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Digital Television in Buffalo

With the flip of a giant 7-foot tall symbolic switch, FCC chairman Kevin Martin and mayor Bill Saffo officially announced the city of Wilmington, North Carolina as the first to make the transition from analog to digital TV.  This switch is mandated by the government this coming February, 17, 2009, and Wilmington has graciously volunteered to be the nation’s guinea pig.  (More coverage on the Wilmington switch here.)  Digital TV will provide better quality picture and sound, but the transition won’t be without some headaches.

So this had me thinking – if Wilmington is already there, where does Buffalo stand?

There’s millions of dollars allocated to raise public awareness on the switch in the coming months – so expect to hear more about it.  There’s also over a billion dollars allocated to help you cope… and a lot of them have gone un-spent so far.

Here’s a couple tips and things you want to know if you haven’t gotten up to speed on the switch to digital yet.

Q: Do I need to take any action?

A: If you’re a subscriber to a paid service like cable or dish, you’re all set already.  Your cable box or dish tuner is digital capable, and perhaps has been for years.  If you’ve purchased a new television in the past few years, you’re probably OK too.  Just about every HDTV manufactured is digital (DTV) capable – but not ALL – so if you jumped on board the HDTV bandwagon early on, you may wish to double check the manual if its DTV capable.  Lost the manual?  Try Google – there’s lots of people asking the same questions.  To to those of you with an older TV who receive your programming via antenna: YOU will need to act to keep watching TV.

Q: Wait, is DTV the same thing as HDTV?

A: No.  DTV stands for “digital television.”  HDTV stands for “high definition television.”  All HDTV is also DTV, but not all DTV is HDTV.  The switch here isn’t entirely about HDTV – its about the way the signals are actually transmitted from station, through the air, to your home.  The signals are now going to switch from basic analog to digitally encoded and compressed for transmission – much like your computer receives video over the Internet, or like how video is written to a DVD disc.  Also much like a computer, you need to have some processing power at the receiving end to turn these digital streams back into something you can actually watch.  That’s why cable boxes, dish tuners, and new televisions solve this: they already do that converting.  Your older analog television doesn’t have the “brains” to interpret these new signals though, so you need to get a converter box to act as a middle man between the digital world and your analog TV.  As for the HDTV issue, some stations will (and already have begun) broadcasting in DTV-HDTV, but you will need an HD television to watch these in full quality.  Though, if you have an older “standard definition” television, you should notice a marked improvement in the picture and sound quality on DTV.

Q: OK, so I have to buy a converter box to continue getting free TV with my rabbit ears?

A: Yes, you will.  Luckily, this is where that “over a billion dollars” I mentioned earlier comes in.  The government & FCC is offering a $40 coupon for qualifying converter boxes.  It’s our lucky day because guess what?  Basic converter boxes don’t cost much more than $40 (and lots of places on-line are selling them for exactly $40), so there’s really no major investment to worry about – other than a little time to pick one up, and set it up.  You can apply for your coupon by calling 1-888-388-2009, or you can do it on-line at dtv2009.gov.  The website explains which converters are covered, and helps you locate where to buy them as well.  There’s a catch with the coupons: you can only ask for one, and if you don’t use it within 90 days, it expires.  So only ask for one once you’re ready to use it!  If you have multiple TVs, you will need multiple boxes – but each family member may request a coupon in their name.

Q: What about antennas?  How does the reception work?

A: This will be one area where you’ll notice a difference with DTV.  With analog television if you tune into a weak signal, you might experience a fuzzy or “snowy” picture.  If you don’t mind the “snow,” you can watch the channel.  With DTV, it’s more of an all or nothing situation.  Either you get the picture tuned in at perfect picture quality and sound, or you don’t get it at all.  The only in-between that occurs is kind of like watching a video clip on the Internet over a slow connection.  The video might skip, jump around, and freeze up.  As for antennas, the vast majority (and so far ALL stations in the Buffalo area) are using the UHF spectrum to broadcast – so if you want the best reception possible and are looking at picking up an antenna, be sure to focus on its UHF performance.  As a basic rule of thumb though, if you’re located in the city, or near by, and already pick up a decent picture on an analog station, it’s likely going to work just fine in DTV.  If you’re further out and watch those snowy pictures on a regular basis, you may be out of luck picking up a DTV signal without the help of an antenna upgrade.

