IT'S DIGITAL, BABY! ----------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.or firstname.lastname@example.org 2007 December 24
Introduction ---------- I was asked several times in October and November 2007 about the high-definition television (HDTV) scheme that arrives in 2009. Readers heard 'something' about their current televisions falling dead, to be thrown out for new digital units. You should visit the federal Communications Commission at 'www.hdtv.gov'. This is a special section for the high-definition television (HDTV) project, It has simple text and a FAQ that cover the more important questions. There are by end November 2007 several websites, with new in the mill, discussing the change from analog to digital television. Every thing here relates only to the US situation. Each other country has its own peculiar considerations. I give here a few comments about HDTV. To keep the number of acronyms and abbreves in check I use 'HDTV' to mean the television unit, the digital programming signal, and the entire digital broadcast system.
What's happening? --------------- On 2009 February 17 all broadcast, 'over the air' (OTA), analog television is permanently shut down. TV transmitters there after may send out ONLY a digital signal for HDTV. This is the date for the United States. Other countries already switched to digital TV with Luxembourg the first to do so in 2006. Others are in the process right now or have plans to convert in the coming years. By 2012 virtually every television OTA signal on Earth will be digital with no more analog. Your current television will go blank because there will be no more signal for it to play. Nothing fails or breaks inside the unit. It is still a working machine. In fact, it can still be used for all non-broadcast functions, like for a home security monitor. This is a global scheme to replace the system of television with a digital system. Each country works out its own transition. In the US the utter final date for analog broadcast in 2009 Fevruary 17. The HDTV system was initiated by the US FCC with participation by electromagnetic industries all over the wrold. It is pretty much a globel standard, so that a HDTV from one country can properly operate in any other country. This is unlike the present analog system, which has three domains: NTDC (for the US), PAL, SECAM. A television unit playing a one will not properly play the other signals. After the shutoff of analog OTA broadcast, the wavebands used by these broadcasts will be allocated to other, nonTV, functions. They will never again be available for television service. In the US these bands will be distributed thru aution for electromagnetic companies.
Is the shutoff voluntary? ----------------------- No. It is mandated by law under penalty of loss of broadcast licence. The TV providers by the deadline MUST physicly turn off permanently their analog programming and 'smash the crystal' in the transmitters. The frequencies they now use are then after revocked from television service, to be reassigned to nontelevision functions. TV providers were given a new frequency in the UHF band for simulcast of digital programming along eith their current analog broadcast. When they relinquish the analog transmission in the VHF and parts of the UHF band, they keep just the new UHF frequency for all of their broadcasts. This transition is mandatory in all parts of the world, with very limited exception . Each country established its own procedure and schedlue, so that the complete conversion is staged in year-by-year. The conversion should complete by 2012.
Why is this happening? -------------------- It's part of the move of the entire electromagnetic industry to an alldigital society within a few years. Soon, certainly by the mid2010s, virtually all services now provided in analog signal will be issued only via digital signal. There are compelling technical reasons for going to a digital paradigm, which I pass over here. There are by end November 2007 many websites with excruciatingly detailed explanations of the sigital mechanisms, including for television broadcasts. In the US, planning for HDTV began in 1986, the year of Halley's comet!, with the startup of a blue-ribbon team of electromagentic industry leaders. This team in 1994 finalized the technical aspects of the HDTV system and turned its report in to FCC. FCC in 1997 ruled that the US will switch to HDTV by 2006 December 31. For various reasons, partly political and partly chicken-&-egg, there was little advance toward HDTV by the early thous. in 2005 FCC revised the rules to make the switch on 2009 february 17 and set certain other deadlines. The two more important ones for you as a TV viewer are the compulsory simulcast of analog and digital broadcast starting in 2006 and the inclusion of digital circuitry in all new televisions and gadgets by March 2007. That's why if you have now a HDTV you are already enjoying digital broadcast television. You also enjoy it if you acquired a new analog TV unit built after March 2007. The first big breakout to the public came right now in the yearend 2007 holiday season. Previously, only technophiles dabbled in HDTV. The switch over is definite, with no credible chance of an other deferment. The spectrum vacated by the old analog broadcasts is already up for auction for use by other electromagnetic services.
