Digital TV Transition: Rough Terrain Ahead?

Depending on who is keeping score, about 75% of Americans now admit to having at least heard something about the upcoming transition to digital terrestrial — “over the air” — broadcast of television signals, and the end of analog broadcasts on February 17, 2009. We’ll ignore for the moment that this means at least one in four viewers is not aware of the pending change.

But here’s a detail that most of the 75% almost certainly don’t know. For those of the 17 million U.S. households currently receiving only analog signals over the air, more than half of them are likely to experience problems with digital TV signal reception, according to a study by the market research firm Centris. The company estimated the signal reception as it might be affected by distance and terrain. Viewers in “challenging reception areas” may not be able to receive the digital signals from the same stations that they can now receive in analog format.

In some cases, it may be possible to boost reception by upgrading to a better antenna or by adding a signal amplifier. In some cases, however, it is likely that some homes that can receive analog broadcasts now will not be able to receive the digital signals.

If you use over-the-air broadcasts for some or all of your television programming, I urge you to try your digital reception now using your existing antenna. You can do this by getting a digital converter box for your television, or by upgrading to a new television that includes a digital tuner. See what your reception quality is like now, before you have to depend on it. It is true that some stations will change their assigned channels and signal strength after the transition date next year which could improve the situation, but it’s a good idea to test your setup now so that you can make any necessary changes to your antenna system now.