Q: So what actually happens on February 17, 2009?

A: There will not be any more analog television, plain and simple.  Some channels may stop before the deadline, as they did in Wilmington, but February 17th is the absolute deadline.  If you didn’t get your converter box yet and fall into the group that needs one, you won’t be able to pick up a single channel, period.  The only possible catch might be for emergency broadcasts – if there is a major emergency in the near future, you might still see and hear about it on the analog airwaves.  That’s not an episode of must-see-TV I’d look forward to though.

Q: Do I have to wait until February 17 to start using DTV?

A: Nope!  The following stations in Buffalo are already broadcasting in digital:

  • WUTV FOX, digital channel 14, UHF
  • WNLO UPN, digital channel 32, UHF
  • WGRZ NBC, digital channel 33, UHF
  • WKBW ABC, digital channel 38, UHF
  • WIVB CBS, digital channel 39, UHF
  • WNED PBS, digital channel 43, UHF

There’s a lot more information available on the web if you’d like to read even more:

Lastly, if there’s any readers out there who have already picked up their converter box (or has a DTV capable set) and is picking up digital stations via broadcast, what has been your experience?  What’s your approximate location and what’s the reception there like?  Are there any other channels you’ve been able to tune in besides the ones mentioned above?  Any tips for the rest of us?  Please share in the comments below!

P.S. Don’t forget, if you’re at a computer with a broadband Internet connection, you could be watching Artvoice TV right now, converter box free! (yep, a shameless plug!)


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  • http://jasonthedce.wordpress.com Jason Christ

    I’ve been having trouble getting ABC over the last few days. It was located on 7.1 and 7.2 on the tuner, but after trying 38 as mentioned in your post it forwarded me to 7.1 again and everything was working fine.

    I’m located in Amherst near Niagara Falls Blvd and Robinson Road. The picture quality is excellent compared to the analog signals and should get better when the switch happens. I’ve heard the FCC has mandated that digital signals remain at 50% power until the switch, when stations will be allowed to crank them up to full blast.

  • http://www.antennasdirect.com antennaguy

    Consumer Reports has just upgraded their ratings on some of the available converter boxes at:
    http://blogs.consumerreports.org/electronics/2008/08/ratings-of-dtv.html

    While cable and satellite program providers will continue to serve the great majority of homes as the primary signal source, missing HD local reception, compression issues, higher costs, billing add-ons, service outages, contact difficulties, in-home service waits and no shows have left many of these subscribers looking to OTA antennas as a good, alternative and Off-Air viewers happy with their free programming.

    But TV reception starts with the right antenna and Off-Air TV is FREE.

    Viewers should certainly try their old antenna first. It’s true that any of these older antennas will pick up some signals, maybe all the broadcast signals a viewer wants to receive, depending on their location. If they’re getting all the OTA channels they want, than they’re good to go.

    While Antennas can’t tell the difference between analog and digital signals, there are definitely certain models which have higher DTV batting averages than others. Not all antennas are equally suited for DTV. A percentage of viewers will require something a little more tailored for DTV reception.

    With one of the newer and smaller OTA antennas, with greatly improved performance, power and aesthetics, viewers may also be able to receive out-of-town channels, carrying blacked out sports programs not available locally, several additional sub-channels or network broadcasts. And for those with an HDTV, almost completely uncompressed HD broadcasts (unlike cable or satellite).

    OTA viewers can go to antennapoint.com to see quickly what stations are available to them, the distance, and compass heading to help in choosing and aiming their antenna. And if they decide to buy a newer antenna, they should buy it from a source that will completely refund their purchase price, no questions asked, if it doesn’t do the job.

  • Marvin Miles

    My comment is, there will be hundreds of people who can not get free dtv away from Buffalo and that does not seem fair. We live in Hinsdale NY and get no signal. If only they would transmit in the VHF area, we would be all set as we get great reception on 2, 4, and 7. I have my antenna almost 60 feet on a tower and am going to try and go another 15 or 20 but it may not work. I guess they don’t care about us hicks in the sticks.

