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Community Newsletter: Q&A forum: What does the 2009 digital-TV switch actually mean?

by: Lee Koo (ADMIN) November 9, 2007 8:41 AM PST

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What does the 2009 digital-TV switch actually mean?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) ModeratorCNET staff - 11/9/07 8:41 AM


This week is a two part question submitted by 2 members which
have concerns about the upcoming U.S. Government mandate of
all TV signals going digital.

I've been hearing that all TV signals will be converting to
digital in 2009. What does that mean for my TV? I have a HD
flat screen that I bought last year and will be looking to
converting my bedroom small TV to a flat screen. Can you give
me tips on what to look for so that I don't purchase a TV
that will not be able to receive a signal in 2009? Also, what
about all the rest of the people who have analog tube TVs?
Will their TV go blank in 2009? Thanks.

--Submitted by Queenie Y.

Your newsletter about 1080p got me to thinking about the
FCC's (Federal Communications Commission in the United
States) mandate for digital broadcasting. My question is:
With the FCC's mandate that everything be broadcast in
digital some time in 2009), what options are there OTHER than
having to obtain a "box" from the local cable company? In my
case that would be Comcast, and the less I have to pay them,
the better. Also, is there a downside to using a box that's
not from the cable company... I do not subscribe to any
premium channels so I have no "set top" equipment presently.
I'm already seeing channels disappear.

--Submitted by Jim W.

Answer voted most helpful by the CNET Community newsletter readers:

2009 and the DTV transition

There has been almost as much misinformation about the Digital Television (DTV) transition as there has been valid material. I can understand why so many consumers are confused. Fortunately there are reliable sources for accurate information and for both Queenie and Jim the news is good. First, the HD flat screen Queenie bought last year probably has an ATSC (Advanced Television Standards Committee) digital tuner and very likely is already capable of receiving over-the-air (OTA) HDTV broadcasts today with an antenna and possibly on cable as well. Most TV stations in the United States have been transmitting digital and HDTV signals since May, 2002. A few have been delivering DTV signals for longer than that. Second, any new television you buy in the United States since last July must be sold with an ATSC tuner; heck, you can find an inexpensive 13-inch picture tube-type TV - with ATSC and Digital Cable Ready tuners - in any big box or discount store today for around a hundred bucks. Any product in the store that still has only an analog tuner must be labeled as such by federal law. You may still find DVD recorders and VCR's (if anyone is still selling any!) with analog tuner warnings. A new 26-inch LCD widescreen HDTV might cost less than $700.00, depending on where you shop. Whatever you decide to buy, the set you get today will work now and after 2009 as well. And as you know, the sky's the limit as to how big (and pricey) the new sets can be.

Any new television set purchased today must receive and decode all available ATSC formats as well as receive today's analog Standard Definition (SD) broadcasts. Many inexpensive new TV's are also Digital Cable Ready (DCR,) which means if you are a cable TV subscriber, and your cable company provides the local HDTV channels "in the clear," that is, unencrypted, you may receive those HD channels on your DCR TV set.

We bought a $99.00 13-inch TV two weeks ago from one of the big box stores just to try one out. We were surprised that it could receive analog and digital OTA broadcasts with a standard TV antenna and when plugged into the house cable system it pulled in all the analog SD channels AND all the local HDTV digital channels. Obviously a 13-inch screen is not going to deliver HDTV. But it does deliver Digital TV, making such a purchase a valid choice for the consumer who wants a small set for a bedroom or even the kitchen. The point of this discussion is that there are plenty of HD and SD choices available for a smaller DTV receiver for a bedroom or elswhere.

As to Jim's question, if you are a cable TV or even satellite TV subscriber today, you will probably not notice the difference as February 17, 2009 comes and goes. Remember, the DTV transition involves your local TV stations, not cable or satellite providers. Almost every U.S. TV station provides an analog SD signal to the cable or satellite operator today and we most likely will keep that signal in place in one form or another as long as we perceive that there is a need. Broadcasters believe most cable and satellite providers also will continue to deliver that legacy analog signal to subscribers for the foreseeable future. It will be up to your individual provider to warn you when they plan to discontinue analog transmissions. If you are already noticing that some channels are no longer available on your analog service, it probably means your cable provider has moved them to a "digital tier," which is a more efficient use of the radio spectrum for the cable company. For you to receive these digital cable channels it means purchasing a DCR TV set or renting the cable operator's Digital Cable box until you are ready to buy a new TV set.

OTA viewers with analog-only TV sets receiving broadcasts through a TV antenna, whether indoor or outdoor, need a DTV converter box to receive digital ATSC broadcasts. Without a converter, legacy analog TV sets using ordinary antennas will receive nothing but "snow" the morning of February 18, 2009. But there is help for this group of viewers. The U.S. government has developed a voucher program that will help every qualifying consumer pay for a DTV converter to keep their analog TV sets working. The Consumer Electronics Association has published a National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) fact sheet with more information at You will be able to apply for two of these coupons or vouchers per household, worth $40.00 each toward the purchase of a converter box beginning early in 2008. The NTIA has been tracking the development of new converter boxes and the equipment should be in stores to coincide with the availability of the vouchers. Since DTV converter boxes are expected to cost somewhere between $60 - $100.00, the coupon will help pay for the box.

There are several web sites dedicated to providing as much information to the public as possible; here are a few: This is the primary consumer-oriented DTV site with facts about the DTV transition with plenty of questions and answers about what is to come. focuses on the DTV converter box coupons. is the government's Q and A site with far more information than I should try to duplicate here.

Finally, viewers everywhere in the United States by now should have seen the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) TV Public Service Announcements about DTV, directing the viewer to and other resources. The closer we get to 2009, the more of a push you will see to inform the consumer about the DTV transition. Major programs by the NTIA and NAB are on the verge of being launched and soon there will be plenty of accurate information, readily available to everyone.

Submitted by: CNET member DTVEngineer

If you have additional advice for Queenie or Jim, please click on the reply link and post away. Please be detail in your answers. Thank you!

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