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Will DTV Transition Crash and Burn?

Kim Hart

If it goes down anything like the Digital TV Transition Ford during the Virginia NASCAR race this weekend, TV watchers could be in trouble.

The FCC spent $350,000 to sponsor NASCAR team No. 38 in three races. During the team's first race on Sunday, Tums QuikPak 500 at the Martinsville Speedway, the car slammed into the wall on the 485th lap. The driver finished 32nd, according to a blog by the Wall Street Journal.

(Earlier in the race, on the 100th lap or so, driver David Gilliland was in third place.)

The car has the date of the DTV transition -- Feb. 17, 2009 -- and the phrase, "Are you ready for digital?" on its hood.

An FCC spokesman said the car should be fixed and ready for its second go-round. The next races will be at the Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 9 and Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16.

With nearly 8 million TV viewers tuning in weekly during the 10-month NASCAR season, the FCC intends the sponsorship to raise awareness about the transition.

Maybe viewers take more notice of cars that crash. Let's just hope it's not symbolic of what lies ahead in February.

By Kim Hart  |  October 20, 2008; 6:01 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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The transition to digital tv is a huge rip off. Analog TV was not broken. The system works well. This is a gift from the federal govt to big media, content providers, and cell phone companies at the direct expense of the American public. Heck, maybe the conspiracy theorists are even right on this one that digital content is easier for the govt to control. No matter the reason, it's still a huge rip off.

Posted by: Bruce L | October 20, 2008 7:41 PM

Wouldn't "big media" have to pay to upgrade their systems too? I thought it was all about better picture quality and opening up the frequencies so the FCC could sell them to the highest bidder? (better cell reception maybe?) Or is that just what the man wants me to think? :P

Posted by: Eric | October 20, 2008 10:15 PM

i think its definetely a conspiracy, they want to clear up all the airways that the current TV uses up, so they can use it for the "READ ID" cards that everyone will NEED to get by the end of 2009....not to mention these ID cards have a microchip in them, which trace your every movement....call me crazy but thats what i think.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 20, 2008 10:53 PM

DTV is better in some ways, but is way less reliable than analog. Even a poor quality signal is viewable in analog; with digital a spotty signal makes the program completely unwatchable. Overall, DTV is a lousy deal for the public, but highly profitable to the corporate scum that get to steal the freed radio frequencies (previously used for analog TV) for a song - to use these frequencies for private pay-to-use data and cell networks. Once again, corporations conspire with the corrupt government to steal public property, and then charge the public for using what was previously a public asset.

Posted by: AC | October 21, 2008 1:07 AM

The Public doesn't own the airwaves. If we did we'd have more intelligent programs for children to watch instead of the garbage inflicted on them by greedy corporate sponsored junk shows. Digital TV is fantastic. But most American families can't afford to pay thousands of dollars for a TV plus pay a cable company for digital reception.

Posted by: CitzenJane | October 21, 2008 1:34 AM

By transitioning to DTV, we freed the spectrums that were previous occupied by analog TV signal. The government made few bucks by auctioning out these spectrums so people like you and me could enjoy more social welfare without paying more taxes.

By transitioning to DTV, new equipments need to be deployed. For giant corporations that have brought the spectrums, they have to upgrade their current equipment. Production, upgrading, installing, and operating the new equipment create jobs overall. More high tech job like these helps the economy.

As for consumers, we get a $40 government coupon to purchase a Digital TV converter box for free.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 21, 2008 5:40 AM

By transitioning to DTV, we freed the spectrums that were previous occupied by analog TV signal. The government made few bucks by auctioning out these spectrums so people like you and me could enjoy more social welfare without paying more taxes.

By transitioning to DTV, new equipments need to be deployed. For giant corporations that have brought the spectrums, they have to upgrade their current equipment. Production, upgrading, installing, and operating the new equipment create jobs overall. More high tech job like these helps the economy.

As for consumers, we get a $40 government coupon to purchase a Digital TV converter box for free.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 21, 2008 5:40 AM

There are lots of benefits to digital TV and, there is no need for a new TV. A converter box enables old TV sets to receive the new dgital signal. Converter boxes retail at a starting price of $60, and with the $40 coupon it's only $20 for consumers. Not too bad considering the dramatically better sound and picture quality and the availability of more channels.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 21, 2008 9:04 AM

I connected a DTV converter box to an antenna that is approximately 40 miles from each of two cities with broadcast television stations. Using analog signals, ten channels are watchable; with DTV, only four channels are accessible and the signal strengths of those are minimal. Frozen pictures and artifacting seem to be the norm. I could opt to pay for cable, but plan to just watch less TV, instead.

Posted by: ancientTechie | October 21, 2008 10:08 AM

Like a good sheep I obtained the government issued card and picked up a converter box. I currently receive five channels on my analog t.v. After installing the converter box, I received two. One of those was FOX and the other some infantile unknown public service station. Gone were NBC, ABC, and CBS.

Those of us who live in rural areas are being screwed (again) by an incompetent government. Just wait until February 2009 rolls around.