  • Josh Shafer

    In reply,
    I live, at best, 40 miles from the nearest broadcasting tower. I receive two stations on digital that do not break-up and are constant. On analog, I can receive nine or ten stations, all watchable, over the analog signal. I have been informed by most (in fact 6) that there are no plans to increase the power of the digital signal; they are currently operating at peak power performance and the FCC will not grant additional strength to these stations because they might interfere with other regional broadcasts. I live between Louisville, Cincinatti, and Indianapolis. I will lose all access to weather bulletins from Indianapolis to the North, and will no longer be able to watch any channels from Cinci. I have fiddled with my antenna until I was sick of it, and have found that the higher I go, the more signal I lose (for Digital). I found the about 25 foot is the best height for reception on digital, (I was able to pick up two more stations, but they did block up and freeze, and it ruined the signal of another station.)
    I have, in fact, filed a formal complaint with the FCC regarding this, and they sent me information on the DTV transition, all of which I had previously downloaded over the internet.

  • Marcello

    I live in southeast Michigan. With the old analog transmissions, I can pick up about twelve watchable channels. With the new digital converter box, it’s down to one — and that channel mostly broadcasts infomercials.

    I even spent an additional fifty dollars on a new antenna. The antenna improved the analog signal, but did nothing for the digital signal.

    The FCC will effectively render all broadcast television unwatchable. It’s the end of an era, folks. How sad.

  • Marvin Miles

    I am still trying different things at different locations here and still no useable signal. We just put up a new antenna for my sister and she gets very good analog VHF channels but only digital WIVB some of the time. My mother is in the Cuba NY area and can only get WKBW at times.
    I agree, this a sad situation…sure wish there were somewhere to complain or petition about this. I think there are few people who realize what is happening and they will be shocked when it all goes away.
    I did find Tv Fool dot com which lists transmitter power etc., which shows some specs for the various stations.

  • John

    What do you think the best converter box is? This site has the best converter boxes from Consumer Reports, but looking for other advice. Thanks
    http://www.digitalhdreceiver.com

  • Ron

    I live 14 miles west of Niagara Falls in Ontario. Have only roof antennae. Have analogue tuner on TV.

    I have now installed the digital tuner converter on my analogue tv; and with my roof antennae get 90% of previous signals. Buffalo 5, Toronto- Hamilton.
    In all channels 2- (2.1& (2.2 weather new)), -4, (cbs), -7NBC, 29-Fox- 17.1 and (17.2 new) PBS,- 49,- 44 TO, 64 To,- 66 To,- 9 To.-11 Hamilton

    I lost 52,- 57, and 19, pbs out of Toronto.
    and Hamburg N.Y.

  • Rob Leach

    Hi,

    I bought a converter box last night and tested it out. I have minor gripes relating to some stations being shown with black areas around the whole picture. I tried selecting different aspect ratios, but none would expand the obviously 4:3 image to fill the screen. That is due to the converter box just not being very good (it’s an apex, BTW).

    The bigger problem is that I thought that all stations would looker BETTER in DTV. For the most part, that proves true, but for 1 station (WNED channel 17), the image is obviously, without a doubt, unquestionably, lesser quality. The image looks slightly grainy and the color is, for lack of a better term, “unsteady”. It’s as if someone wiped a sponge with red-colored water over the screen. It’s hard to describe, but I compared the analog versus digital signal back and forth a few times and it was frustratingly obvious that the analog image was better.

    All the other DTV stations had the same (wet red sponge) quality as the WNED station, which leads me to believe that their claim that it’s better is not 100% true. It’s better in most cases, but not better than the best analog case. I don’t watch much TV, so I can live with it, but don’t expect your best looking station to look better or even as good on DTV. I’m going to try out another converter box, but dtv2009.gov is backed up on coupon requests, so it may be awhile. And perhaps the technology will improve with time, but I’m skeptical.

