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Television Media United States Government Politics

US Still Dithering Over Analog-Digital TV Conversion 353

Robin Ingenthron writes "As 2007 gets closer, the legislation to postpone mandatory transition from Analog TV broadcast to Digital is taking shape. Here's an idea - make the broadcasters pay to use the airwaves (they get both analog and digital spectrum for free). For that matter, why permanently auction the bandwidth to cell phone companies, why not rent it to them too? Each postponement keeps the Fed budget in the red, so consumers have a choice -- between analog (black borders on the sides of their digital TVs) and digital (black borders on the top and bottom of their analog TV)."
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US Still Dithering Over Analog-Digital TV Conversion

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  • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:22PM (#10330122)
    McCain's measure would require broadcasters to air only digital television signals by 2009 and help consumers who rely on traditional television sets buy devices that would convert digital back into a format that they could watch.

    "Consumers who rely on over-the-air television, particularly those of limited economic means, should be assisted," according to the draft obtained by Reuters.

    How about we just not mandate that the signals go all digital? I have said it before... The taxpayers are getting fucked TWICE on this deal. We have to pay for the mandate to happen and we have to pay for the fucking digital tuners as well all for something that I really don't care to have anyway. TV isn't that important as it is, especially stuff that comes OTA so why do we need to waste billions of dollars on this technology? Just so I can watch the Vikings lose or the Simpsons have another bad season in digital quality? No thanks... How about you spend that money on regulating the corporations that deliver content over cable and telephone? Personally I am more interested in that digital information.

    And because I don't want a digital set/tuner I won't be able to watch TV without it. I am assuming I wouldn't be one of those people that are considered acceptable for help...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Analog TV is a waste of bandwidth. If you don't want TV, why not give the frequency to something which many of us care a lot about: Wireless networking.
    • by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:48PM (#10330454) Homepage Journal
      There are two reasons for the switch:

      1. The new technology makes more efficient use of the bandwidth

      2. The bandwidth currently being used by TV signals is particularly valuable set of frequencies. One important potential use of it is for emergency communications, which couldn't be done as well at the higher frequencies to which the TV networks are being moved. (I believe that has to do with the better penetration capability of the lower frequencies, while the relatively immobile TV receiver can use an exertnal antenna. But I'm not certain of this.)

      A corollary to #1 and #2 is that the bandwidth can be resold to wireless providers for a lot of money, thus netting a windfall for the US budget and decreasing the deficit.

      Oh, BTW: you probably won't actually get the Simpsons in higher quality. The DTV standard allows them to subdivide the signals, so they get to pump you the Vikings losing AND the Redskins losing AND the Red Sox losing at the same quality as you already had.

      The upshot: it's not about quality; it's about efficient allocation of bandwidth and the ability of the US consumer to have more options and make some money off the sale of bandwidth. (Not enough, to my tastes: the TV networks make vast sums of money off that bandwidth, because an awful lot of people enjoy what they're producing.)

      That may not be sufficient reason for you to outweigh the price of the digital tuners, but there are reasons.
      • by Minwee ( 522556 ) <> on Thursday September 23, 2004 @01:10PM (#10330696) Homepage
        The DTV standard allows them to subdivide the signals, so they get to pump you the Vikings losing AND the Redskins losing AND the Red Sox losing at the same quality as you already had.

        I see that you're an optimist. In my experience digital TV pictures are actually worse quality than traditional broadcast TV. Because the entire image is MPEG-2 encoded, even a tiny bit of interference can cause the screen to freeze or display brightly coloured artifacts. Because the signal is being squeezed into the absolute minimum possible bandwidth the overall quality comes out as being slightly below what I would expect from a bootleg VCD.

        The worst part of digital TV isn't even the picture quality, it's channel surfing. With the current technology you just can't do it. If you try to page through traditional broadcast or cable channels it's easy -- *click* *click* *click* and you see three different channels. With digital TV there is a delay of at least a second after selecting a new channel while the decoder pores over the data stream trying to piece together an image. *click* *click* *click* turns into *click* ... ... ... *click* ... ... ... *click* ... *swear*

        While it would be technically possible to overcome these problems by upping the bandwidth allocated to each individual station, the money to be made by packing as many extra channels as possible into the available spectrum will always be too much to ignore. If you expect the same quality as you get today from digital TV, you're going to be disappointed.
        • I do have digital TV, and I do get the odd intereference, but it is so rare as to actually complain about. It's easy to accept that, for the much higher picture quality.
          As for channel surfing, you can't do it the same, but you can usually surf through the guide, and see what's on that way. I find it more efficient, since you don't have to wait and see what show it is. You can even check out the info to see if it's a good episode.
        • I suppose it doesn't surprise me that channel surfing is slow. The point of compression is to make better use of bandwidth at the cost of smarter components. A regular TV only has to lock on to the signal; a DTV has to lock on and decode it. Theoretically that should take only a fraction of a second, but more on that in a moment.

