Monday, December 22, 2008

Digital TV conversion confusion

It's interesting to read article after article about how supposedly confusing and poorly-managed the 17 February conversion to all-digital broadcast television in the US has been. I realize I'm a geek and that any technology more complex than a Zippo seems like magic to many people, but I think reporters are just having withdrawal after the election and need something that sounds scary to write about.

In this article in the New York Times, one can see that even people who are supposedly writing to clear up the confusion either don't write well or don't fully understand the situation. In his very first paragraph, Mr. Taub writes that after 17 Feb 2009, "Old TV sets will no longer work." It's not until the 4th paragraph that he even mentions converter boxes, and then he's not altogether clear on the topic. In the 9th paragraph he writes that "Anyone who gets their TV signal over the air — whether through a rabbit ear antenna on top of the set or an antenna on the roof — will need to buy a digital-to-analog converter box in order to continue getting a signal. Some people may also need a new antenna." This is at best an overstatement, since many people who get their TV signal over the air already have a set with a digital tuner... nearly every flat-panel television has an ATSC tuner, as do many CRT sets people have purchased over the last 4 years or so. I suppose most people with an ATSC tuner realize they have one, but the article is still leaning toward fear-mongering.

It's really pretty simple... if you don't have cable or satellite and haven't bought a TV since the Brady Bunch was in primetime, or if you're still watching a Sony that looks like the one from Poltergeist, you'll need a cheap converter box. Wal-Mart has them, go get one soon (I'm sure they'll be temporarily sold out on 18 February.) If you're already watching TV over an antenna, the concept of an antenna is nothing new, and probably the idea that different antennas are tailored toward different signals isn't new to you, nor is the need to adjust a directional antenna to improve your reception. For those already practised in the black art of optimizing over-the-air TV reception, the only real adjustment will be that they have to find their new tuner's signal-strength display instead of looking at the picture and guessing where the best signal is.

The fact that most TV viewers don't know how digital tuners work shouldn't enter into it... they don't know how analog tuners work either, and they've been using them for years. Only people like me with OCD issues actually want to know HOW things work, most people are quite content if things just work. Perhaps part of my cynicism about this stems from my social-Darwinist attitude... if people can't bother to learn anything, they can just roll the dice and hope it comes out okay. Of course, just to be a bit introspective about the futility of all this... anyone who's reading this probably can figure out how to obtain and connect a digital converter box.

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