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Across the Digital Divide
Are you ready for a broadcasting revolution to take over your TV set?
2/28/2008

We're less than one year away from the biggest, most complete change in the history of television in America. And most people won't notice.

At midnight on Feb. 17, 2009, all of TV will go digital. Those magnetic waves that have sent out analog television signals since TV was invented will stop, by order of Congress, and every TV in the country will either be ready to take digital signals or go dark.

Are you ready to receive?

Survival of the technologically fittest requires adapting, but depending on where you're at in TV land, that may mean doing nothing at all.

What if you have cable? Then sit back and continue to enjoy the show. We've got it covered, says Beth Bacha, vice president of communications for Comcast Cable, Northeast Division.

"All of Comcast's customers who are connected to cable will continue to receive broadcast channels without interruption after the broadcast digital transition," Bacha wrote in an e-mail to the Daily Record. "The broadcast digital transition will have no impact on these customers. As long as they are a Comcast customer, they will not need to take any further action in order to continue to receive the broadcast channels they receive today. This includes analog customers."

If you have a digital TV -- which includes high definition, but also means any TV with a digital tuner -- you, too, are cool. Almost all TVs built in 2004 or later have digital receivers. Few sets built before 1998 have them.

Who has to do something? People who get reception from rabbit ears or an antenna on the roof, but don't have digital TVs. That's about 10 percent of the households nationwide.

Converter box

The cheapest way for themto continue to receive is to get a digital converter box, on sale at most major electronics retailers for $50 to $70. There are also government-issued coupons available that will cut $40 off the price tag.

"These tube TVs won't be able to understand the digital signal," said Yegor Derevyankin, store services manager at Best Buy in East Hanover. "Any TV you purchase now is digital ready."

While manufacturers have phased out producing analog TVs, different models may or may not be ready to receive over-the-air digital broadcast signals.

According to www.dtv2009.gov, most sets sold in the last few years that are larger than 27 inches will likely have a digital tuner.

"A good rule of thumb is that if your screen is 25 inches or larger and your TV was purchased in the past two years, then it's probably digital," said John Taylor, vice president of public affairs and communications for LG Electronics, U.S.A. in Englewood Cliffs.

Still unsure whether your TV is digital-ready? Derevyankin suggested consulting the owner's manual or going online to the manufacturer's Web site. If compatible with digital, the TV will have a built-in ATSC (Advanced Television System Committee) tuner.

"It might say ATSC, DTV or digital," Taylor said.

The federal government is providing an assist to the analog generation in the form of the TV Converter Box Coupon Program. It allows U.S. households to obtain up to two coupons, each worth $40, that can be applied toward the cost of eligible converter boxes.

Applications for the limited supply coupons started Jan. 1 and will continue until March 31, 2009.

Coupons can be obtained by calling the 24-hour hotline at (888) DTV-2009 (888-388-2009) or applying online at www.dtv2009.gov.

Consumers must use the coupons within 90 days, Taylor said.

In preparing for the digital transition, Best Buy has started stocking up on converters priced at $49.99, said Ray Bicksler, customer experience manager at Best Buy in Rockaway Township.

The device resembles a small black box similar to the one provided by a cable company.

 

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Ellen S. Wilkowe can be reached at (973) 428-6662 or ewilkowe@gannett.com. Scripps Howard News Service contributed to this story.



Ellen S. Wilkowe