          I'm disappointed to hear that over-the-air DTV broadcasts are so full of stalls and artifacts in noisy environments. I don't have one myself, so I can't confirm your experience
        • by Keeper ( 56691 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @02:01PM (#10331386)
          While it would be technically possible to overcome these problems by upping the bandwidth allocated to each individual station

          The other way to do it would be to have a few additional tuners recording the stream from the next and previous channels so you have a stream ready to use when you flip through channels... This would be an optimal way to use the extra tuners used for pip built into the fancy tv's that allow like 2 or 3 pip displays on screen at once.
        • by Inebrius ( 715009 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @02:15PM (#10331605)
          My experience is quite different. You first have to realize that not all digital is the same. For instance, the digital from my local cable company is overly compressed. I switched from Dish Network, to cable, back to Dish (1 month later). The picture quality for the cable was pretty bad - the first 100 analog chaneels were very fuzzy. The digital channels were better but not as good as I got off my satellite (near DVD quality). Others in my family have DirecTV which appears to me to not be as clean of a picture (less resolution from compression). Different people will get different results from their local cable co.

          The picture quality and sound I get from the HDTV satellite feeds (Dish Network) are excellent. My HDTV tuner can also tune in the digital and analog over the air signals. HDTV OTA signals are the best of all since they are the least compressed and have the highest resolution, way better than DVD.

          Be careful when comparing analog to digital. Digital has the capability to be better than analog in both picture quality and sound. The market will decide if we want more channels or fewer higher quality ones.

          For more info, check out

        • by Ironsides ( 739422 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @02:33PM (#10331856) Homepage Journal
          In my experience digital TV pictures are actually worse quality than traditional broadcast TV. Because the entire image is MPEG-2 encoded, even a tiny bit of interference can cause the screen to freeze or display brightly coloured artifacts.

          That is not a tiny ammount of interference. DTV uses almost 50% of its bandwidth for Forward Error Correction (FEC). It takes a lot to take the signal off the air unless you are near the boundaries or reception, which with analog would get you a pretty poor picture anyway. As for the artifacts? That has to do with the encoder, not the signal. Don't even compare this to VCD, I work around these pictures every day and can see how much higher quality they are than regular TVs.

          The delay? They new that would happen from the begining. If you know about Iframes, remember that they have to wait till they recieve one till they can actually start showing a picture. A half second delay at most under the current way of broadcasting. And yes, I do mean a half second AT MOST, unless you have a poor quality decoder.

          Upping the bandwidth would not change this. Changing the LongGOP of the MPEG structure would, but that would require more bandwidth to keep the same quality. As for quality? They can set it from 19.4Mbps to 0Mbps for the ammount of bandwidth they use for a signal. 19.4 is way above DVD quality so don't diss it. What was probably happening is that they were reducing the ammount of bandwidth dedicated to the subchannel you were watching to another channel. Most stations will only use 4 sub channels at most under the current scheme of things. 4 channels being the most number of Standard Deffinition [720x480I] that you can fit into 19.4Mbps under most circumstances and maintain quality.
    • No kidding, I especially love this:

      McCain's measure would require broadcasters to air only digital television signals by 2009 and help consumers who rely on traditional television sets buy devices that would convert digital back into a format that they could watch.

      "Consumers who rely on over-the-air television, particularly those of limited economic means, should be assisted," according to the draft obtained by Reuters.

      OK, it seems to me that perhaps those of limited economic means, which is the PC

  • by daveschroeder ( 516195 ) * on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:25PM (#10330148)
    ...with 5C, HDCP, and the Broadcast Flag, the only way we'll end up being allowed to record any digital broadcast legally will be with analog equipment anyway. And maybe that won't even be legal.
    • One has to wonder if we would be dealing with the broadcast flag and all that other crap if the government would simply let HDTV develop on it's own.

