Prepare Yourself For DTV (Digital Television)
The DTV Train has left its home station and will be making many stops over the next two years. I hope you will heed my advice and get on board or you will be left out in the cold, dark reality of No TV. As with any trip, there are different classes of fares and discount opportunities. After reading this post, please feel free to contact me for specific advice.
By February 17, 2009 all television signals in the USA will be required to be broadcast digitally. If you own a TV, this new regulation WILL affect you. Most people receive their television feed from one of three sources. (1) Free, over the air programming with a “rabbit ears” antenna or a larger antenna mounted outside the home, (2) Cable TV, or (3) Direct to home satellite TV, from companies like DirecTV or DISH Network.
I will break down your options by placing you into two categories — those who will be buying a new TV before 02/17/2009 (or the few of you who have already bought some form of digital television) and those who aren’t buying a new one. The most important thing you have to remember is that YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BUY A NEW TV TO BE COMPLIANT WITH THE DTV LAW!!
You may be totally happy with your TV. You may have purchased a set within the past few years (like I did) and not known anything about the DTV law. It’s possible that a slick salesman may have ran the idea by you and you opted for an analog TV anyway. Then, there of those of you who have no intention of replacing your 13 year old TV until the picture tube burns out. I appreciate the frugal among us and I am pleased to say that DTV won’t be a hard pill to swallow. Very few people that I deal with receive free TV broadcasts with a in-home or roof mounted antenna. To use a hip-hop term, that is pretty “old school.” Keeping this brief, I will tell you that you need to purchase a digital converter box to receive the free digitally broadcast signals. Beginning in 2008, the US Government will provide households that rely on free over the air TV with up to two $40 coupons to purchase these boxes. There are very few on the market right now, but Asian factories have begun producing them in mass quantities to meet future demand. If you rely on cable for programming, you can simply rent a digital cable box for your television. My cable company, Comcast, does not require its subscribers to pay for additional programming as a requirement for renting a digital cable box. In the Hartford, CT area, they charge approximately $5.50 per month for your first box. These devices are much more space efficient than they used to be, now sporting the same dimensions as a cable (Internet) modem. The lease fee includes free access to about 30 audio only music channels, helpful guides and menus, and 200 free movies, updated regularly that can be played at your convenience. I would hope that by 2009 cable providers would also offer a leased box option for about $1 to $2 per month that would simply cover the box without extra perks. Due to frequent theft of cable service, you are not allowed to purchase your own cable box at this time. If you subscribe to one of the two major home satellite services, DirecTV or DISH, and do not plan on purchasing a new TV — you probably don’t have to do anything. Those two providers do not offer a non-digital option like cable does. Without your satellite receiver (box), you simply do not have service, period!! If you have not upgraded your receiver in 5 or 6 years, check with your satellite provider just to make sure your box is digital. There is a good chance that they will give you a basic digital receiver for FREE if it has been some time since you upgraded.
If you are buying a new TV in the next few years, make sure it is a digital set. As 2009 draws near, analog sets will become harder and harder to find. After 2008, I believe the government will require all new televisions sold measuring over 13 inches to have basic digital compatibility. When you go shopping you will see DTV complaint sets classified as SDTV, EDTV or HDTV. I’m not going to get too technical with you here because it could get confusing. It doesn’t matter what form factor of TV you buy. If you want the lowest cost option there are many picture tube TV sets that are SDTV at a bare minimum, and range from $300 to $500. If you want a TV with a larger screen size consider a projection TV or “flat screen” TV (defined here as LCD or Plasma). I will consider addressing those difference in build materials in another Update or a future print edition of The Acronym.
The picture quality of an SDTV set is not that much better than an analog TV set but it is merely complaint with the DTV regulations. Essentially, it produces the same effect as renting a digital cable box for your older TV. I do not see too many sets marked as EDTV, but this standard does provide a better picture quality (480 lines of progressive scan resolution or 480p) and can be found in either standard screen size (4:3) or wide screen (16:9) formats. With the lack of EDTV models on the market making them a non-issue for most buyers, you will likely be considering SDTV sets vs. HDTV sets. If you want the best picture quality available, High Definition Television is the way to go and the TV of the future. HDTV sets are rectangular in shape (wide screen) and will provide you with a true movie theater at home experience. In my research, I have seen HDTVs range in size from 26 inches to a whopping 70 inches. These screens display either 720 lines of progressive scan resolution, 1080 lines of interlaced resolution or both. I have assisted 2 family members in purchasing HDTVs in the past year and I will tell you that the picture quality of HDTV programming is so real, its like being at the game or at the scene of the crime (big Law and Order fan here). Please understand that 100% of programming is not broadcast in HDTV and it never will be. 100% of programming will be digital by 02/17/2009, and your HDTV set will deliver all of it to you on a silver platter, for sure. For those of you who think of your TV as an occasional convenience and not an essential part of your life, spending the extra $$ for a high definition set could be an overkill. Only you can make that judgment, and I am certainly here to help you. Just ask. Generally speaking, I have seen HDTVs range from $600 to infinity. Since these TV’s are rectangular in shape, non-HDTV programming will appear in the traditional 4:3, square format. This leaves some space on the sides. If you see this as my grandparents do, you might think screen size is being wasted and force all shows into wide screen mode. Don’t do this as it only distorts your picture quality. If this quirk worries you, buy a slightly larger TV than you have now to make up for the “cropping” of non HDTV programs, ie. a 37 inch in replacement of a 32 inch set. I look forward to your inquiries.