I recently had a phone interview with Lou Lenzi, Sr. Vice President, Product Management with Audiovox Accessories and he gave me the statistic that 13 million homes in the US currently use an antenna to receive television signal to their main TV. Then there is another 6 million that use and antenna to receive signal to one or more of their extra TVs. Lenzi explained that people have TVs in the spare bedroom, basement, or out in the garage, all fall into this category. That means that come February 17, 2009, there will be about 13-16 million TVs that will stop working unless some actions are taken. Some of you are saying 13 million plus 6 million is 19 million, but there are some small markets that are not required to kill their analog signal.
For those of you that want answers to every digital TV questions, here are some resources. DTVanswers.com, DTVtransition.org, and here is a video created by CEA that explains everything. For everyone else, here are the basics.
There are 2 different OTA (over the air) TV broadcasts. NTSC (National Television System Committe) and ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee). There is no such thing as a HD antenna, all antennas can pick up the ATSC signal, or the NTSC for that matter, it is just that the rabbit ear antennas aren’t able to pick up a strong enough digital signal. Each of the signals need a tuner to correctly interpret the signal for the television.
Everyone that has an older TV with a rabbit ears antenna, will have a couple options. The first is to pony up the money and pay for cable or satellite service on the TV. If you want to keep on receiving free television, your next option is to purchase a newer TV that comes equip with a digital (ATSC) tuner. If you want to keep your old TV, you will need to purchase a converter box that has a digital tuner. With both of these free TV options you will also need to purchase an antenna that is built for the ATSC signal, and is strong enough to receive the signal in your location.
For all of the options above there are some pros and cons. First of all, anytime an antenna is used there is the possibility of what is called “drop off”. Meaning, if the signal drops too low for the tuner to display the TV picture, the picture freezes or skips. There is no fuzzy picture that happens, which is the case when the analog (NTSC) signal is not strong enough. If you don’t have the correct antenna for your location, this problem may occur many times during a show or game, and become very annoying. The big bonus of using an antenna for HDTV is that the OTA signal is uncompressed. So if you receive a clean signal with no drop offs, you will have the potential for the absolute best picture possible, pending your TV display. If you decide to go with cable or satelitte, you will receive a 100% uninterupted signal (unless you have Comcast, but thats another issue all together), but the picture could be highly compressed. You will also be paying a monthly fee, where as with the antenna, HDTV and/or converter box, you will just be paying a one time fee. Finally, most of the indoor antennas are bulky and pretty much the eye sore of you entertainment center. Enter the RCA ANT1500.
|Front view of the RCA ANT1500||Front view of the RCA ANT1500
with DVD case for size reference
|Top view of the RCA ANT1500
with DVD case for size reference
|Back view of the RCA ANT1500
with DVD case for size reference
This new antenna from RCA is a compact, multi-directional, HD optimized antenna. With its small, form factor, you can lay it flat on top of entertainment center, hang it flat on the wall behind your TV, or in theory, stand it upright on a shelf.
Before anyone goes out and purchases an antenna to use with their digital tuner, they should check out AntennaWeb.org. Here you can type in your address to see what channels should be broadcasted in your area, and what type of antenna you should be able to use to receive them. After you find out what antenna you should be able to use, I would purchase one at a retailer with a good return policy, in case the antenna doesn’t work quite as well as you’d like.
I live in an apartment near O’Hare airport creating 2 factors that are big downsides for digital reception. AntennaWeb.org says that I should use a powered multi-directional antenna. I tested this ANT1500 with my ATI HD Wonder card in my PC, and a 24 in widescreen monitor. I loved how small and compact the antenna was, I was able to shove it in the corner, out of the way of all of my A/V gear. I just wish I could have kept the antenna in the corner out of the way, all of the time. In fact, I had to move the antenna between 2 different locations depending on the channel that I wanted to watch. I think if the antenna wasn’t hard wired with a 6 ft. coax cable, I would have been able to attach a longer cable, and find a single location farther than 6 ft away from my tuner, that would be able to receive all of the channels successfully. With the antenna in the correct location in order to get a good signal, I would still have “drop off” about 3-4 times in a 30 min program.
|RCA ANT1500 Back Stand
Besides having a hardwired coax cable, the only other design flaw is the “stand” that comes with the antenna. As you can see, there is a C shaped metal attachment that goes into 2 holes at the bottom of back of the antenna. The only thing is that, the cable comes out of the bottom as well. There is no notch or anything for the antenna to safely avoid bending at an awkward angle, making the antenna look like it is ready to fall over. I think the stand should have been thought about better, or just removed from the package altogether.
