DTV Changeover: Two Years to Go!

Where will you be when the analog broadcasts of television in the U.S. stop? In two years from this weekend, the nation’s TV broadcasts of analog signals will go dark. The FCC has come to the realization that most Americans are unaware of this scheduled event, and don’t understand its significance. Organizations such as the Consumer Electronics Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association are launching campaigns to help educate consumers, but it will take a long time to get the word out.

So what do you need to know about the transition to digital TV broadcasts, and what should you do about it?

First, digital broadcasts are happening right now in just about every TV market. Just like analog broadcasts, these are free, over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts of television signals from your local television stations.

In order to receive these signals, you need an antenna. The frequencies are similar to the analog broadcasts, so an existing antennal may work for you. You can get new antennas that are tuned for the digital signals, however, which may improve your reception.

You also need a digital tuner in your television (or any other device that receives broadcast television signals). All products with a television tuner must have a digital tuner starting at the end of March of this year, so if you buy any TV or video recorder, it will likely have a digital tuner. Look for “ATSC tuner” or “Built-in HD” or “Integrated HD” on the spec sheets or advertisements to find products with digital tuners.

You do not need a digital tuner if you only rely on cable or satellite for your broadcast television content. You already have a settop box or similar device that receives the signal from these services, and that will continue to work. It is not related to the changeover to digital broadcasts.

And just because you get OTA digital broadcasts does not mean that you’ll be watching everything in high-definition. If you have an HDTV with a digital tuner, then you will be able to watch any programming that is broadcast in HD, but at present, that is limited to prime time shows and sporting events (and not even all of those are in HD). And while you can watch digital television on a standard definition television, you won’t get the extra detail of the HD images on the shows that are in HD.