      Computer companies have no problem combining forces and devising standards. Why not let the broadcasters do the same?
      • Ummm, I always figured it WAS the broadcasters asking Congress for federal protection. Since they're the "content" producers, they're the ones with the vested interest. See RIAA vs. anybody with an MP3 player, etc.

        - Whatever happened to KISS?

    • Of course, if you already have any of ATI's current RADEON TV cards, the packed-in software already supports a broadcast flag/'no record for you' feature. I've had the system stop recording ANALOG input content several times (self-produced on old analog 1" equipment, and I ain't talking abour pr0n).

  • by 192939495969798999 ( 58312 ) <> on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:25PM (#10330157) Homepage Journal
    It's baffling to me how the "public airwaves" (read: any frequency band at all) can be permanently "sold" to anything. It should all be rented from the public. The companies should have to pay a rental tax, that gets used to discount individual income taxes. That's paying for something that belongs to the PUBLIC!
    • by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:28PM (#10330212) Journal
      They aren't permanently sold, they're licensed. The FCC is taking back VHF and UHF, after all. They couldn't do that if they were "owned" like property.

      And they do pay licensing fees, application fees, they pay a huge fee to petition the FCC to increase their broadcast power and range, for instance.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The beauty of 'the system'. Its wonderful how to corporate America has turned the radio into the worthless crap that it is. Although it is 'ours' LPFM is the closest thing the average person can get to having a station and even that requires you be a 501.3c, have at least a couple thousand dollars for a certified broadcasting studio, AND have applied in the extremly tiny window provided for us a few years back. And really who applied for this option when it happened? Fucking religious groups all across
    • The only problem with renting, is the sort of business maneuvering where the big companies crowd out the little ones by buying up all the spectrum.

      The way I figure, if the FCC/stations would just drop the false pretense that airwave broadcasters are serving the public good by carrying "news", this wouldn't be an issue. Hell, at this point I would say to ditch licensing of VHF/UHF spectrum for TV ENTIRELY. It can be put to better use. Cable and Satellite have far better selections, and radio is far more
    • The "airwaves" are no more public than land is and we sell that all the time.
      • The "airwaves" are no more public than land is and we sell that all the time.

        "Airwaves" are not the same as land. If you buy land next to me and use it, you aren't affecting me. However, if I start broadcasting at 2.4 GHz with a 5000W omni sending out static, then there will be people affected for miles.

        They are a shared resource. What you do with the airwaves near you will affect me unless you live in a faraday cage. Since your right to extend your airwaves ends at my nose, you don't have the right
  • digital broadcasts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alatesystems ( 51331 ) <chris AT chrisbenard DOT net> on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:26PM (#10330158) Homepage Journal
    I can't even get digital broadcasts of some of the major networks in my market [] because the stupid cable company won't negotiate a contract with all of them. The only major network that I get that is digital is ABC.

    I do love my digital techtv though. That is the only digital channel that I watch. I wish fox and comedy central were digital because those are the other two channels that I watch most often.

    • by DHR ( 68430 )
      Get a HD decoder card, and put an antenna up then.

    • Yeah, too bad TechTV went down the toilet after the buyout.
      G4TechTV seems to be all-gamerz - all-the-time. They dumped nearly every show I ever watched on that channel.
      Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against gamerz, I love playing UT or bzflag every once in a while, but I'm not the kind of person who lives for it, nor am I the kind of person who wants to watch others play games... that's even less exciting than watching other people play sports (rather than actually playing them).

      If the boneheads runnin
    • an antenna?
  • Current law only requires broadcasters to give up their current airwaves by 2007, or when 85 percent of the nation can receive the new digital signals, whichever comes later. Most predict that could take a decade or more.

    2009 is better, right?
  • Sigh. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kufat ( 563166 ) <kufat@kufat. n e t> on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:27PM (#10330177) Homepage
    First of all, digital TV isn't necessarily HDTV. 480i digital broadcasts are perfectly possible. In addition, HDTV broadcasts don't have to be 16:9, although they frequently are. It's also worth remembering that the analog to digital spectrum change only applies to over the air broadcasts; cable companies can do as they wish, and pretty much all satellite broadcasts have been digital for a while now.
    • Re:Sigh. (Score:5, Informative)

      by entrager ( 567758 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:46PM (#10330435)
      Actually, HDTV is 16:9 by definition. Look at the spec for 720p and 1080i, it's all 16:9. However, some channels actually do broadcast their HDTV signals with black bars on the sides. The signal is still 16:9, but the black bars are part of the signal. The Denver NBC affiliate did this with their news broadcast until not too long ago when they actually got all HD equipment. Now not only is the news all HD and 16:9, their freakin' traffic copter uses HD. They claim to be the only station in the country with a HD camera on their chopper. Wow... I got off on a tangent.
  • Why worry about it?

