top of our next to your BIG SCREEN t.v.
We've seen in recent months how well the Chinese are doing with exports to other countries. Toothpaste, milkpowder, and all sorts of other stuff that is little more than junk. And now our televisions are going to be further equipped with junk from China.
I do hope the Super Bowl is over by the time this conversion to digital television takes place, because it will be wholesale slaughter of any administration that steps on the Super Bowl.

Posted by: Less1leg | September 24, 2008 10:11 AM

The Super bowl is on 1 Feb 09, digital conversion is on 17 Feb 09. For a universal remote try the Logitech Harmony at

Posted by: Bill | September 24, 2008 10:41 AM

I put a High gain(36db) HDTV antenna with rotor (PAL connectors) on a 65 foot tower so my feed cable comes in from the antenna to the rotor control then to the converter then to the TV. Once I got the antenna signal peaked I cut the PAL connector off the antenna feed and replaced it with F connector then plugged the antenna into the converter box in order to receive most of the stations at night. When it rains I still lose half of the stations. For rural users this FCC mandate will shut down over-the-air reception and force us to switch to satellite.

Posted by: Kevin | September 25, 2008 1:32 PM

Wow ... it's amazing how different the experiences are with this switch to the more powerful signal. Basically, one needs to understand how it works w/ OTA signals. If a plane flys over your house, your signal will momentarily blip then it comes back ... big woop ... or last night we were having some weather (high winds and rain) and I couldn't get ABC or The CW but so what. I just switched channels and enjoyed "My Name is Earl." God, that's a great funny show ... wow, this is great free stuff - this OTA (over-the-air) signal which we've had avail. forever. How do you think we used to get tv reception before the greedy giants came to town? W/this more powerful signal, I'd be willing to bet that I can watch tv in my old Front Royal house where nothing came in before w/analog and we had to pay Adelphia cable. It's a great day when you don't have to pay! That's all I'm saying.

Posted by: Rush | September 26, 2008 8:31 AM

To anyone who is having problems w/this new digital signal -- do not worry, there is an answer or a solution. It just needs tweeking, that's all.
Once you get it, you will be as thrilled as I. Of course, I've got an advantage too, a roommate who has an electrical and telecommunications background. What we, the public, aren't being told though is that in addition to the converter box, we'll also need an antenna to go along with it. Whether on the set-top or on your roof. I'm sure it's no accident that they aren't explaining this because they (NTIA/Commerce) don't wish to offend the pay tv giants who have been robbing us blind all these years.

Posted by: Rush | September 26, 2008 8:38 AM

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