Friday, April 25, 2008

Digital Dismay

For those who don't know, come February next year, all over-the-air television programming will be broadcast in digital only as opposed to the typical analog signal. Currently, programs are being broadcast in both signals. By next February, though, anyone who doesn't have cable, satellite, or AT&T U-Verse won't be able to watch TV unless they have these new digital converter boxes, which convert the digital signal to an analog one that older TV's can read. Newer TV's (like in the past 3-4 years) already have a digital receiver. None of our TV's (newest was made in the late 1990's I think) have them, so all four will need this converter. Thankfully the government is stepping in and has offered vouchers to offset the cost, since the majority of people who will need them (those without a TV service) are poor. Each household is entitled to two $40 vouchers. Our two came the other day, so I decided that I'd go get one of the converters today to see how it works, plus the vouchers are only good until July.

Well, I got it (paid all of $24 for it with the voucher!) and hooked it up easily. Before I bought the one I did at Radio Shack (pretty much the only one available here right now) I was amazed to see that some people had problems setting it up, but once they got it set up, it worked fine. It took more time to move the few things out of the way to get to the antenna cable than it did to actually hook it up...I guess I have an understanding of how antennas hook up that others don't? It was pretty simple as it's just an additional place the antenna cable has to go through. It comes through the converter, then to my DVD/VCR and then to the TV. Also, the new box is the tuner, so it has its own remote to change channels. The problem with that is in the rare event I want to record a TV program, I have to make sure the new box is on the correct channel, not the VCR (which will stay on channel 4 as will the TV).

I had high hopes since the digital signal is supposed to provide a better viewing picture than analog, even for stations that are traditionally weak, plus the digital signal allows stations to broadcast more than one channel. For example, here in the Cleveland market both WKYC (channel 3) and WOIO (channel 19) broadcast their regular programming (channels 3-1 and 19-1) as well as a separate weather channel (channels 3-2 and 19-2), so that's cool. The bad side is that the digital signals aren't much stronger than the analog ones so far. Both 19 and 43 (which are in essence the same station) have weak signals. 43's was better, but it still wasn't stable and kept going in and out. 19's was worse. On their main channel (19-1) there was no sound and the picture was a constant mess of pixels and lines. Other stations like WVIZ (channel 25) and WNEO/WEAO (45/49), our PBS stations, aren't being picked up at all. Thankfully the all-Spanish channel (channel 61) and the home shopping channel (67) are being picked up just fine...oh wait...I never watch those. The thing with digital signals is that there's no in-between. If the signal isn't strong enough you either won't get anything or you'll get a broken picture and broken sound, so you can't really watch. It reminds me of watching satellite TV during a snowstorm when the signal starts to get bad and starts breaking up. So, although we "added" two channels that we couldn't get previously, we have lost two and two more are unstable. That's really disappointing. But seriously, we're one of the only households left in America that still doesn't have cable or satellite. RRRRR!!! On top of that, another humid summer without air conditioning is on its way. Yipee.

1 comment:

Diane Steinert said...

Thank you for your informative blog on DTV converter boxes. This is definitely a learning process for all of us! I spoke with our engineers here at PBS 45 & 49, who offer the following suggestions for improving reception of our station:

If you have an outside antenna, it is aimed toward Parma (where all Cleveland stations have their towers), while our tower (WEAO/PBS 49 in Copley) would be off the side of the antenna. TV antennas are directional, with nulls to the sides and back. You may need a rotator to turn the antenna to peak us. If you have an indoor antenna, you may be able to place the antenna near a window facing our transmitter.

They also suggested that you might want to check out the information provided on the Web site antennaweb.org.

PBS 45 & 49 has established a DTV Help Desk that can be reached at 1-888-DTV-4PBS and dtv4pbs@wneo.org. Feel free to contact us if you're still having problems with the DTV conversion.