Digital TV is worth converter hassle

Feb 04, 2009 By Andrew D. Smith

Converter boxes. Coupon shortages. Congressional squabbling. Mass confusion. Such hassles raise a fundamental question about the digital TV transition: What will consumers get in return? Quite a lot, actually.

Consumers who receive programs over the air will get the best pictures and sound their TVs can produce the instant they install their converter boxes.

A $50 converter box will never make a 20-year-old TV produce high-definition pictures and sound, but it will eliminate static, snow, shadows, ghosts and other visual debris.

Many viewers will be shocked to see what great pictures their sets can display.

Another surprise will come when they start to notice the extra channels.

Digital technology will allow TV stations to broadcast several streams of programming within a single spot on the TV dial. Current compression rates comfortably support four streams of standard programming or one HD stream and one SD stream.

Rather than getting a single channel 8, for example, customers may someday choose among channels 8.1, 8.2, 8.3 and 8.4.

Most TV stations have yet to begin multicasting - they've been worried about getting the first digital signal working and saving money in a tight economy - but enough stations have started experimenting to provide some idea of the possibilities.

Some PBS stations, for example, have supplemented their main programming stream with a second feed devoted entirely to children's programming, a third devoted to documentaries and news, and a fourth dedicated to drama and comedy.

Elsewhere, companies are assembling content to sell broadcasters ready-made programming streams with different focuses: sports, music, news, foreign-language programming and others.

"Eventually, multicasting could provide people who get TV over the air with a level of variety that compares with a very basic cable package - but without the monthly payment," said Graham Jones, director of communications engineering at the National Association of Broadcasters.

Even with all these channels packed in, digital television broadcasts consume far less space in the airwaves than their older analog counterparts. The government has thus allocated the extra space for other uses.

Some of the space will go to emergency service organizations, which will use it to improve interagency communication and coordination.

The government sold the rest of the extra space - for more than $19 billion - to telecom companies including AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Neither company will say what it plans to do with the space, but observers can sum up their expectations in one word: data.

Cellular carriers expect usage of smartphones and mobile Internet to explode over the next few years and become as common as wireless calls are today.

They also expect that most laptops - along with a fair percentage of GPS units, portable video game players, electronic readers and other devices - will soon come with cellular cards that keep them permanently connected to the Web.

All those devices sending all that information back and forth will require a lot of room on the airwaves - room the cellular carriers will get from TV stations.

"The spectrum transferred to wireless carriers because of the DTV transition increases their total capacity by 20 to 25 percent," said Joe Farren, a spokesman for the CTIA, the wireless industry's main trade group.

"That extra space will let wireless devices show live TV, download movies and do all the things that we can do now on our home computers."

___

(c) 2009, The Dallas Morning News.
Visit The Dallas Morning News on the World Wide Web at www.dallasnews.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Explore further: Scientists twist radio beams to send data: Transmissions reach speeds of 32 gigabits per second

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

What the UK Space Agency can teach Australia

Jul 24, 2014

Australia has had an active civil space program since 1947 but has much to learn if it is to capture a bigger share of growing billion dollar global space industry. ...

First LDSD test flight a success

Jun 30, 2014

NASA representatives participated in a media teleconference this morning to discuss the June 28, 2014 near-space test flight of the agency's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), which occurred off the co ...

New test may provide 'smoking gun' for modified gravity

Jun 20, 2014

(Phys.org) —Since 1916, general relativity has provided a description of gravity that can explain many observations, including objects in free fall, gravitational lensing by massive objects, and black holes. ...

Recommended for you

Cutting congestion on the data network highway

Sep 12, 2014

Perhaps no other consumer-driven technology has made such incredible advances in such a relatively short space of time as the mobile phone. Today's smartphones are used to stream videos, access social media ...

T-Mobile to sell phones that call, text on Wi-Fi (Update)

Sep 10, 2014

T-Mobile will sell more than 100 smartphone models with a built-in feature that taps into Wi-Fi networks to make phone calls and send texts when customers can't connect to the wireless carrier's cellular network.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

E_L_Earnhardt
not rated yet Feb 05, 2009
Dream On! What you are going to get is a total loss of thousands of "fringe customers" who simply can not tolerate the rapid "freeze -on -off" nature of a digital weak signal! I hope I am wrong!
T.V. Eng.