No, I didn’t misspell that title.
Now that I have two TVs and a converter box and have had time to play around with them, now that two of our local TV stations have dropped their analog signals, I think I have a pretty good idea how well digital TV is going to work and it’s not a pretty picture.
The TV industry and the FCC are telling us how great it is and how easy it will be to receive local TV programming once analog TV is gone. Here’s my take on the Myths and misconceptions about digital TV, a subject I have written about before, but still is an issue.
1. Digital TV is High Definition. FALSE. It can be. But it probably won’t be. Most of what is on digital TV (DTV) is still in the same resolution they put on the analog signal and at the same old squareish 4:3 aspect ration. More and more content is coming out, though in the wide screen aspect ratios that you will like to see if you buy a new flat-screen TV. The networks have spent the money and will soon be nearly 100% wide screen, but it’s still far from HD. Of course, there are so many different levels of high definition TV, that it’s hard to decide which are true HD.
2. DTV is better. FALSE. A digital TV signal is beautiful to behold. If you can see it. The truth about digital TV is, it is all or nothing. While it comes in, a DTV signal is pure and clean, no snow, perfect color, perfect sound. But as soon as it gets a little weak, or some electrical noise comes along, what do you see? With analog TV, you might see a few white dots mixed in your picture. You might hear a buzz. With Digital TV, the screen goes blank. You get nothing until the signal gets back to perfect. One of my TVs doesn’t even recover, you have to change the channel and come back to get it to redisplay the channel.
3. The FCC brought you digital TV to make TV better for you to watch. WRONG! The main reason for DTV is to squeeze the TV stations into a smaller piece of the radio spectrum so the can reallocate some of it for other purposes. Most DTV signals are ending up being shifted to UHF channels. Remember, just because you see a DTV channel say it is 4-1 or 7-1 doesn’t mean it is on channel 4 or 7. The channel number is programmed on the data carried by the signal and could just as easily be A or B or X as a number. They call it 4-1 so you will associate it with it’s old analog channel 4.
4. I don’t need a special antenna, the one I have on my roof will work fine. YES and NO. Many of the new digital stations will be on UHF frequencies, although not all. You will need to do a little research and see where your local stations will end up. If you currently have a good VHF-UHF TV antenna, it will probably work okay, but if it’s a little weak on the UHF end, you might need an upgrade. The good news is, UHF antennas are smaller than the VHF or UHF/VHF combos. One problem I’ve found is using a rotator to aim the antenna can be a problem. With analog TV, you just watch the screen and turn until you get the best picture. With DTV, there is no picture until the signal reaches a point where it can be decoded, then there is no difference in picture as you swing through the signal’s peak. You almost have to know where to point the antenna in advance. The converter box I have has a menu option with a signal strength indicator, a nice idea that both TVs lack. You can get information about all this at Antennaweb.org. Here in Buffalo, we will be left with only one VHF station after the transition, WNGS in Springville, and they won’t go on-air until after June 12th because they have to wait for WKBW to vacate channel 7.
5. What do you mean UHF? It’s channel 2, 4, and 7. Aren’t they VHF channels? NO. The funny thing about the channel your TV displays is, it is encoded in the data sent along with the signal. Our channel 2 is on 33, 7 is on 38, 29 is 14, 17 is 43, 23 is 32, and they don’t even list channel 4’s new assignment.
6. I don’t need a new TV, mine will work just fine with a converter box. MAYBE. Unless you bought a rare flat-screen TV that doesn’t have a digital tuner built-in, your TV is only going to last so long anyway. Old style CRT televisions are not energy-efficient and let’s face it, it’s just not practical to have them repaired anymore. When it goes, it will be cheaper to replace it than fix it. Prices are dropping and by next Christmas, you’ll find a new set awfully attractive.