Ready or not, here comes digital television
You've probably heard about it already. On Feb. 17, 2009, federal law requires that the digital TV era will begin for everyone in this country.
It's long overdue. The analog mode of sending TV images hasn't really changed much since the switch to color TV in the 1950s. Moreover, analog TV is comparatively inefficient, using large chunks of broadcast spectrum that coincidentally are ideal for cell networks -- especially "4th generation" network applications such as video over wireless.
Even if you don't currently own a digital TV, chances are you've seen the huge screens down at Best Buy or Costco and can clearly see that digital TV has a brighter, more detailed picture with greater resolution.
How does the changeover affect the average user?
If you bought a TV recently, there's no worry. However, if you currently own an old analog set and receive your programming over the airwaves, you'll have to embrace one of three options by next Feb. 17: Get a converter, switch to cable or satellite, or buy a new TV.
» The easiest and least expensive way to go is to hold on to your old set and get an analog-to-digital converter. Each household may be able to obtain up to two coupons worth $40 each toward the purchase of converter boxes. To request the coupons, call 1-888-388-2009 or go to www.dtv2009.gov.
However, you may need a new antenna as well. Why? Because digital TV pretty much uses the part of the spectrum once called UHF and your old antenna may not have the right specs to receive the best digital signal. You can research the type of antenna you need by visiting www.antennaweb.org. This site, funded by broadcasters and electronics manufacturers, allows you determine the best antenna for your topography.
» If you are happy with your old TV, another option is to subscribe to a cable or satellite service that has set-top boxes pre-equipped to do the analog-to-digital conversion. You won't be getting high definition, but if you want to switch over to HDTV later on, it's easy to do.
» The best way to take full advantage of digital television is to buy a new TV. Fortunately prices have dropped considerably. DigitalTV comes in three flavors:standard definition (SD), enhanced definition (ED) and high definition (HD). All three will work on an older set but look a lot better on an HDTV.
The conversion to digital may seem like a hassle, especially if you are still using an old- fashioned antenna. But most people have already switched and don't fall into this category. For those of you who haven't, you now have the opportunity to upgrade to the enhanced viewing experience of vastly superior picture and audio quality. In other words, those grainy, static-filled broadcasts will forever be history.