Digitial TV Challenges

As one of the last half dozen people on Earth who gets TV over the air, I am having to learn a lot more than I wanted to know about television, antennas, frequencies, and the politics of digital switchover.

We are not great TV watchers. We have been doing OK with our rabbit ears positioned strategically in a south facing window and celebrating the challenge of moving things here and there, applying the aluminum foil in the right shape and position and other gyrations customized for the particular channel we want.

And as long as we can get CSI and a few key football and baseball games, things are generally OK. It would be nice to get PBS, but we don’t here… but we can get the programs we like online eventually.

All is good.

Except, of course, now we need to deal with this digital thing.

So we got our government “coupons” (more like a high-security credit card actually), went down to our local Best Buy and got one of those set-top boxes. Came home, hooked it up, not expecting much but you never know.

Some Spanish and Japanese language broadcasts I didn’t even know were out there, 24/7 religious saturation, and that was about it.

OK – we need a real antenna.

WAIT! Not so simple.

According to antennaweb.com, in our location, we are in the “Pink” zone for most of the local channels. That requires a Big Honkin antenna. And it gets more complicated.

The dark art of radio frequency reception being what it is, reasonably sized antennas are pretty good for the higher channels, but if you want the ones below channel 7 (which is where three of our four local stations are), then you need a Really Big Honkin Antenna.

So we got one of those. Gotta tell you, analog is a lot better. Digital, though, still semi-sucks.

But here is what we have learned in the meantime.

Right now stations are broadcasting both their analog signals, on their traditional VHF channels. They are simultaneously broadcasting their digital signals on temporary UHF channels in the higher frequencies.

What does this mean?

The other five people on Earth who are trying to stay over-the-air in semi-fringe areas might have gotten one of those nice reasonably sized antennas that works in the higher frequencies. But come the February June 10 changeover, those stations are going to revert to their lower frequency VHF channels.

This means, folks, that even though you are getting the UHF signal now, your antenna might not be set up to pull in the VHF signal.

So, today, you are getting “Channel 4” on UHF channel 38. But come the changeover, “Channel 4” the station is going to stop broadcasting on channel 38 the frequency and shift their digital broadcast to channel 4.1 the frequency.

Because, today, they aren’t broadcasting digital on 4.1, they are only mapping 38 to that number, you won’t know until the changeover if your setup will work.

This media and political circus is going to be fun to watch.


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