Demystifying TV conversion confusion
Are you ready to be converted? Don't even try to fight it. It's inevitable. There's a mandate looming that will make other edicts, from the Spanish Inquisition to the 2-liter plastic Coke bottle, look like historical bumps in the road.
I'm talking about the Conversion: when television signals switch from analog to digital on Feb. 17.
Oh, it's big. And worrisome. Not since "Bewitched" switched Darrins has there been this much nationwide confusion about TV.
And like all other times of social unrest, you can be sure opportunists will try to profit off the fears of the uninformed. Somewhere, you just know a salesman will convince someone's grandmother she now has to buy a $4,500 plasma TV just to keep watching "Wheel of Fortune."
But the truth is, on the day of digital reckoning, most need only keep the faith by staying engaged in the Digital Slob's favorite activity: doing nothing.
According to analysts at Pali Research, 90 percent of U.S. TV viewers already have digital TVs, or at least a cable or satellite service that pipes a signal into their analog sets. For all of us, nothing needs to change.
Keep in mind digital does not mean "high definition." Hi-def is still a luxury that requires a digital signal and an HDTV, but not all digital signals are hi-def. My alarm clock is digital, but it's hardly a feast for my eyes -- even when they're wide open.
So, it would seem there's no problem at all. I mean, who doesn't have cable or satellite these days? Prisons? Nursing homes? Polygamist sects?
Actually, millions of Americans are still screaming "don't move!" as their kids fidget with the foil on their TV's rabbit ears on old analog sets.
Perhaps remote-control elitists are unaware of this, but such people do exist (about a dozen came to my wedding reception), and according to Magid Media Futures, if they're like everybody else, about four in 10 are still unaware the change is coming.
Regardless, you can bet they'll make their presence felt once the fateful day arrives.
Though their TVs will break, their rotary phones will still work well enough for them to call the rest of us and express their "All I get is snow!" ravings. When that happens, here's what you can say, boiled down from the Federal Communication Web site www.dtv.gov:
» Go to Best Buy or Sears and buy a converter box. They'll cost about $40 to $70, but every household can apply for two $40 coupons from the government at www.dtv2009.gov. If you'd rather just get a new TV, then you won't need a converter box, since any TV made after March 1, 2007, must have a digital tuner inside.
» If you want to stick with free over-the-air TV, don't throw away your rabbit ears. You'll still need them to get digital signals even with a converter box or a digital tuner inside a new TV.
» Some cable companies could use this transition as an excuse to junk analog cable service altogether, and require all customers to get new equipment and perhaps raise fees (perhaps blaming the federal mandate), but in truth it's up to them.
OK, so we should be all set. The revolution will be decompressed from a series of ones and zeros. Onward, digital soldiers.