Posted by: Ziggy | October 21, 2008 10:23 AM

With a large antenna about 50 miles from the transmitters in Los Angeles, I did a shoot-out on KCET channel 28. Using an RF splitter, put one TV on analog and the other split went to a Channel Master CM-7000 DTV converter box. Side-by-side, the DTV picture and sound were superior. When the UHF signal faded, the analog got some snow and the digital remained as before. BUT, when the signal faded more, the DTV lost it big time, with ribbons of color and stuttering sound. The analog was still watchable, just a bit more snow. My friends at CBS refer to this as "falling off the digital cliff". Conclusion: This DTV experiment is not yet ready for prime time. It has been in development for over 10 years and just does not work in the real world.

Posted by: Bill | October 21, 2008 10:44 AM

So far I'm not impressed with the digital signals consistency of picture quality over the air with my antenae. I live close enough to get good analog signals and good digital signals. But I get good digital 'most of the time'. The digital gets pixilation drop outs often enough that it's distracting. More so than analog snow or reflection that happens rarely. So we'll see how it all ends up.

Posted by: M in CT | October 21, 2008 12:11 PM

Have Brighthouse cable & still get both analog & HDTV from some stations. HDTV will freeze up, loose sound or just drop off completely. DTV is NOT ready yet despite what the Gov and big co's try to sell you.

Posted by: Barbagris | October 21, 2008 3:58 PM

The ATSC converter boxes all have GPS devices to let the government know what you are watching and even saying near the box. It sends a signal back to the FCC. They have already used the technology to catch a drug dealer in New York City. He was making a drg deal near his box and the cops picked up the conversation in their squad car. They arrested him. When he got out on bail and went home he noticed that his box had to be re-programmed because the cops and the FCC reset his box.

Posted by: Not Crazy | October 21, 2008 5:03 PM

The converter boxes also pick up signals from people's private security cameras. I pick up a fair signal from my neighbor's cameras.

Posted by: tech guy | October 21, 2008 5:06 PM

Many totally ignorant comments here folks.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 22, 2008 10:27 AM

Totally ignorant is kind of an understatement here I think. The police monitoring you through your $20 or $40 converter box? You've got to be kidding!

Now I am by no means an apologist for the FCC, NAB or anyone else. I work at a small Public Television station, though and we've been broadcasting digitally for 6 years I think. All the stations in this market in Massachusetts are on the air with Digital Transmitters. I personally live 40 or 50 miles from any of the transmitters in the area and ironically can't receive the digital signal from our own transmitter right now.

Never-the-less I've had a digital converter box for a few years and just got a new digital HDTV. Generally speaking for most people if you get much of a signal at all analog, you should be able to get a digital signal. Yes its either there or its not, but there's absolutely no comparison to the quality of the Digital signal vs the analog. Whether its hi-def or not, it is sooo much better. In most cases for me, I can't get a great analog signal on many channels, but do get a very clear Digital Signal on a huge number of channels from Mass & CT. In addition most of the stations around here are multi-casting. We carry 4 streams on our Digital Transmitter. The ABC affiliate in Springfield also has Fox on one of their digital streams. A couple stations do weather 24/7 on a second channel. Most people in most places can get way more channels that look much better than they can from analog. Sure there are exceptions, but for the vast majority of people that is a fact.

Sure I agree that there are plenty of people/corps that will probably get rich at our expense over this whole deal and the FCC has handled this whole thing poorly as usual.

But the old NTSC analog broadcast standard was getting pretty tired, and we were way overdue to move into the 21st century on this.

I think this is Y2K all over again. There's a few people that are going to wait till they lose their analog signal to do something and will struggle for a month or 2 until they get a converter hooked up and working, but for 98% of the country this is going to be pretty painless, particularly if you have cable or satellite in which case nothing will change. And if you can't see the difference in a digital and particularly a hi-def signal over an analog one, you're not being honest.

Posted by: PBS guy | October 22, 2008 2:15 PM

NTSC, the name of the analog TV standard stood for National Television Standards Committee. But as must people have seen over the years, it has been called-Never Twice Same Color, and it is 60 years old.

One thing nobody has mentioned is that in February when they cut over, MOST stations who are broadcasting an analog signal on channels 2-13 will have their digital signal on the same channel. So comparing the signal coverage of their UHF station to what it will be is not directly comparable...some will be better, some worse.
Here in NW Oregon, channel 2 has had the worst signal..but because the cut over is so expensive, they will join everyone else on the same tower after the cutover, so their signal should dramatically improve.

Posted by: Mike | October 22, 2008 2:49 PM

What I don't understand, is the NASCAR broadcast is only seen by 8 million people a week. And I guarantee you the majority of viewers are cable or sattelite subscribers, so this would not even affect them. The only people who don't know by now either A. don't care B. rarely watch tv. They have been advertising this for well over a year now.

And a message to Bill. Did you try testing without a splitter to see if digital worked even better. There is quite a bit of signal loss when you go through a splitter.

Posted by: John | October 22, 2008 3:12 PM

Some digital TV station less than 15 miles away do not come in with my roof top antenna. Another station which according to the FCC is in the identical direction does come in very good. This is likely because the signal strengths or patterns are different. Hopefully when the analog transmitters shut down the digital stations will have high enough power transmitters to reach all of the former analog viewers. If not they will lose viewers and hhopefully advertising revenues.

Posted by: George | October 22, 2008 5:47 PM

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