I’ve been doing my best to spread the word about the details of the upcoming transition to digital-only terrestrial broadcasts of television signals. One of the key points I’ve try to stress is that if you have cable or satellite service, you will not be affected by the digital changeover when it happens next February (or this coming Labor Day, if you happen to live in Wilmington, NC). I’m very careful how I state this; you will not be affected by the changeover, but that does not mean that you won’t be affected by some other change.
I’ve received some angry email from readers who say that they are cable subscribers and they already have been affected by the switch from analog to digital. And earlier this month, USA TODAY ran an excellent story about the problem many cable subscribers are experiencing as their local cable provider tries to push them to switch from analog to digital service.
Cable companies want to move to digital because it lets them transmit HDTV content. It also lets them transmit more content over the same infrastructure than they can with analog signals, just like the terrestrial broadcasters. And digital makes all sorts of interactive features possible, such as video recording and programming guides.
The problem is that traditional analog sets cannot work with these digital signals. You can get a set-top box (STB) that will connect your analog TV to digital service, but many homes have second or third TV sets that are connected directly to the cable without an STB. Some providers have been cutting back the number of “free” channels included with their basic analog service as a means of encouraging subscribers to switch to digital, but this has been a source of irritation for many customers. The solution may be a digital to analog converter box — something less than a full blown STB — that will take the basic digital cable service signal and convert it for use on an analog TV. And this is an added complication that some subscribers will resist.
The bottom line is that just because you’re a cable subscriber does not mean that you won’t experience hassles with the conversion from analog to digital service. The difference between this and the terrestrial broadcast change, however, is that it is not mandated by the federal government, but is a business decision made by the cable companies.
Due to some unexpected travel coupled with a short vacation, the HDTV Almanac postings for the past week were not put up in a timely manner. I have backfilled the missing days and now am caught up, and I intend to keep up with my weekday publication schedule in the future. So thanks for your patience, and I hope you keep reading the HDTV Almanac.