It is some 108 days until midnight 17 February 2009. For most Americans, that date isn't a really big deal. But it is the date and time when broadcast television finishes the conversion from VHF/UHF analog to DTV/HDTV digital. Millions of otherwise perfectly working (or sometimes not so perfectly working) television sets will stop working -- unless they are hooked up to cable or satellite.
Since the government is ultimately forcing the conversion -- we could have gone on with a dual analog/digital system for decades -- and frankly wants the old bandwidth back, there is a government rebate program. You can get up to two $40 coupons to pay for the digital to analog converter boxes.
That's the background.
A Lone Outpost
Okay, so we're too cheap to buy any big screen HDTV sets and even our latest 20" TV isn't digital ready. But the TV's upstairs are hooked up to cable, so our conversion is delayed. However, though I've had the parts to run cable downstairs to the basement, we found in the U.P. that using a four-way splitter isn't as effective as even a three-way splitter. And frankly, the outlet box we need to convert is located under the staircase and I'm just too lazy to go stringing cable back there.
Besides the TV we have in the basement was a really crappy old B&W TV which never picked up any signals well and we only used it when there was something major going on. We did, however, have the 13" Sony color TV we bought in the U.P. in the mid-80s. It's tuner doesn't work very well, but the monitor inputs work great.
So I ordered the converter box coupons in August, kicking myself for not getting them earlier so we could watch the Summer Olympics. They had a 14 November 2008 expiration date, so on the way home on Halloween, I stopped by Circuit City and chose the Zenith over the APEX box, picked up an amplified RCA smart antenna and a couple of odd bits. Yeah, the digital antenna is the gotcha of the "free" converter box program. While the converter boxes aren't exactly $40 -- at least not yet -- the antenna runs just about as much as the box. So be it.
Too often I buy parts for a project and they sit around. But my motivation for doing this on Halloween was so we could go downstairs to put the kitties to bed on Tuesday night and still have election results. And so we dragged the parts downstairs and hooked up the whole thing, fighting through a small mountain of wrapping, cable ties and other detrius.
And it works. Mostly.
Seven Channels Found
That sounds good, until you realize that DTV channels have four sub-channels, so four of the seven are from WGVU-PBS, and two are WZZM-ABC and WZZM Weather (actually a really good thing to have). CBS, NBC, FOX, etc. -- not showing up.
This may change as we mess with antenna positions, etc. Or if I can find a more powerful amplifier. But we have "something." Yay us.
There are downsides, of course.
The big one is that DTV is, well, digital. Either it works or it doesn't. No more watching distant stations with audio only or putting up with jumpy fuzzy pictures. Not only are DTV transmissions at lower power, I believe, they have neither the range nor the penetration into buildings and basements as VHF/UHF did. And your old non-digital ready VCR ain't going to work except on the last channel you set the converter box to.
For us, the signal from WZZM-ABC must be borderline, because it freezes up, audio gets choppy and the images begin to pixelate as it loses video updates. The weather sub-channel is better. That should be what we need in the winter.
But we are NOT getting the number of channels we did before. And I'm not sure we'd get the whole set even if we set this up in the upstairs of the house. A lot of people are going to be pissed. A LOT of people.
And that 800-lb. gorilla lurking in the hallway? Well, just because your cable provider is still going to continue analog broadcast over cable after 17 February 2009, doesn't mean they will do so forever. We will have to replace our TVs or get another sort of converter box sometime. And I'll rant about it when it happens.
Not at all the clean and simple conversion people think this will be. (sigh)