How many homes are affected? -------------------------- The change to digital does affect every television now receiving over-the-air analog signals, but that's not the answer to the question. There are perhaps 150 million of these sets still running in US homes. This is a estimate from the alltime number sold and the design lifetime, but TVs are very durable appliances. I personally know of friends with TV units pushing 40 or 50 years of age! WHile probably most homes have several TVs, chances are only one main unit will be converted to digital, altho, as discussed below, each home may get a discount coupon for two D/A converter boxes. An other factor is that overwhelmingly the greater number of homes do now have cable or satellite for at least one of their units. These homes will be 'affected' in that they must decide what to do with the units not attached to the cable/satellite service. These providers allow only one unit per service feed. There seem to be very few, a few million at the most, homes with ONLY analog broadcast reception. These are typicly homes that do little TV viewing, only for special occasions. Because the TV s a minor part of home life in these cases, it is probable that they will abandon their units rather than convert to digital signal reception. There are surprisingly few homes with NO television, even among poverty homes. Just about every home, of any affluence level, can afford some television unit, given that units are priced as low as a few tens of dollars in the tabletop models. The feeling in the broadcast industry is that the number of televisions capable of receiving their new digital programming will be substantially the same as now for analog. Only marginal units will be abandoned, those of smaller size, little use. erratic operation, aging.It feels confident that within the year 2008, just about every home with one main unit will be ready for digital one way or an other.
Are there any exceptions? ----------------------- The FCC rules apply to all general public broaadcasting, which is what 'television' usually means. Certain TV transmitters of low power, limited range, confined viewership, are exempt from the 2009 shutdown. Also exempt are television networks that do not send signal thru the air, like closed-circuit systems. FCC has under review the prospect of roping these TV providers into the digital scheme in a future year. Once again, the shutoff is for the SENDOUT of over-the-air analog programming. It has NOTHING to do with the receivers themselfs. No one messes with your TV unts.
Are digital shows broadcas now? ----------------------------- Television providers right now broadcast HDTV programming, which you can play on a new HDTV unit. It's part of the transition process, and a new requirement under the broadcasting licences. Both the new HDTV receiver AND the newest of the analog receivers play BOTH the analog and digital programming. You can right now start enjoying new digital and old analog television in one cabinet. After 2009 February 17 your HDTV will have ONLY the digital signal to play, there no longer being an analog one on the air. Your television provider advertises its digital programming in its litterature. They may tag the HDTV programmings with 'HD', for 'high definitionn'. Less commonly, they use 'DT' for 'digital television'.So far, there is no digital-only programming. All digital broadcasts are simulcasts of the analog ones. so you can enjoy all your shows thru either method. A show sent out in both digital and analog form may have a picture that doesn't fit completely within your TV screen. You'll recognize this by a black border above and below the picture, for a 'mail-slot' effect. Or there may be black bands to both sides of the picture for the 'barn-door' effect. Or the picture may be cropped to fit into the screen, somwtimes called a 'zoom' effect. This is pura mente a cosmetic effect due to the way the TV provider codes its signal.
Will HDTV broadcast be free? -------------------------- Yes. The programming that maps over from the present analog channels remain free of charge. It is either completely free if you receive then it the air via an antenna or included in the most basic subscription for cable or satellite reception. Channels 2 thru 13, plus the current UHF channels, will stay free for you exactly as they are now under the analog system. Cable and satellite comapnies may, and likely will, assess fees for extra services provided thru digital signals. Entirely new, some not yet invented, services, prehaps from nontraditional companies, will most likely be offered at extra cost.
