Champaign addresses switch to digital TV

By Daniel Johnson

With the pending switch from analog television signal to digital signal coming on February 17, 2009, the city of Champaign held a joint study session Wednesday with local electronic stores and cable companies in order to inform the public who will be affected.

The message was clear. The switch from analog to digital signal means that those who do not use a cable or satellite service to receive their television – will need a converter box or new television after the cut-off date to receive the new, digital signal.

The same antennae will still be completely compatible with the converter box or DTV, a television with a built in digital tuner, but without a converter box or DTV, users will be unable to receive the digital signal.

The switch has come because the over-the-air signal that is currently being broadcast in digital and analog will only be in digital after February 17. The analog spectrum that was formerly used for television broadcast is no longer necessary with digital format, according to DTV.gov, the official Web site explaining the switch. The digital version has been hailed as a more efficient broadcast method and the elimination of the analog format will free up spectrum for communications such as public safety channels and advanced wireless services including broadband Internet.

Those that require a converter box may apply for up to two government-sponsored coupons that are worth $40 toward the cost of a converter box. The converter is a one-time cost and is typically priced from $50 to $70 before the government coupon.

Steve Suderman, president of Good Vibes, an electronics store in Champaign, urged people to apply for the coupons as soon as possible.

“You don’t want to be late to the game with these coupons,” he said at the study session. “There is a limited number of these coupons being issued and it seems so far that the government has underestimated the number of people who will need a coupon.”

Suderman and Jeff Hamilton, the telecommunications and audio/visual technician for the city of Champaign, said that they do not anticipate campus being affected much, if at all. But the areas of Champaign that are not readily equipped with cable have already shown demand for the converters.

“I got 40 or so of the converters in last Friday and I barely have any left now,” Suderman said. “I sold seven or eight at the Champaign store already (Wednesday).”

Suderman owns a second store in Rantoul.

For those that purchase a converter box for a non-DTV television, there are benefits that come in the form of increased picture and sound quality, barring a weak signal strength.

The session mentioned a “cliff effect” of quality, meaning that if the signal strength falls below a certain percentage the picture and sound will be lost entirely. The council stated that if you normally have a picture with a great deal of static, snow or distortion, it would be advisable to upgrade antenna to get a more consistent signal. But they also cautioned that even with the proper equipment, there is also the possibility for geographic or weather-related interference that is unavoidable.

What the switch means

If you currently use an antenna or rabbit ears only to receive a signal, you have three options.

  • Purchase a digital-to-analog converter box.

    The box will be able to use whatever antennae you currently have – there is no need to purchase an HD or DTV antennae.

  • Purchase a DTV

    Televisions that are DTV have a built-in digital tuner and do not require a converter box. You will still need to use an antenna with the television, but if you can receive good reception on the set before the switch, the signal will stay the same. Note that DTV televisions are not the same as HDTV sets. You only need a DTV set, not an HDTV set, to watch the new digital feed.

  • Subscribe to a paid TV service

    Cable and satellite services are already compatible with the DTV switch so long as a coaxial cable is plugged into each television set. However, if you have chose to not receive your local channels through your provider, as Dish Network and others offer, you will need to purchase a converter box, or pay the fee to receive the local channels.

Source: DTV.gov