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GAO report highlights potential for trouble in US DTV transition

Written by Rich Fiscus @ 11 Jun 2008 5:08 User comments (8)

GAO report highlights potential for trouble in US DTV transition If you live in the US you're hopefully already aware of the Digital TV (DTV) transition that will be occuring next February. At that time nearly all analog television broadcasts will be shut off forever, replaced by DTV signals which require an ATSC tuner, and for older TVs the use of a special converter box. But if you didn't know about it, or aren't yet prepared according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) you're not alone.
First the good news. The GAO indicates 84% of the public is aware of the transition. Unfortunately that knowledge doesn't equate to understanding what, if anything, they must do to prepare. Even among those who said they plan to take advantage of the government program which provides $40 voucher cards to consumers for purchasing converter boxes, only a third actually knew how to get them.

The outlook for people who don't need to worry about transition isn't much better either. The report states "Amongst those unaffected by the transition, 30 percent indicated they have plans to ready themselves for the transition—despite the fact that no action will be required to maintain television service."

This includes those with digital TVs and newer analog models with digital tuners. Subscribers to cable and satellite services will also be unaffected.

Perhaps the most troubling concern voiced in the report is the issue of low power broadcasters who won't be required to make the digital transition right away. While no numbers were given on the number of analog broadcasters expected to remain, the GAO cautions "any consumers do not know the difference between full-power and low-power stations or whether the signals they receive are full or low power."

In order to continue receiving analog broadcasts consumers will need either a digital converter box that also features an analog tuner or a switch box. Currently there

Overall the outlook for TV stations themselves was generally more optomistic. The GAO found that the majority of broadcasters who will be required to cease analog broadcasts in 2009 already have a digital signal available, and in fact many are already broadcasting at full power.

However the report indicates that 5 percent of stations "plan to flash cut to a digital-only broadcast." It goes on to explain "According to FCC, flash cutting may present challenges, since it will involve stations’ ending their analog television operations and beginning their digital television operations on their current analog channel or, in some cases, will require that a station change to a new channel to be fully operational."

If all of this makes you nervous perhaps you'll take comfort in FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's faith that things will go well. In fact he's so confident that the agency won't even be conducting a real-world test for another three months. Hopefully everything will go better than predicted by some experts since it will leave less than six months to address any problems they encounter.

If you want to make sure your ready for the DTV cutover make sure to check out our article from last Februrary, which includes information on what you need to know and how to get converter box vouchers. You can also visit our Hardware Section to find out more about what converter boxes can be purchased using the vouchers.

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8 user comments

111.6.2008 10:51

Is it just me or do all the TV commercials and media attention to this transition seem like a waste of money?
I mean the NAB must be spending a truckload of money to inform the remaining 10,000 people that still use rabbit ears on an analog TV that they aren't going to have a signal in 8 months.
They could have upgraded those few to HDTV for a whole lot less.

211.6.2008 10:57

I live in the states. If the above is true, them the uninformeed are going to be in a world of hurt come Feb 2009.

This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 11 Jun 2008 @ 10:58

311.6.2008 15:52

Hmmm -

Got my voucher already and have used it to buy a converter. Might need it for my TV not connected to cable. But then . . .

Cable company commercials state I won't need a converter for my set that is connected to cable. On the other hand, I have been told this is true only IF the set receives through a "box" from the cable company. I have NO box and currently receive directly through cable "from the wall". This other source (Best Buy) says I WILL need a converter. Which Idiot should I trust?

I have a converter anyway as stated - but have NO way to verify it actually works before Feb 2009 and by then any WARRANTY on the unit will be expired.

Such a deal!!!

411.6.2008 17:34

I already watch over the air HD. LOL @ the people with digital tuners still saying they were doing to get prepped for the transition... despite already having the necessary equipment.

511.6.2008 17:49

Hook your converter to your TV, it is ALMOST idiot proof in set up! Use an old UHF bow tie or any other old antenna..most HD channels are on UHF. The box will seek and enter channels in set up. You can use another input for the converter. Tho I STRONGLY suggest you use other than supplied cable to hook up! Mine were not well made! The ends tend to lose signal at the slightest twist. This refers to the Zenith. Most usually have some coax laying around. You will be AMAZED at the pic quality from the converted source! And NO microwave interference from the kitchen ! If you are in a weak signal area more than 20 miles from broadcast, this method may or may not work.

612.6.2008 10:35

Transmitting in HD should also mean the picture should be broadcasted in a widescreen format. What’s the point of the HD transition if the image will continue to be full frame? The converter boxes should also allow the image to be resized in order to get 16x9 but it won’t resemble true 16x9. I have a widescreen 40 inch Samsung. I don’t have HD programming because its way too expensive; I have enough issues trying to maintain room and board. Have you guys noticed that TV shows like on the Science are presented in a 16x9 letterbox format but the image doesn’t fill the screen even though you may have an HD widescreen set? Until one adjusts the image then its full 16x9 but even by adjusting the image true 16x9 is not achieved because the image is being vertically stretched. The television stations everywhere should broadcast full 16x9 without one having to adjust the picture. Those who expect too much about this HD transition will be greatly disappointed. Only HD-DVD and Blu-ray movies have achieved true HD. The HD receiver boxes that DirecTV and cable companies provide are not entirely full HD. The image is often resized by these receivers. My TV flickers thorough the many view mode settings it has. This shouldn’t be happening but know it occurs to everybody, I’ll just wait and see.

712.6.2008 11:03

if you have a cable plugged into the back of ur old asss tv.. then your fine.. now if you cant afford cable/sat and are still using channels 02 - 68... then you will need a cool little box.. that gets you 5 HD channels.. on ur old non HDTV.. so why bother doing anything.. lol.

812.6.2008 20:41

Sigh... all this "HD" talk in the "DTV" article discussion. For the bazillionth time: Broadcast television in the United States is not going "high def" in Feb. 2009. It is going digital. "High Definition" and "Digital" are two completely different animals. I'd already explained to my father (who's generally pretty tech savvy) a couple times that they didn't have to do anyting since they had all their tv's hooked up to cable, so hopefully he just used this whole thing as an excuse to go and buy and HDTV, because he didn't need one. In fact they've got no HD-channels nor a Blu-Ray player, so for the most part, it was just a waste of money.

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