What to do with my analog TV? --------------------------- Your analog television does NOT self-destruct or otherwise stop functioning. After 2009 February 17 there simply is no analog OTA TV transmission for your unit to receive and play. You will see only sttic on any channel you tune to, like that from a station that went off duty for the night. Satellite or cable services already convert digital signal from the TV provider to analog thru the connection box. It's only the OTA analog signal that's turned off. Hence, if you are tied via satellite or cable to a television service, you may keep your current TV. Satellite and cable services will exchange your current connection box for a new one that feeds the proper digital signal into your new HDTV. You may keep your current television for all non-OTA analog signal input, like videotape, CD and DVD, camcorder, digital camera, vintage computer. As long as the input device can generate an 'NTSC' signal at its video/audio ports (for the United States), it can supply your current TV with a playable input.
Should I get a new analog TV to replace my broken one? ---------------------------------------------------- If budget fails you, you can get a NEW analog receiver, provided it was manufactured after March 2007. Deliberately ask if it was, or examine ihe unit's litterture. Televeision receivers built after March 2007 nust include the circuits to play incoming OTA digital signals The image on the screen is still an analog image, like that of your older analog unit. However, the picture and sound will in general, be far cleaner than than taken from an OTA analog signal. That's bvecause a digital broadcast is far more resistant against in-air distortions and corruption. It so happens that in fall 2007 only large-size HDTVs are at sale and they are just now newly issued. They, to some readrs, may be too pricey, being a mite above what you are ready to pay now. There are no small units, like 20 to 30 cm screen, Hence, it can be a reasonable choice to get a analog set for its overall cheaper price,. Once and again, be SURE it is a newly made unit that plays over-the-air digital signals.
Can my analog TV play digital signals? ------------------------------------ If you keep your analog TV unit, you must get a converter box, about the size and bulk of a cable connection box, that digests the incoming digital signal to an analog one that your unit can play. These are also calld D/A (digital-to-analog) boxes. A D/A box is needed ONLY to receive OTA programming. That coming in thru your cable or satellite connection is already doctored up for the TV unit. In fact, the whole pwah of digital/analog is transparent for you. Just keep watching your old television. Sometime in 2008, date uncertain now, stores will start selling D/A boxes to connect between your current TV and its antenna. The module will change the OTA digital signal to the old analog one to be played on your current TV. The image will in general be sharper, clearer, more stable, less prone to interference and distortion, than the OTA analog transmission.
How do I get this special box? ---------------------------- The boxes are hopefuly in the $50 to $70 price range. this is a oneshot expense. You own the box and can attach to any analog television you want. They'll be at sale in stores selling televisions and other personal electronics starting in early to mid 2008. There is a plan in the works to supply discount coupons for the D/A converters. As at now there are no firm particulars about this plan. The converters are still under design and test. Price is hopefully in the $40-$80 range. The coupons, two per household, are worth $40 toward the purchase of an D?A box. They are called 'rebate' and 'discount' coupons -- very different money methods -- but you'll have to wait for the official instructions in early 2008. Hopefully the local news media will announce the plan in early 2008 in time for the issuance of the boxes.
What about my other TVs? ---------------------- Look after your extra TVs, those at a second home, car, trailer or camper, boat. They, too, if they collect OTA signals, will go black on 2009 February 17. Handheld computers right now accept only the analog signals, despite being newly invented devices well aware of the coming changeover. I found no consensus from the computer companies about upgrades, add-on modules, what ever, so these units can play the new digital OTA signals. The discount coupons recognize multiple television units by allowing two coupons per household. to purchase two D/A boxes.
Can I keep my analog TV gadgets? ----------------------------- The HDTVs also accept analog input from existing analog devices. These include VCRs, DVD/CD players, vintage computers, home alarm networks. At worse, you may need a new attachment cable or adaptor. Examine your exiting device. Its connection cable may be tethered permanently so you can not subtitute a neew corrct one for the HDTV unit. In such a situation, you may have to scrap the device or reserve it only for your old analog TC receiver. Brand new gadgets, those manufactured after March 2007, must output the new digital signal for the HDTVs. Ask about an analog output if you need the device for an existing TV unit.
