Over-the-air analog television is scheduled to take its final breath on or before February 17, 2009. By federal regulation, all analog television broadcasting must cease. Television will only be broadcast digitally from that day forward. It will be quite a landmark day in the history of television broadcasting. Not only will the mode of transmission change, the frequencies used will change dramatically, as well.
In the New York City area, eight out of the fifteen major over-the-air broadcasters will flip channels during the analog to digital transition. WCBS-DT, now on 56, will revert back to its original DTV channel 33. WPIX will vacate 33 and use channel 11 as its digital home. Similarly, WABC and WNET will also switch digital transmissions to their current analog channels 7 and 13 respectfully. A couple of UHF stations will do the same: WLIW 21 will use 21 for its digital future. WPXN 31 will also swap analog for digital.
WNBC will remain on DTV channel 28. Fox's WNYW will continue on channel 44. WNYE, the City of New York's educational channel, will drop analog channel 25 and remain digitally on 24. WWOR will vacate channel 9 and continue on their current DTV channel 38. Spanish speaking WXTV will close analog channel 41 and use channel 40. WFUT will move from analog 68 to digital 41. WNJU will be using channel 36 after the transition. Finally, WLNY, the independent TV station from Long Island, will move digital operations from channel 57 to channel 47. You'll need a chart to follow all these changes! You will also still need a VHF/UHF antenna. Early plans to transmit DTV only on UHF channels did not bear fruit! However, television broadcasting will be limited to channels 2 through 51. Channels 52 through 69 will be reallocated to other uses. Remember when television was broadcast as high as channel 83?
One interesting aspect of this momentous event: ABC is in a heated argument with New Jersey Public Broadcasting Network (NJN) over WABC-DT's pending use of channel 7 for digital broadcasting. NJN's WNJT, licensed to Trenton, New Jersey, has been allocated channel 8 for its long-term digital transmissions. WABC must move from their current DTV channel 45 to protect digital allocations on 45 slated for Pennsylvania and Connecticut. If WABC-DT operates on channel 7, WNJT-DT, at least in theory, will be limited in its useful coverage area. NJN and WABC are searching for a compromise to eliminate interference between these two broadcasts. One solution was to allow WNJT to co-locate antennae with WABC at Four Times Square in Manhattan. The FCC has yet to decide this dilemma.
How will things look when the transition is over? To continue to see anything over-the-air with an analog TV, you will need a digital tuner or a converter box. The Federal Government has established a program to provide needy viewers with $40 credit vouchers towards the purchase of up to two DTV converter boxes per household! From January 1, 2008 through March 31, 2009, everyone in America will be eligible to apply for and use these vouchers. The Department of Commerce has $990 million allocated for this program. Another $510 million is available, if necessary! The first allocation alone would provide vouchers to cover 2,465,000 converter boxes! One would think it would be more cost effective to simply buy a new TV!
The voucher plan has a fundamental problem: DTV converter boxes are nearly non-existent. DTV set top box tuners are pricey and usually need to be special ordered by mail. A couple of manufacturers also offer computer cards capable of DTV reception. Another option is to buy a DVD recorder, or similar device, that includes a DTV tuner. Anyone looking for an inexpensive converter box will have a challenging hunt! Radio Shack offered a stand-alone DTV tuner, under the Accurian brand name, for about $90 last year. They are now extremely hard to find.
Cable television viewers will probably not notice any change at all. Analog television signals will continue to pour out of their cable set top boxes for a long time to come. DirecTV and Dish Network users are no different. No new converters or televisions will be needed in these households. It will only be the folks who still use antennas for reception (including me!) that will have to deal with digital conversion havoc! Will CBS, NBC and Fox still call themselves 2, 4 and 5? Probably, since their programming won't move off those channels on most cable TV systems.
TV DXers will enter a new world. Although some exceptions exist, the low-band VHF television spectrum, channels 2 through 6, will be nearly empty of domestic broadcasting. When E-skip season arrives in June, July and December, international analog TV will sporadically drift in from The Caribbean, South America and Canada for the first time without domestic interference. (Canada has yet to announce a plan for complete transition to DTV.) If you always wanted to log CTV, Venezuela's RCTV or Cubavision, wait until the summer of 2009! Turn on your old analog TV and wait for results! It might be all you will ever see!