Okay, it has finally been decided. At least until Congress changes its mind. Yesterday, the Senate approved a spending bill that contained a provision for the date that analog TV broadcasts will cease in the US: February 18, 2009. The government apparently won’t wait until then to collect on the windfall of the radio frequencies that will be freed up by the changeover to digital broadcasts. The spectrum will be auctioned off starting by January 2008, and is expected to bring in $10 billion for the federal coffers.
There is no need to panic over this news. If you are like the majority of television viewers in the United States, you get your video signals from a cable or satellite connection, and the change from analog to digital broadcasting doesn’t affect you at all. It’s only if you use an antenna to get “free” broadcast programming that you’ll be affected. You will either need to get a new television — one with a digital tuner — or a converter that will accept the digital signal from the antenna and convert it to something that you can show on your existing old-fashioned analog set. Expect competition to be stiff in this converter market, and there will also be some sort of subsidy program from the federal government to help cover the cost of converters. By the time the changeover is made, it shouldn’t cost you much to switch to digital signals.
If you do buy a new television between now and 2009, however, and you rely on over-the-air broadcasts (also called “terrestrial broadcasts” to distinguish them from satellites), then seriously consider getting a set with a digital tuner, also known as an “ATSC tuner”. You may need to get a new antenna as well, depending on your location, but you’ll be able to enjoy digital television which can give you more channels, and even high-definition content if your display can support the higher resolution.
Or you could just simply plan to get cable or satellite service, and not worry about the problem at all.