Techno Files...with Riley Gay
Changeover to digital TV progressing, but slowly


It started as a whisper, quickly grew to rumble, and is rapidly building to a roar: “I want my DTV!”

DTV (digital television) is what TV was meant to be--the bright, clear picture makes your old analog’s seem shoddy by comparison. Indeed, watching a true HDTV (high definition TV) broadcast might seem more like you’re looking through a window than watching television.


The fact is that, in a perfect world, analog TV broadcasts should already have gone the way of rotary-dial phones and VCRs. As it happens, digital broadcasts were slated by Congressional mandate to replace analog broadcasts by the end of 2004, but that deadline came and went without effect. And, unfortunately, there’s still no clear idea as to when DTV’s promise of a more immersive viewing experience will become the standard for broadcast TV. The deadline has been reset for the end of 2006, but even that will probably be pushed back…again.

But who’s to blame for this foot-dragging? It depends on whom you ask: The broadcasters blame the TV manufacturers for high prices that are keeping consumers out of the digital market; the manufacturers blame the broadcasters for not offering enough content in digital format to tempt consumers to buy the equipment needed to receive their digital signals; and consumers are likely to blame both for the whole, confusing mess.

And for consumers, “confusion” seems to be the operative word. You might think that just buying the newest generation TV would be enough to let you receive digital broadcasts, but that’s not the case. For example, sets labeled “Digital-ready” or “HDTV-ready” don’t have a built-in tuner needed to decode a digital signal, so unless you are a satellite or digital cable subscriber, and have a digital set-top box provided with your service, you might not be receiving a high definition digital signal.

You can get over-the-air signals by purchasing a separate tuner for digital reception, but be prepared to plunk down an extra $100 or so, on top of the cost of your new TV.

Of course, you can buy a digital TV with an integrated tuner, but it’ll cost you a bit more than one without.

Even with a digital tuner, though, you might not be watching your favorite show in digital format: For Kyrene Corridor residents, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS currently offer over-the-air digital broadcasts.

Further, just buying a digital set doesn’t mean you’ll be getting the most from your digital signal. You’ll need a “High Definition” TV (HDTV) in order to get the full resolution from a high definition signal. If that’s not an important consideration, you can save some money by buying an “Enhanced Definition” (EDTV) or “Standard Definition” (SDTV) set, but you’ll be trading picture clarity and sharpness if you do.

Resolution refers to the number of lines your set is capable of displaying, with true HDTV able to offer 1080 lines of resolution compared to SDTV’s 480 lines. EDTV sets can display 720 lines of resolution, equivalent to that of DVD movies. Obviously, more is better when it comes to picture quality, but you’ll pay more, too.

Clearly neither the broadcasters nor the manufacturers have done a stellar job of educating the consumer about DTV. Right now it’s pretty much left to the buyer to slog through all the acronyms and technical jargon in hopes of finding the product that’s right for them.

There are a few of bright spots on the digital horizon, though. Pressure is building in Congress to set a definitive date for changeover to the digital standard, and the FCC has mandated that, by July 2007, all new TVs sold in the U.S. must be digital.

From a consumer standpoint, prices on new digital TVs have been steadily falling, making DTV a more viable option when it finally comes time to purchase a new TV.

Meanwhile, if you’re ready to make the leap to digital TV, there are a couple of ways you can go. For cable or satellite subscribers, making the transition to DTV is as easy as swapping your set-top box for an HDTV model.

For a few dollars more you can even get one with DVR (digital video recorder) capabilities that will let you set your own schedule for watching your favorite programs. And, since you’ll already have a set-top tuner, you can save a little money on the purchase price of your new television by getting one without the integrated tuner.

If you prefer to forgo cable or satellite service, and get your digital signal over the airwaves, you can either opt for an integrated tuner or add one to your existing set for about $100. A good digital antenna can be had for around $50.

On the programming front, available HD content is improving, too, as more programs are added on an almost daily basis and more channels make the transition to digital broadcasting.

So, if you want your DTV, now may be the right time to start thinking about making the transition--before you and your old analog TV get left in the digital dust.