Get the picture? Digital transition draws mixed reviews
Posted: Friday, June 19, 2009 9:01 pm
By: Glenda H. Caudle Special Features Editor
By GLENDA H. CAUDLE
Special Features Editor
The picture is clearer and sharper.
If you can get a picture.
Some people can’t — or at least not very many of them — thanks to the digital television transition.
The TV Converter Box Coupon Program Web site offers information about the transition which took place on all full-power television stations in the U.S. June 12. It explains that the program was put in place to free up airwaves for use by emergency responders, and it also promises a clearer picture and more programming options for many.
“Many” does not, of course, encompass “all.”
If you are one of the “many,” you are probably very pleased with the changeover.
If you are Bill Flippen of Union City, however, you may be less enchanted. Eight days ago, Flippen could bring in eight channels with his antenna on his analog TV. Since June 12, he has found his viewing limited to a single channel, despite the fact that he has attached the requisite converter box and has spent time, money and energy trying to “fix” a system that satisfied him very well before the government got involved.
Terry Speed of Speed’s TV Service on West Church Street in downtown Union City says he has had between one and two dozen calls over the past few days.
“We’re in a ‘fringe’ area in this part of the country,” he says. “If you’ve been relying on an antenna to bring in your channels (on a traditional analog TV such as those produced almost exclusively before 1998), you have to have a really top-notch system in place now, including the best wiring and antenna and booster, to hold on to your channels.”
It is possible to still buy fairly good antennas and amplifiers, but the quality of those products is not what it used to be, Speed says. “DirecTV and Dish network have put most of those out of business who were providing those top of the line products,” he adds.
Many TVs produced after 2004 feature digital tuners — although not all. Those that do not were advertised as “HD-ready” or “HDTV monitor sets,” according to a Web site devoted to questions about the digital changeover. Those sets are equipped to display digital and high-definition signals, but they require a converter or a cable TV connection.
Speed acknowledges that picture quality for those with cable hookups offered in cities and towns in this area and those with satellite systems in cities and rural areas may be very good and those viewers are probably pleased with the changes they are noticing. But for those who have been dependent on the old tried and true outdoor antennas that once pierced the landscape everywhere with their metal rods and prongs, change may not have been all they bargained for. And the bad news is, there is no way to be sure purchasing upgraded equipment for an analog set dependent on an antenna will correct the problem in part or in whole.
Speed says he belongs to NESDA — National Electronics Service Dealers Association — and has been in contact with other service providers like himself who are reporting identical problems. In the wide-open desert spaces of the West and mountainous rural areas in the north, TV viewing represents a new challenge for antenna-dependent viewers with analog TVs who either find themselves at great distances from the broadcast site or who have natural geographic interference from mountains and forests. Sometimes even buildings can represent a heretofore benign barrier to those newly-weakened signals.
While some citizens with antennas are reporting they are actually picking up a few stations they never received before, those Speed is hearing from have lost several — particularly those originating from south of this area. “City dwellers are pretty much OK, but some of them in large metropolitan areas didn’t need even antennas to begin with because so many stations were available city-wide in proximity to their homes.
“The UHF (Ultra High Frequency) signal provides a picture that is 10 times better, but the signal is only half as strong as the VHF (Very High Frequency) signal we used to rely on.” Speed says. That difference in strength is why some viewers are experiencing problems.
UHF and VHF are the frequency bands used to transmit television signals that are most likely to be in use. UHF is also employed by public service entities that rely on two-way radio communication. The Global Positioning System uses the band, too, and more radio broadcasting is being noticed in this arena.
While UHF has benefits — clearer reception being the one of most interest to the average TV viewer — its major disadvantage is the one Flippen and others like him are experiencing: It has limited broadcast range and reception, or line-of-sight, between the TV station’s transmission antenna and the customer’s reception antenna. VHF’s very long broadcast range and reception are less impacted by line-of-sight issues, according to information provided on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia available online.
Not all TV stations were required to meet the June 12 deadline for transition to the digital program. Some translator and low-power stations have more time to make the change and it may be that those are predominantly the ones that a few fortunate antenna users are now picking up. The bad news is, at some point, those stations will have to comply or go off the air altogether. There is apparently no way of knowing how the switch to UHF of these stations that were already “weak” to begin with will affect antenna users.
Some TV stations report they are trying to boost their signals or find new ways of providing services their viewers once enjoyed and are now missing, but they are vague on details about how and when their efforts might impact area residents.
“This has been very discouraging to some people in this area,” Speed says. He says older residents are particularly hard hit by the change. “I sometimes go back two or three times trying to help them. Their TV may be all they have and this change is so new to them. They need lots of help and sometimes I just have to say, ‘I’m sorry. But this is all you can get.’ They can spend a lot of money to try to fix the problem and still not be any better off.”
Published in The Messenger 6.19.09