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Digital TV is coming. Are you ready?
by rob

The future where everything is digital is an unstoppable juggernaut. At midnight, February 17, 2009, TV stations across the country will go 100% digital and stop broadcasting in analog. Many people have questions about what will happen and how it will affect them. In this Random Access article, I'll try to make everything clear.

Why switch?
In December 2005, the U.S. government passed legislation forcing TV stations to switch from analog to digital broadcasting in 2009. Digital TV promises a clearer picture, crisper sound and more programming options than analog. Digital TV also uses bandwidth much more efficiently than analog, freeing up airwaves for use by public safety and emergency services.

Am I affected?
If you're using a cable or satellite box, you're not even using the tuner inside your TV. The box is doing all the translating needed so you should not be affected by the change.

If you use an antenna to receive over-the-air signals (signals sent by broadcast television stations through airwaves), the tuner built into your TV is the critical piece. TVs manufactured after March 1, 2007 should have built-in digital (ATSC) tuners. Older TVs may have only an analog (NTSC) tuner. Check your user manual for an ATSC tuner or receiver. Those of you with analog tuners will be in the dark come February 17, 2009.

How can I be ready?
If you'll miss out on analog over-the-air programming, you can do one of three things. New TVs manufactured after March 1, 2007 include built-in digital tuners so you could buy yourself that new flat-panel TV you've been drooling over. You could subscribe to cable or satellite service. Or, you can purchase a digital-to-analog converter box for about $50 to $70. In an attempt to defray the cost for those with older TVs, the U.S. government is making $40 vouchers available for purchase of a converter box. These converter boxes should be available soon at your local Micro Center.

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