Digital TV: Tomorrow’s Deadline

CORRECTION: When the federal government makes a decision, that doesn’t mean that the decision is final. Still, I should have gotten this one right. A year ago, the FCC changed the timetable, and the deadline for 25-inches or larger televisions was moved up to March 1, 2006. So that has already passed. And the deadline for 13-inches or larger televisions and all devices was moved to December 31, 2006. Thanks to those who pointed out my error.

The Federal Communications Commission established a deadline that takes effect tomorrow: as of July 1, 2006, all televisions sold in the USA that have screens 25-inches diagonal or larger must include a digital tuner. In one year from tomorrow, this expands to include all televisions 13-inches or larger, as well as any “TV Interface Device” — such as VCRs and DVRs that receive broadcast signals — must also include digital tuners.

This is all in preparation for the February 17, 2009 end of analog television broadcasts in this country. At that point, terrestrial broadcast (as opposed to cable and satellite services) will only provide a digital signal; right now, both analog and digital signals are available. So if you buy a new television 25-inches or larger tomorrow, and get over-the-air signals for your television content, you’ll be able to start receiving the digital TV signals. You need digital signals in order to receive the broadcast HDTV signals, but not all digital broadcasts are in HD, and you don’t need an HDTV to view them; you only need a TV with a digital tuner.

The vast majority of Americans don’t rely on terrestrial broadcast TV any more, however. They get their image signals from a cable or satellite service’s set top box. If this is the case, then you may be able to use a display without any tuner at all. These are called “monitors“, and receive their signal from another source.