Friday 12 June 2009 is the current date when we change from analog TV broadcasts to digital. DTV, converter box, cable or satellite will be the only way to go. Or go without.
I've written before that after people are delighted with the clarity of digital TV's sound and picture, they will be disappointed by the failure modes. Or they won't get a signal at all -- and be royally pissed. Life will be different come the Ides of June, that's for certain, and it won't all be for the better.
Failure Mode One
On Monday 11 May 2009 we were watching an NCIS re-run on a local cable channel. Actually they were running three episodes in a row. But the signal kept on breaking up into big blocky pixellations and the sound was intermittent, so we skipped it. Later we ended up watching the third episode, which was almost clean. Until six minutes before the hour. That's when the frame froze.
Because this was a digital failure on an analog TV hooked directly to cable, I knew it wasn't my equipment. But was it the player at the cable channel? Or the cable company's equipment? In the analog day, a TV station could tell they weren't broadcasting anything. Harder to tell when the buffer still sends the same signal over and over again.
NOTE: The Internet did come to the rescue with a very complete synopsis of the episode, so we figured out the conclusion we'd missed. (grin)
Failure Mode Two
On Saturday 16 May 2009, twenty minutes before post time for the Preakness, the cable cuts out. It's a beautiful, but windy day. Could be a cable break due to wind motion, or equipment failure at the ground station on 68th Avenue. Either way, we don't have an antenna set up on the TV upstairs and the one downstairs with the converter box doesn't pick up NBC, who is broadcasting the Preakness.
Note that this is not a failure of the digital system per se. But here's where the story takes an odd turn. Within a few minutes we begin to pick up faint ghost images on a number of channels, including some faint images of horses being walked around the paddock area on channel 8. Eventually we begin to get the sound. By the time of the race we can see a very snowy black & white image without any readable text details, but we can watch the whole race. And watch the filly upset the boys. And the Derby winner have to go to the outside and manage to run into second place. Yay!
Plenty of people who live in rural areas will go ho-hum, fuzzy images, business as usual. But remember: this trick works only with an analog signal. Digital signals are either readable or they are not. And as far as I'm concerned, the digital broadcast and cable signals are underpowered. There's a narrow window of semi-readable signals which are very hard to watch or listen to. The sound cuts in and out, and the video is so highly compressed that you lose a lot of frame update information. Yesterday's failure becomes a last reminder of a world we are about to lose.
Progress has its costs.