Digital TV conversion nears

First Posted: 1/14/2009

By now everyone should have seen the public service announcements warning of a major change affecting television broadcasting which will occur next month.
But local electronics and TV dealers are expecting increased traffic by consumers as the conversion to an all-digital format approaches on Feb. 17.
Weve actually had more people come by in the last couple of days than weve been having in a while, Shenna Burchette, an employee of Radio Shack in Mayberry Mall, said Tuesday of customers obtaining converter boxes needed for the changeover.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is requiring all full-power television stations to cease broadcasting their standard analog signals at midnight on Feb. 17 and begin transmitting digital signals only. The overall goal is improved picture quality due to digital TV being superior to that of analog signals.
However, this will require action on the part of some consumers with older TV sets who are now getting signals through an antenna. In order to receive broadcasts after the mid-February change, those analog sets and the antennas feeding them will need to be connected to a digital converter box. This will include every such set in a home.
Viewers can avoid this if they have newer TVs equipped with built-in digital tuners, which the FCC has required all sets manufactured after March 1, 2007 to have. A check of the owners manual should determine whether a set contains a tuner.
Also, next months switchover will not affect customers who subscribe to a cable television or satellite service, since those providers already are transmitting digital signals on their systems.
Meanwhile, those with older sets and antennas will have to attach the converter boxes to avoid having their screens go blank at midnight a little more than a month from now.
I can tell you that nationwide they estimate that about 15 percent of the households still use antennas as their main source of entertainment, said Mike Wood, co-owner of Woods TV Inc. on Worth Street. Woods is among several local businesses that offer digital converter boxes.

Coupon plan extended
A federal government program that offered $40 coupons to help consumers meet the expense of the boxes is still available, according to Wood.
Although a Dec. 31 deadline to apply for those special vouchers has passed, Wood said that the government started a waiting list on Jan. 4 that will enable consumers to yet obtain coupons. This is because some people who originally applied for the coupons did not use them by an expiration date, which is freeing up vouchers for others.
I feel if you got your name on a waiting list now, you would be assured of a voucher, Wood said. But it might be a couple of weeks after Feb. 17.
Woods TV offers two different models of Access HD converter boxes, one that costs $10 with a coupon and the other $20 with a coupon.
Radio Shack also offers converter boxes for about $60, of the Digital Stream and Zenith brand names.
Consumers can add their names to the coupon waiting list by calling 1-888-388-2009; faxing a request to 1-877-388-4632; doing so by mail to P.O. Box 200, Portland, Ore., 97208; or going online at
Wood said the boxes are relatively easy to install, comparing it to hooking up a VCR.
Burchette, of Radio Shack, said that diagrams that come with units aid the procedure.
While TV stations have continually carried announcements about the impending change for about a year, local businesses are expecting increased interest by consumers as Feb. 17 nears, reflecting some peoples tendency to wait until the last minute.
But both Radio Shack and Woods TV are well supplied with converter boxes and should be able to meet any late-hour demand. Weve got three or four cases in stock, said the Woods co-owner.
Two other local businesses, K-Mart and Wal-Mart, also were identified as providers of the boxes.
Overall, Wood believes the public-notification campaign has helped people prepare for the changeover. Im actually surprised how informed the people are, he said. I think it has been a very successful program, or campaign.

Weaker signals
While digital signals provide a better TV image, one drawback to them is not being able to travel through the air for as long of a distance as analog signals. While some people now can receive broadcasts from stations 120 miles away using an antenna, that will drop to 60 to 80 miles with the digital conversion, Wood said.
This likely will cause some problems in a sprawling county such as Surry with areas of hilly terrain located far from some TV stations. As a result of the weaker reception, some residents in this area will lose access to network television.
For example, Channel 8, a FOX affiliate in High Point, broadcasts a relatively weak signal that might be difficult for some in Surry to pick up after the Feb. 17 conversion. One recourse for those citizens will be signing up for cable or satellite service.
There are going to be people subscribing to satellite and cable TV services they never thought about subscribing to before, just because of that lost network or two, Wood said.
Some people might need to get a new antenna, Burchette said of another alternative, stronger antennas. And ours are amplified, she added of those available at Radio Shack.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected], or at 719-1924.

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