After reporting my not so awesome reception to AudioVox, they went ahead and sent me a Zenith converter box, saying it should work better than my HD Wonder card. Using the converter box was super easy, I connected the antenna to the box, and RCA cables from the box to my video and audio. The box automatically scanned for channels and was able to display programming details. Again, I had the exact same problems, needing to move the antenna between the 2 different locations, and 3-4 “drop offs” per 30 min program. My apartment might be one of the worst scenarios when it comes to digital reception.
If you live in a location where a non-powered multi-directional antenna will receive most of your channels, I highly recommend this antenna. Its small form factor is a huge plus in the world of antennas, because most of them are so darn ugly, and HUGE. Example A, B, C, D and E. Again, I would recommend trying the antenna out in your setup before you throw away your receipt.
I know some of you might be saying, with all this hassle of signal, and “drop off” why would I even want to bother with this whole HD antenna deal? As mentioned before, the two positives are no monthly payments, and uncompressed HD quality. But the real question is, whether or not either of those two are worth it, if your signal drops out every so often, especially during the big game. If you can receive a 100% free, crystal clear signal, with limited “drop offs”, I would say it is, for sure worth it. This digital transition, can be as costly or as not so costly as you want it to be. Hopefully this information can help you make the best decisions.
It’s unfortunate the “digital transition” was government mandated, rather than something driven independently by market forces. Set manufacturers and possibly converter manufacturers are making money – I suspect a good deal of it will come from folks on fixed incomes who are left with no choice but to learn about technology and pay to upgrade. But, hey – at least the government made a few billion by reselling the spectrum.
It’s not the transition that I see as the problem so much as the education. Even with all of the commercials that run during daytime programming that try to explain what’s going to happen next year, I’ve still had to explain to my grandmother that she doesn’t have to get a box because she has cable. I realize my grandmother is n=1, but I’d be willing to bet a good amount that a good number of viewers in rural areas who can’t get cable are are going to be making some angry phone calls come 2/18/09.
How do you educate the large percentage of non-technical citizens? I just don’t see any easy way to reach all these folks and make it something comprehensible… should they even wish to learn it. Obviously news coverage is out there – but will it make any sense or be read prior to the cut off? And who are they going to call when they lose programming? City hall? Television stations? Grandchildren? Television repairmen? It’s a cluster, all right.
(And I hope it’s clear that none of this reflects on Lucas’ post – this is an industry problem.)
Pre switchover, the only thing you can do is advertise as much as you can. I’m guessing that, from November until February, we’re going to see so many of these commercials that we’ll be praying for the cutover to just happen already. And don’t discount those Best Buy and Circuit City flyers that will come out around Thanksgiving, advertising Christmas sales with a big red “ARE YOU READY FOR THE DIGITAL SWITCH?” on the cover. Local government mailings would help, too.
Post cut-off, for at least two weeks, the local municipal outfit should have a handy stack of converter boxes, and some sort of legacy analog broadcasting should send a constant signal that shows a screen that says “YOUR TV IS NOT BROKEN. PLEASE CALL YOUR LOCAL MUNICIPAL OFFICE,” with a list of local numbers on the screen, as well as a URL to explain the switchover. Is this technically feasible, or allowed under the switching rules? I have no idea.
And, as always, Google is our friend(TM) – http://www.reuters.com/article/technologyNews/idUSN1848299520080818?feedType=RSS&feedName=technologyNews&pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0
Has there been any other industry that has had something along the same lines happen? A product that was so widely consumed, and at a certain point the new technology would make the current technology obsolete, and useless, on a certain deadline? A doomsday if you will.
How did they solve the problem?
Is AT&T discontinuing their TDMA similar? Or not really because that is just one company, not the entire industry?
I would like to know what is out there regarding an AFFORDABLE VCR/DVD/DVR machine that will be able to do TIMER RECORDING for multiple stations when I am away on vacation (where I don’t have to have my TV set on the specific station to record a program from it). Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org