Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Analog to Digital TV Transition: One Step Forward, One Step Back

I’ve got cable TV, so I wasn’t worried about the recent conversion from analog to digital television signals. But to experience the transition for myself, I picked up a new antenna – for UHF, VHF, HD, and digital signals. I also wanted the antenna as a backup in case the cable went out. And it does go out, usually at the times when you want it the most.

Imagine my dismay, however, when I hooked up the antenna over a month ago and got only a few channels, some with signals that seemed to break up a lot, or disappear altogether. Don’t worry I was told - the Cleveland stations weren’t all broadcasting at the time, and some who were broadcasting before the switch may not have been at full power. So, I waited for the day of the transition and rescanned my TV for digital channels several times, getting FEWER over the air channels than I got before the changeover, some local channels never appearing at all.

Our local Fox channel, WJW, was running a spot yesterday on the 5:00 PM newscast where they went to a viewer’s house who wasn’t able to get the Fox station at all, and the reporter showed the man that if he stood up and held his rabbit ears high, the signal came in much better. Of course, he said, a person should not have to do that. He got the man another set of rabbit ear antennas and seemed to be able to pull in Fox 8 a little better.

I also have read that outdoor antennas can get much better reception. Well, pardon me, but we got rid of our massive outdoor antenna years ago, when the ice age ended – I mean - when we got cable and there were newfangled things called satellite dishes out there. Another pat answer that people are handing out is just to re-scan your TV. Well, I’ve done that sometimes more than once a day just to see what I get, and the number of stations change every time. These digital signals should not be that inconsistent.

Imagine my surprise that in 2009, people have gone back to having to put “rabbit ears” on their TVs and put huge antennas on their roofs. I have a nice flat antenna that is supposed to work indoors and pull signals from every direction, yet now I find out that some stations are broadcasting in a weaker VHF signal that doesn’t transmit as well, regardless of how good my antenna is. What is even worse is that with old analog signals, at least you could get part of a signal – it may have looked snowy - but with digital, if there is too much signal loss, you get nothing at all. We can put a man on the moon, we can send phone calls via cell towers and we have wireless Internet, why is a television signal such a problem? Did I mention that this is 2009?

I can’t imagine how crazy I would be right now if I didn’t have cable. I feel sorry for the people – and there are many in this area – which still can’t get the same channels they used to be able to get over the air from the analog signals. Right now, Cleveland’s Fox affiliate, WJW, and the CBS affiliate, WOIO, have almost completely dropped off from many viewers’ television sets. (In the case of WOIO and their local newscasts, some see this as a benefit.) These two stations are broadcasting in the lower power VHF signal, by the way.

My gripe is really with the fact that in trying to deliver something better, it seems that we have now gone back to the old days where you had to have your antenna “just right” in order to see television. The FCC should have done a better job with the stations to make sure that their signals really did reach the intended viewing area. The government delayed the transition to make sure all the viewers had time to be ready, but possibly they should have used that time to make sure the stations were ready and that the signals actually could be received by people.

As this is hurricane season for the country’s east coast residents, I hope that signal problems can be resolved so those that don’t have cable, or must get their television via a portable, battery powered TV, can still get important weather and evacuation information.

So my experiment with the digital transition was that it happened, but it has some problems in some area that the local stations and the FCC must address quickly. There is no reason why, in this age of advanced technology, that there can’t be a better answer to this problem than bigger rabbit ears.

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