    Rob

  • http://artvoice.com Anthony

    Rob – I think you might have hit spot on about the converter box… a different one might do a better job, and if the color problems are bad enough the one you have might even be defective.

    I’ve personally got a low end RCA box at home, and it has several zoom/stretch/crop options. There isn’t a channel I can’t get to fill up my whole TV screen in one way or another (and it remembers settings per channel, so I only had to set preferences per station once.)

    In my experience the difference is nothing short of stunning, WNED included, no contest… (And I like the fact that I get three different WNEDs now compared to one on analog!) So something must be wrong…

    There’s some other things you might wish to try – connect the box with a different set of cables (a poor composite cable, might cause fuzziness and color problems), and maybe even try a different input on your TV. If S-Video is an option on the box and your TV, use it, as it will provide the best picture possible (on a non HD TV set.)

    If none of that helps, you might simply want to adjust the color balance on your TV set. Maybe it’s a little out of whack and was actually compensating for the analog signal you’ve been watching all these years? The red for example might have been pumped up at some point to give the bland analog signal a little life, and now its too much…?

  • Peter

    What happened to Channel 7’s sister station “THIS”? It has not been on the air for a week or so. Also – it seems that the signal strength on channel 4 and 7 are getting lower. I cannot pick up FOX, CW23, channel 2 or the weather station channel 2. I do live in Jamestown, NY. I bought enhanced antennas that I need to plug in my wall, but I really wish alalogue would stay.

  • Geoffrey

    The loss of THIS TV on WKBW is a shame, that was part of the WNGS programming package after the RTN dispute – WNGS is now owned by Daystar, a religious broadcaster. They may not get D7. Another religious broadcaster wants D28 in Buffalo, so soon there will be four religious programmers in Buffalo, and the one in the Toronto area.

    I am north of Lake Ontario near Oshawa. I get all of the Toronto stations CBLT D20, CBLFT D24 back to D25, CFTO D40 to D9, CIII D65 to D41, CJMT D44, CFMT D64 to D47, CKXT D66 to D40, CITY 53 to D51 (except TVO CICA Ch 19). I also get the two Hamilton stations which are running on reduced power until they return to their preferred channels CHCH11 [D18] and CITS 36 [D35].

    Buffalo is harder to get WGRZ D33 comes and goes; WIVB D39 comes and goes; WKBW D38 always there; WNED D43 solid; WNLO D32 solid; WUTV D14 and WNYO D34 have really weird transmission patterns. WPXJ will be going to D2, not D51 with CITY. There was a same channel allocation to Peterborough D34 – which has been changed to D35 and will not be used as CHEX A12 will flash cut to D12; CHEX Oshawa A22 will be D22. If the two Sinclair stations could go omnidirectional; perfect.

    Now if those sub-channels could start to used…

  • Geoffrey

    The loss of THIS TV on WKBW is a shame, that was part of the WNGS programming package after the RTN dispute – WNGS is now owned by Daystar, a religious broadcaster. They may not get D7. Another religious broadcaster wants D28 in Buffalo, so soon there will be four religious programmers in Buffalo, and the one in the Toronto area.

    I am north of Lake Ontario near Oshawa. I get all of the Toronto stations CBLT D20, CBLFT D24 back to D25, CFTO D40 to D9, CIII D65 to D41, CJMT D44, CFMT D64 to D47, CKXT D66 to D40, CITY 53 to D51 (except TVO CICA Ch 19). I also get the two Hamilton stations which are running on reduced power until they return to their preferred channels CHCH11 [D18] and CITS 36 [D35].

    Buffalo is harder to get WGRZ D33 comes and goes; WIVB D39 comes and goes; WKBW D38 always there; WNED D43 solid; WNLO D32 solid; WUTV D14 and WNYO D34 have really weird transmission patterns. WPXJ will be going to D23, not D51 with CITY. There was a same channel allocation to Peterborough D34 – which has been changed to D35 and will not be used as CHEX A12 will flash cut to D12; CHEX Oshawa A22 will be D22. If the two Sinclair stations could go omnidirectional; perfect.

    Now if those sub-channels could start to be used…

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