Can I record or capture digital programming? ------------------------------------------ In general, yes. However, the new signal profile includes a provision to lock out a new sigital recording device. It is expected that this feature will be applied to programming where an extra fee is charged, like cinema-on-call. For the free OTA digital programming, there is no movement to lock out the ablity to capture or record it. You can record or capture digital programming thru an old analog device. These never had any lock-out feature. The iamge so captured will be only as good as an analog image. There is one heavy caution! Today with analog broadcasts the TV providers commonly start and end thair programs a little off of the hours posted in their litterature. The deviation is only a minite or two, but that's enough to upset preplanned recording as set on your recorder's timer. You miss the very start or finish of a show! There This nasty trick began sometime in early 2007 and was first publicly noticed in summer of 2007 as consumer complaints reached a critical mass for attention. This jiggering of the start-finsh hours is NOT announced in advance. Only the 'book' hour is advertised. You can not anticipate an early/late endpoint of a given show to adhust your viewing habits or your recorder's timer. is no reason to expect this practice will stop for digital broadcasts. You must take the same care while viewing or capturing a digital show as you must now do for analog shows. Once embedded on a commutable medium, such as a videotape or harddisc, you may play the image back on any television that accepts that medium. In short, you can do with a digital rcording what you now may do with an analog recording, always being mindful of fair use and commercial abuse. You may still, for exxample, record a show for a friend and give him the videotape. The line is crossed, just like for analog recordings, if you sell or otherwise financially benefit from distributing copies of a captured digital program. Playing a digital capture of a sports program at a tavern where it attracts customers is a clear no-no. It is right now a no-no for an analog recording.
Are HDTVs now available? ---------------------- Yes. The first big push is right now in the yearend 2007 season. In fact, By now most stores stopped selling analog televisions to stock ONLY HDTVs. Because HDTVs also play the OTA analog signals, you may continue to watch analog programming, until the trnoff date, in addition to the new digital ones. HDTVs are at present a bit pricey, in the high hundreds to low thousands of dollars. Partly this comes from there being only large models. When small ones are offered and when volume of sales picks up in mid to late 2008, prices will decline to about those for similar size analog units. You may see remaining analog units at deep discount. These should have a tag warning of the analog broadcast shutoff so you are properly advised of their limited function. You may get an old unit knowing that it will fail as a regular television after the analog shutdown but will still work with analog devices that attach to it by cable. They will also wotk with your present cable or satellite connection or with a D?A conveter box. Brand new analog units, built after March 2007, have digital circuits in them to play the new digital programming. You may get one of these if the price or size of HDTVs is too much for you. As at March 2007 all new TV gadgets must handle digital signals, whether or not they also handle analog signals. Hence, when you get the new HDTV, you can attach these devices to it. At worse, you may need a new connection cable or adaptor. This assumes the device has a removable cable or adaptor so you can exchange it
Can I keep my old antenna? ------------------------ Your existing antenna will pick up the new sigital broadcasts because they are sent out in the existing UHF spectral band, where you now obtain the higher numbered channels beyond 13. However, the reception is still subject to degradation by distance from the transmitter. If now you get poor reception with your analog TV, you'll get poor reception with your new digital unit. The reception quality will be better than that of analog because the digital signal is less prone to distortion and interference thru the air. At worse, you may get a new, larger and more sensitive, antenna. You may have to aim your antenna to a new transmission station, as advised by the TV providers in your area. This is because some providers will build a new transmitting station at a site away from their present station. It is a little-known federal law that allows you to place a television antenna on your own premises. This law overrides state, local, and private rules that prohibit such antennae. This also applies to housing estates you rent or pay fees at, as long as the antenna is placed withon the primeter of your defined dwelling, including a patio or lawn. Some sensible restrictions remain but you no longer can be arbitrarily barred from putting up your antenna within your premises. Exisitng rules can still ban your antenna from common or public areas, so make SURE you understand and know where your perimeter is. The new federal regulations are complicated and may require professional legal assistance to interpret. Please take this assistance BEFORE going forward with your antenna installation.
