The end of an era is rapidly approaching; unlike the predictions of various religions, the end of the analog TV world will definitely occur on the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) mandated date of February 17, 2009. People are now becoming aware of this and are especially concerned when purchasing a new TV. So, what does this all mean to you?
If you purchased a TV after March 1, 2007, there is no problem. All TVs sold after that date included the appropriate digital tuners and so can be used for any hookup you might have - either over-the-air with an antenna or via cable TV.
The issue occurs if you have an older TV. In order to help sort the mess out, let's first talk about the ways to connect a TV to the antenna or cable box. Back in the old BC days - Before Cable - your only choice was to put up a large antenna on your roof, run a cable down and hope for pictures that were better than fuzzy. Two types of cable were used: twin-lead was a flat, two conductor cable or you could use the round black coaxial cable. You could only receive the basic television channels 2 through 13. I remember living about 100 miles north of New York City and although I put up a really big antenna, the picture we got was mostly snow.
The cable TV business started because, even with a good installation, TV signals were fairly poor unless you were within a large metropolitan area. The cable operator put up large antennas on high hills or later used satellite links to bring in the signal. They distributed the signal to your home using the same coax cable. But your TV still only received channels 2-13. Only later were more stations available on the higher numbered channels. Since most TV tuners could not receive the higher channels, that was the birth of the cable set top box. But again, it was all still analog.
Over time, the cable systems became more sophisticated and companies such as Time Warner began to distribute programming to their set top boxes via digital signals on the cable. You could still use the analog coax cable to connect the cable box to your TV because the cable box converted the signal as necessary. Thus you could still watch digital content on your analog TV.
Eventually TVs became available with true digital interfaces such as DVI and HDMI, giving you the best picture quality. If you have a newer, widescreen TV and are still using the older coax cable interface I suggest you upgrade. Time Warner does not charge to upgrade your box to the latest digital type, including to High Definition.
So this is what it boils down to: If you are still using an antenna, you will have to change your antenna to one that can receive the over-the-air digital signals - you need to change because they are on a different frequency than the old analog signals. You can buy a newer TV with a digital tuner, or get a converter box for your old set. Two $40 coupons will be available from the FCC to defray the purchase cost of a converter if you choose to do this.
If you are a cable TV user, you don't have to do much. If your set top box is one of the newer ones that supports digital signals then you will not have to change your TV or setup at all. But as I said above, you can improve your signal quality if you use the HDMI or DVI cables if the appropriate connectors are available on your TV. To see what the connectors look like, Wiki "DVI" or "HDMI".
If you still have an older style analog set top box, you should get it upgraded and there should be no fee to do this.
But is the future of TV broadcast digital, or cable, or perhaps instead the Internet? As Internet bandwidths increase it will become possible to get all your TV service through that medium. Many people view Internet video now although the bandwidth limitations usually show the video in small windows. But as technology emerges, you may not need a traditional cable TV service at all! Stay tuned…
(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at www.bobseidel.com or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at email@example.com. For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)