Digital Television in Buffalo
by Anthony - posted 11:58 am, September 9, 2008
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:
- dtv2009.gov’s frequently asked questions
- Q&A from the FCC
- SiliconDust’s DTV database (See *all* the channels that are possible to pick up in your area, both analog and digital. Note: This includes low power stations and signals, so don’t expect to necessarily tune in to all of these unless you have some heavy duty antenna & amplifier equipment!)
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!)