What is a HDTV unit like? ----------------------- HDTVs are the flat-screen models, like the flat-screen computer montiors. These are much less heavy, bulky, clumsy than 'television' models of similar screen size. You may free up substantial floor or table space with a new HDTV and may carry it to alternate viewing places in your home. A HDTV has an oblong screen of 16/9 in width/height ratio. It looks like a minature a panorama cinema screen. An analog screen is 4/3 in width/height ratio. Compared to an analog unit you'll see more along the two sides of the picture or the whole picture fills the entire screen. The fit depends on how the TV provider codes the analog version of the digital programming. As at now, the HDTVs at sale are the large ones, to replace your main analog TV. Their screens are a half to a full meter diagonal in the 'small' models, up to two meters in the giant models. So far no small HDTVs, for tabletop or portable use, are in the stores. Nor are there yet pocket models or devices to play HDTV programming on handheld computers. Get permission from the property owner before attaching a HDTV on a wall. A typical 1-meter unit weighs about 30 kilograms, which could be excessive for nonstructural walls. Let a professinal home improvement company examine the wall and do the work. Many, but not all, HDTVs have a connection for video feed from a computer. This can be used for showing homemade or downloaded videos and images from your computer. If you intend to do this, ask about the computer connection. It really isn't practical to cobble an extra computer display unit into a HDTV unit. The cost and fiddliness of doing so is not worth the trouble. Get a proper HDTV.
How do I operate a HDTV? ---------------------- Pretty much like an analog unit. The controller may have strange new buttons, but you'll learn them from its instructions. One inportant factor is that the channel numbers of the old analog broadcasts are mapped to the digital broadcasts, even tho the analog waveband no longer exists. As example, WNBC in New York is analog cahnnel 4. It STAYS channel 4 in the digital system, while sending out on a new frequency with a new internal channel number. TV providers will still advertise their progamming under the old channel numbers. When you press '4' on the controller to select WNBC, the circuit in the HDTV will automaticly tune to the proper new channel number and confirm that you are now on channel 4. The HDTV does this without your attention or other intervention. An other important factor is that each digital channel can be sliced into subchannels as the provider wants to. The bandwidth of the digital system is the same 6Mhz as for analog, 6Mhz, but the signal can be compressed to make room for several outputs within that band. This technique is multicasitng and your HDTV can select from among the subchannels of a TV provider. This offers the prospect of MORE programming in a single channel, like 'channel 4A, 4B, 4C'. This may happen despite the REDUCTION OF the number of channels allocated to digital broadcasts asfter the analog shutdown. This, in fact, was one motivation to switch to digital braodvast, to increase the utilization of the limited spectral bands. An analog channel can carry only one signal spanning the whole 6Mhz.
What's down the track with HDTV? ------------------------------ The HDTV system was designed and intended to interconnect with other digital sectors of society, like computers and communications. While no interconnection services are now offered, they are under development right now. Some include: Interactive television - You take part in games and mysteries with a mouse or wand to modulate the outcome of the show. Linking remote HDTVs - You could watch a sports event from an other town, blacked out in New York, as it plays on your friend's HDTV in that town. Multiscreen display - The large screens of HDTV have room for several smaller screens, each showing the full area of its programming Digital capture - You can record and transfer the programming to computers and portable players via Internet. Create and transfer shows - Send homemade movies to remote HDTVs. A community cable staton may supplu equipment to run your own show from home rather than only from its studio. Satellite realtime navigation - Pilot your car via HDTV and GPS tools. Also track other vehicles and people via onboard transponders.. Drive robots on the Moon - A tobotic rover placed on the Moon can be manoeivered via HDTV control by assignment of time. There is no timeframe for offering these, and other, new features. Some require perfection of other facilities, like untra-high-speed Internet or stronger long-lasting batteries. It will take a couple years for you to get used to the HDTV medium and then clamor for more uses for it.
