Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Bumbling Revolution - Part 4:
The Final Word On All This Crap!

The digital TV transition has finally entered the home stretch

This is the last installment of my TechnoBabble HDTV blog. I'm sure you're either bored or confused of both. But hey, I'm here to answer the questions for you. If you know me, and love me, and still have questions...e-mail me or call me. The time has come to upgrade to and HDTV 16x9 set. We'll be forced to. What you decide is up to you and what you get should be what looks great to you...not what TechnoBabble confuses the hell out of you. So here's the final lowdown on TV's transition to the digital era...

Until the transition to digital television is complete, TV stations will continue broadcasting on their analog channels while phasing in digital broadcasts on a separate DTV channel. Several years ago, the FCC established a timetable for terrestrial (over-the-air) broadcasters to convert to DTV. While many stations missed earlier deadlines, most commercial and public TV stations are currently broadcasting digitally at least part of the time.

Earlier deadlines weren't strictly enforced, but everyone seems to be taking the Feb. 2009 analog shutoff date more seriously. As you shop for an HDTV, be aware of the following dates:

July 1, 2006: As part of the FCC's "tuner mandate," all TV sets with screens measuring 25" or larger must include an over-the-air digital tuner. Note: this rule doesn't apply to "monitor" displays which lack any type of built-in tuner.

December 31, 2006: This was the FCC's original target "analog shut-off date" when all TV stations would have been required to turn off their analog signals. However, the proposal included a loophole that allowed the deadline to be extended until most homes (85%) in an area were capable of watching digital TV programs. This deadline is no longer in effect.

March 1, 2007: The final requirement of the tuner mandate calls for all TVs with screens measuring 13" or larger to include an over-the-air digital tuner. Again, this won't apply to monitor displays.

February 17, 2009: In legislation passed in early Feb. 2006, the U.S. Congress chose this date for the "analog shutoff," when all TV stations will be required to turn off their analog signals and broadcast only digital signals. The measure was part of the budget bill signed into law by President Bush.

If 2009 rolls around and you still don't own a digital TV, don't worry — you won't be left staring at a dark screen. Any TV connected to a cable or satellite set-top box should continue to work just fine. Plus, the analog shutoff legislation includes funds that are earmarked for helping owners of analog TVs purchase inexpensive converter boxes that would allow them to view over-the-air digital broadcasts on their old TVs.

HDTV or HDTV-ready?

Once you know which type(s) of digital TV signals are available to you, you're ready to consider which type of digital TV makes the most sense. There are two basic categories of HD-capable televisions.

An HDTV (also called an "integrated HDTV") combines an HD-capable display and an HDTV tuner in one package. The tuner can usually receive both digital and analog over-the-air broadcasts. Nearly all HDTV sets use the widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio.

An HDTV-ready TV (also called an "HDTV monitor") has the high-resolution display, but must be connected to a separate HDTV tuner to receive digital broadcasts. Many HDTV-ready TVs include an analog (NTSC) tuner for viewing conventional programs. HDTV-ready TVs can have either the squarish 4:3 aspect ratio or the widescreen 16:9 ratio.

The selection of HD-capable TVs has gradually shifted from mostly HDTV-ready models to mostly HDTVs now. The FCC is requiring that all TVs with screens 13" and larger include a digital tuner by March 1, 2007. If you live in an area where most or all of the TV programming you care about is available via over-the-air digital broadcasts, choosing an integrated HDTV is a no-brainer. But if digital broadcasts are limited in your area, or if you subscribe to satellite TV service, an HDTV-ready TV may be a sensible choice.

Again, my opinion and the bottom line on this is...get a set that is right for you. You're going to spend a bunch more money for a new HDTV set and you need to be happy. Just pick the one thats right for you!