Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Digital TV? I gotcha digit right here!

I've watched with amusement this whole switch to digital TV.

Of course, the government got involved and screwed it all up.

The Congress had set February 17, 2009, as the date when TV stations would stop broadcasting analog signals. Prior to all this, some stations were simultaneously broadcasting ("simulcasting") analog and digital signals.

The old TVs we all grew up watching are analog. Newer TVs might still receive analog signals, but they all receive digital signals, too. That's because Congress said that stations would have to stop broadcasting analog next month. The idea is that if those frequencies aren't used by TV stations, they can be used for other purposes.

Each analog TV channel takes up a wide bandwidth. Channel 2, for instance, is 55.25 MHz, but covers 54-60 MHz range. That is, the channel has the range of 54-60 MHz reserved, and properly tuned, it's 55.25 MHz. The spacing on each side is to prevent other sources (including adjacent channels) from interfering.

Your FM radio works the same way. If you notice, you will see that all FM stations have odd numbers in the decimal point. Say your favorite station is at 95.5 MHz. If you travel around, you'll eventually find a station at 95.3 and at 95.7 MHz. You won't find one at 95.4 or 95.6 MHz. That's so that there's a padding of .1 MHz on each side of each radio station to cut down interference.

AM radio has a similar process, but it's a larger padding. For instance, you might find a station at 1110 KHz, and another at 1120 KHz or 1100 KHz. But none at 1111-1119 KHz. The pad keeps stations from interfering.

TV channels do the same thing, but have a larger padding that's necessary because of the nature of the signals and the equipment.

Digital TV wouldn't need as much spacing. That means you can get more channels in less overall bandwidth, because they can sit closer to each other, or require less padding on each side.

That would free up a wide range of frequencies for other uses.

You see, lots of different technologies use frequencies between other technologies.

For example, on analog TV, channel 6 is 82-88 MHz. Channel 7 is 174-180 MHz. What takes up all that space in between 88 and 174 MHz? Lots of things. Including your favorite FM radio station.

So, digital TV makes sense from the efficiency standpoint.

But, there's more.

There's HDTV.

Some might think digital TV and HDTV are the same thing. They're not. HDTV is digital, but not all digital is HDTV.

Anyway, digital TV (including HDTV) is an improvement on things. In my opinion. But why should you have to do anything because I said so?

You don't.

But Congress says you should.

And they said that analog TV would stop broadcasting next month.

That means that if you get your signal over the air, you won't be able to receive signals after the cutoff. Unless you can also receive digital signals.

Keep in mind that if you get all your TV channels from cable or satellite, you're okay. More on this in a minute.

Older TVs won't handle digital signals. So, someone came up with digital converter boxes. You can buy them at Walmart. When they have them in stock.

Now, they cost about $50 each. And everyone who has an older TV and receives over-the-air broadcasts would have to pony up some cash to keep watching TV.

So, the government decided to help out. They offered discount cards for $40 off a digital converter box. So many people ordered cards that they ran out of funding for the discount cards.

Now, Congress is working to delay the cutoff. The Senate voted to move it to June. The House may follow suit.

What does all this mean?

The Congress messed things up. In other words, business as usual.

The whole process is screwed up.

First, digital TV is better. However, what good does it do to someone like my 95-year old grandmother who wants to watch Matlock? Not much. (Now, I should say that my grandmother has cable, and isn't impacted by the switch to digital. But someone else's grandmother might be impacted by the switch.)

Despite the fact that digital is better, the market will bear out things as the people want.

If enough people want digital TV, then the market will push digital TV.

True, the market sometimes makes bad decisions. Like VHS over Betamax. Betamax was better quality, but VHS took the market and Betamax died.

IBM PC technology took over the personal computer market. I personally think Mac is better, but PC rules the market. However, Mac and Linux are still around, although others have fallen by the wayside.

The bottom line is that the market will let people choose change at the rate they want change. If they want change.

People don't always make the best decisions regarding change. Just look at the recent presidential election.

But if you want a really bad decision, just turn it over to Congress.


  1. [...] Who would have imagined that Congress could have created a huge, unworkable, burdensome process … then screwed it up even worse? (No Ratings Yet)  Loading ... [...]

  2. Digital TV is the future. And it needs to come. The main issue is, whose fault is it that some people still don't have the appropriate equipment for the new era of television? It's the consumers fault. For nearly TWO years, commercials have been bombarding networks, informing viewers of the digital transition and of the necessary converter box that viewers will need to purchase. Two years passed, and still some people failed to act. Now, those who did not take the responsibility to prepare for the future of broadcasting are failing to take the responsibility for their own excessive procrastination.

    Consumers, you had fair warning.

  3. You're a little off on how the bandwidth aspect of TV works.

    The reason that it takes 6MHz to contain a TV signal is because that is how much it takes to transmit the whole picture. The 55.25 frequency is the center of the video carrier. You also have the audio carrier, which must be kept separate from the video. It still takes 6MHz to transmit a digital signal, but you can transmit more data in that 6MHz than just a single video and audio feed.

    You remarked about what's in between 88 and 174. Bottom to top, it's the FM radio band, the Aviation radio band, Military, Amateur Radio, Military (again), private and commercial Land Mobile radio (think cops, firefighters, businesses, taxi cabs, pagers, etc.), and lastly, Federal Government.

    Still, I agree with your whole premise. You had 2 years worth of PSAs, promos, countdowns produced by local stations, bumpers on the local news programs, and even actual tests where graphics proclaiming "You're f**ked" were run on the analog feed. There's even a "nightlight" provision for broadcasters to be able to leave their analog transmitters up and running at a reduced power for people that can't or won't change.


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