Digital TV transition has early flaws

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DTV 2009The much-hyped mandatory transition from analog to digital TV in the United States has begun in Wilmington, NC.

For those who don’t know, by law, all TV stations that broadcast over the air using analog signals must begin broadcasting exclusively in the new digital format by February 17. Most U.S. TV stations already offer digital signals, but the majority of non-cable customers are still getting their TV through an old-fashioned analog signal.

The new digital format certainly has its advantages. Its much better picture and sound quality are the most obvious. Viewers won’t have to worry about static anymore. They will, however, have to worry about actually getting the signal to their favorite local stations, The Wall Street Journal reports.

One of the most surprising lessons from the early digital-television transition that took place . . . in Wilmington, N.C., is that some viewers may permanently lose access to certain broadcast channels.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said Tuesday that TV stations whose analog signals stretch far beyond their digital broadcast areas may be on the hook to build more antennas to reach those viewers.

The analog signal for Wilmington’s NBC affiliate, WECT-TV Channel 6, one of the stations in the experiment, broadcasts several counties away from its actual digital market. When WECT stopped broadcasting in an analog format, as all TV stations must do Feb. 17, several customers outside the official market suddenly lost the channel.

While most of these viewers will still be able to access other NBC affiliates closer to their homes, this certainly raises the question as to whether U.S. TV stations are ready for the transition as far as strength of signal is concerned. Mr. Martin expects about 15% of U.S. TV markets to “shrink in a significant way” after the transition. With digital broadcasts, viewers either get an excellent picture or they get nothing. There is no in-between.

Via [The Wall Street Journal]

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