Digital TV is worth converter hassle

February 4, 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: Tidal tails detected around a distant globular cluster

Related Stories

Tidal tails detected around a distant globular cluster

May 22, 2017

(Phys.org)—Astronomers have found tidal tails around a distant globular cluster known as NGC 7492. The newly discovered features could provide important information about the nature of globular clusters. The findings were ...

NASA annual Arctic ice survey expanded range this year

May 17, 2017

NASA's annual survey of changes in Arctic ice cover greatly expanded its reach this year in a series of flights that wrapped up on May 12. It was the most ambitious spring campaign in the region for NASA's Operation IceBridge, ...

Physical keyboards make virtual reality typing easier

May 8, 2017

What's better than a holographic keyboard? A real one, apparently. New research from computer scientists at Michigan Technological University delves into the different ways to type in a virtual reality (VR) space. They're ...

Recommended for you

Chinese fans trash blackout as Google AI wins again

May 25, 2017

Chinese netizens fumed Thursday over a government ban on live coverage of Google algorithm AlphaGo's battle with the world's top Go player, as the programme clinched their three-match series in the ancient board game.

Shedding light on how humans walk... with robots

May 24, 2017

Learning how to walk is difficult for toddlers to master; it's even harder for adults who are recovering from a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or other condition, requiring months of intensive, often frustrating physical ...

1 comment

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.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.