Photos – WNBC4 (top) WPIX11 (bottom)
Today, June 12, 2009 marks the end of over sixty years of regularly scheduled analog TV broadcasts. The remaining 974 full power TV stations will switch off their analog transmitters.  Here are some last minute tips and info for you, your friends and family members that have not prepared properly for the switchover.

How Many Households Are Affected?

According to the AP, “Research firm SmithGeiger LLC said Thursday that about 2.2 million households were still unprepared as of last week.” The survey was commissioned by the National Association of Broadcasters surveying 948 households that relied on antennas. They reported 1 in 8 homes have not connected a digital TV or digital converter box.

Research firm Nielsen Co. survey says 2.8 million households, which equals 2.5% of the US market are not prepared.

Satellite and Cable Subscribers

Older analog TVs in your home that receive local broadcasts via cable or satellite subscriptions will experience no change. These program providers will seamlessly switch over to the digital broadcast. The signal will be converted to an analog signal your TV accepts (in either the cable systems head end or the box depending on the cable provider). Don’t worry, be happy.

Homes That Use Antennas to Receive Broadcast TV

If your analog TV currently receives local analog broadcasts via an indoor or roof antenna, you will need to purchase a DTV converter box for $40-$60. You can still obtain a $40 coupon from the government, however you will need to wait until it arrives before you can use it. Here’s the (LINK) regarding the program.

If you already have the converter and are currently receiving digital broadcasts you may need to rescan the tuner after your local stations switch off their respective analog signals. Why? In a number of markets the broadcasters are going to change the actual channel (frequency) they are using to send the digital signal.

Don’t confuse the DTV system’s “virtual” channel number such as 7-1 with the actual channel (frequency) of the broadcast signal. For example, WABC-DT in New York City (NYC) pre-analog shut off  digital channel is in the UHF band at channel 45, though when you tune you converter (or digital tuner equipped TV) the on-screen display shows it as 7-1. Today WABC when it shuts off its analog signal at 2:00 pm, the digital transmitter’s frequency moves to VHF channel 7. Your digital TV or set top box will no longer pick up ABC-DT until you rescan the set top box’s tuner (see the owner’s manual for instructions, each brand has its own procedure). If you want to learn which stations in your market are changing frequencies today, go to the FCC website (LINK) and click “full power stations list” at the top right side column. It will provide you with an Excel spreadsheet showing the stations in every market and their respective analog and digital channel frequencies.  Look up your area and see if any of the local stations in you market are going to change channels, and note the pre-transition channel of the digital station and post transition channel number.

There are two separate frequency bands for digital TV broadcasts, VHF covers channels 2-13 UHF channels will now range from Ch. 14-Ch. 50. Before today’s transition, some stations were broadcasting on channels higher than 50, all of those must move down channel today.

Reception Issues

Households receiving over-the-air signals need an antenna connected to the digital converter box (or a TV with built in DTV tuner). Receiving analog or digital broadcast signals prior to today doesn’t guarantee you will continue to see all the channels you’ve been watching for years. Why?  There are two reasons. As stated above, many digital stations are moving frequencies today.   There are two basic types of TV antennas. They are UHF only and combination VHF/UHF. In a number of markets (including NYC) all the digital stations have been broadcasting on the UHF band. Today three NYC market stations (WABC WPIX and WNET) are moving from the UHF band to the VHF band where their respective analog signals were located. If you’ve been using a “UHF only antenna”(two of the most common are called loop and bow tie because of their shape) these signals may disappear. If they do, you will need to replace your antenna with a VHF/UHF combo antenna to resume reception.

The other issue relates to households that until now have only been viewing analog channels. Digital signals have a reception threshold. If the signal you receive is weak you will see nothing or get the picture with intermittent freezing and or breakup indicating your current antenna is not compatible with the new digital signals properties. If the picture is breaking up, you may want to first try to insert a TV signal amplifier between the antenna and the convertor. It may boost the signal enough to provide a continuous image. Radio Shack sells this type of amplifier and they take returns if it does not do the job.  If the amp doesn’t do the job you will need to purchase a new antenna with more gain to replace the antenna you were using for analog signals. Note, as analog signals get weaker, you see video noise mixed with the picture called snow in the picture. Digital signals can’t produce snow, only a clean noise free image or one that breaks up or doesn’t display any image if you are not using an adequate antenna. For help choosing the right antenna go to http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/dtvantennas.html

Help Is Available

The broadcasters, retailers and charitable organizations have all pitched in provide help for anyone having technical problems making the switch over. There are 4,000 FCC customer service operators to provide phone assistance at 1-888-CALL FCC. If you need someone to come over to your aunt’s house out of state to install her digital converter box, there is a list of companies and organizations that have volunteered to make a free house call. You can find list by entering her zip code in the upper right corner of the home page at www.dtv.gov

Your local broadcasters have pitched in too. You can find your local broadcasters DTV contact numbers on the same web page on the right hand side after entering your local zip code. Hopefully you’ll be more successful making contact than the HD Guru. Of the top seven NYC stations DTV hot line numbers called  yesterday, only three had someone manning the line.

Final Comments

Rural areas that have low powered analog stations and repeaters will continue to broadcast low power signals in select markets.

118 stations will keep their analog signals going up to 30 days, broadcasting a National Association of Broadcasters loop explaining the DTV switch and a a slide (pictured above). The photo above of WNBC , the first network station to drop analog programming in the NYC market.

If you are seeing digital signals for the first time on an analog 4:3 aspect ratio TV, you may see black bars on the top and bottom of the image. This is normal. It occurs because many digital programs are broadcast in wide screen (16:9) high definition. While the HD signal will be downcoverted to standard def within your DTV converter , the image will retain its 16:9 aspect ratio, resulting in the top/bottom black bars called “letterboxing”. You may have not seen this shrunken image previously when you viewed the same program in analog, as many shows were transmitted in a 4:3 aspect ratio version version for the analog feed.  Fortunately, many DTV converter boxes have an “aspect ratio” button on the remote control that allows you to zoom the picture to fill the entire screen; however the right and left sides of the image will be cut off.

Stations may power down their analog transmitters anytime today up to 11:59:59 PM. Call your local stations (phone number List) if you want the exact time of their respective shut off. Otherwise, simply repeat a channel scan periodically throughout the day.

Have a question for the HD Guru?

Copyright ©2009 HD Guru Inc.  All rights reserved.  HDGURU is a registered trademark.  The content and photos within may not be distributed electronically or copied mechanically without specific written permission.  The content within is based upon information provided to the editor, which is believed to be reliable.  Data within is subject to change.  HD GURU is not responsible for errors or omissions.