How do I dispose of my old TV? ---------------------------- Do NOT discard it in the household trash or leave it on the street. New York, and many towns and counties, have procedures for proper disposal of home electronics. Ask about them and discard the TV unit by the proper disposal method. In some towns, old TVs are recycled for other non-OTA uses, so you may have to specify if the unit works or not.
Is there some astronomy in this project? -------------------------------------- Not directly, However, in the pst a channel not used in a given town was from time to time used to monitor meteor echos, cosmic background radiation, solar flares. Such use was sporadic, a bit haphazard, and short-lived. With ALL analog stations falling silent on 2009 February 17 and before the new services take over the released bands, there could be a window of opportunity for some intersting radio astronomy. It could be an ideal situation because there will be, in the US at any rate, NO other human transmission in the old television band for several months to interfere with cosmic signals! Altho, so far, only occasional home astronomers played with off- duty television channels, it could be feasible for regular radio telescopes to, at least for a while, avail of the newly quiet zone of the spectrum in the BHf and part of the UHf zone. Radio astronomy got going just about when the television bands were assigned in 1946. I suppose radio astronomy stayed away from the TV bands because they were by then already filled with human-generated signal that totally killed any possible signal from celestial targets. It may in 2009 be feasible to retool for signal, where such may in theory exist from certain cosmic processes. The window for astronomy could be brief, a few months. The new licencees for the television bands want to get their new srvices running soonest after winning the auction. many right now are gambling on getting a spectrum slice by building facilities and structures right now. They want to be ready to fire up their services when the licence falls thru their mailslot. There is the very long shot that for SETI the other inhabitants of the galaxy are trying to 'anser' us by resending our old TV shows back on the same frequency they were transmitted at. We don't hear them for being completely overwhelmed by our outgoing signals. If they are ignorant 9as they must be for it takes several yearrs at best for the news of the analog turnoff to reach them) of the impending lapse of TV broadcasts, we MAY start hearing those old shows coming back at us!! Yes, it IS one hell of a long shot, but a harmless one to try for.
Are other analog services affected? --------------------------------- The US FCC has other rules for wireless telcomms, including cellphones. It set 2008 Febraury 18 -- JSUT 2-1/2 MONTHS FROM NOW -- as the final date that telcomms providers must offer analog wireless service. They are permitted to continue this service there after but not a single company is palnning to do so. There are two reactions. The first is that most of the firms are converting to digital service and giving their customers new devices. The other is to give up telcomms service due to the expense or duration of making the change over. Firms not converting have the option to keep analog featurs ,but they will be completely isolated in a nation of digital services thru which they can not pass their signals. Hence, they are, litterally, choked off from the global telcomms grid. You MUST speak eith your eirelrdd provider to learn what its plans are and how you can maintain its service. In many cases you already heard from it and were offered new wquipment or alternate digital service. In other cases you heard that it's bye-bye- charlie. You MUST check with ALL of your applications that depend on wireless telcomms. One typical application is an alarm system that calls its central office and police thru an analog phone provider. Your alarm company, like the regular phone company, may already have instructed you about this situation. it may offer an exchange of equipment to keep you as a customer or it may fold its tent. OnStar, the vehicle comms and nav company, already announced it will just stop all analog features at the midnight between 31 December 2007 and 1 January 2008 (when the ball drops in Times Square). It is a bit blurred for what OnStar will do with its analog equipment in customer vehicles. You MUST speak with it to learn what to do. If you did not by now, late November 2007, hear from your wireless providers -- all and nay of them -- you better get hold of them RIGHT NOW. It COULD be that your provider already has digital service and you really have nothing further to do. But it's nivce it the provder assured you of that. Without taking corrective action, your service may simply go dead by 18 February 2008. Note well that this is the ultimate deadline for required analog service. Wireless companies can, and are, shutting off analog features RIGHT NOW with NONE planning to continue them after this deadline. Also note well that this date is NOT the same as for the analog television shutoff. It is ONE YEAR EARLIER, WITHIN 2-1/2 MONTHS FROM NOW.