    We already use Satellite and land lines for digital broadcasts. Why do we need to convert the regular airwaves?
    • To free up bandwidth. Analog TV is a bandwidth hog in comparison to digital signals. We could cram a huge number of other services in the spectrum occupied by analog television broadcasts today.
  • by 1000101 ( 584896 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:28PM (#10330204)
    ""Consumers who rely on over-the-air television, particularly those of limited economic means, should be assisted," according to the draft obtained by Reuters."

    TV isn't a right. TV is for entertainment and education, both of which you can get elsewhere. The government assisting people with television upgrades is such a huge waste of money. If you can't afford a television upgrade yourself, then you have a few years to start saving.

    • I agree with the principle you're espousing, but it's impractical. If we intend to ever free spectrum by eliminating analog TV signals, something will have to be done to appease those who are content with the current situation. If, suddenly, 15% (a number I'm pulling out of a hat, admittedly) of the population are by law cut off from their television fix, the uproar would be immense enough to kill the whole plan.

      I am, in general, against government handouts of any kind. This is one, however, that's in the

    • by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:35PM (#10330304) Journal
      TV is also a primary source of information in the event of a natural disaster, or even something as mundane as knowing which schools are closed if it snows.

      Though, I agree it isn't a right. And American government isn't supposed to be the type of government that buys you the stuff you can't afford.

      A digital tuner with analog out could be produced quite cheaply.

      Hell, it's basically a DVD player without all the (relatively expensive) DVD mechanisms, with a slightly fancier decoding engine. If I can get a cheap DVD player for around 50 bucks, I would expect a DTV tuner to cost less than that.

      Once a good cheap DTV to Analog chip hits mass production, the market will flood with cheap devices, and people will start to switch on their own. But not until then.
      • TV is also a primary source of information in the event of a natural disaster Right... 'cause everybody's TV still works when the power goes out! I think radio is the primary source of information in the event of a natural disaster, because citizens are much more likely to have battery operated radio than battery operated televisions!

        In my opinion, we don't need over-the-air television at all!

    • TV isn't a right. TV is for entertainment and education, both of which you can get elsewhere. The government assisting people with television upgrades is such a huge waste of money. If you can't afford a television upgrade yourself, then you have a few years to start saving.

      It's the fscking government that's forcing the broadcasters to switch! It wasn't their idea.

      So yeah, if it's so much in society's common interest to force this new format, maybe society should pay the bleepin' costs, too.

      • It's the fscking government that's forcing the broadcasters to switch! It wasn't their idea.

        Wrong. It was the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) who got the ball rolling on HDTV. This was their plan to keep Motorola from stealing "their spectrum". They had already lost part of the UHF TV spectrum (Channels 70-83) to the AMPS cellular phone band (800 MHz) and land mobile use.

    • No kidding, if you can't afford a new TV you should be watching less of it anyway. That would suck to be spending tax money on cruft like that at a time of record deficits.

    • TV is for entertainment and education,

      No. TV is about control... taking the role traditionally held by the village priest/medicine woman/witchdoctor in providing the "norms" by which a society must live.

      Before you pull the tin-foil hat over my ears, think about what would happen without TV:

      • People would be forced to think for themselves or find alternative methods of moral guidance. Church congregations of all religions and denominations would increase.
      • Consumer spending would decrease with the decreased
      • by koreth ( 409849 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @01:13PM (#10330727)
        People would be forced to think for themselves or find alternative methods of moral guidance. Church congregations of all religions and denominations would increase.

        I think I'd rather live in a TV-controlled society than a church-controlled one.

        I'm curious how many people who make TV you've actually met. None of the ones I know seem terribly concerned about controlling anyone (well, okay, the directors want to control the actors sometimes.) But maybe I've just met the wrong ones.

        • I'm curious how many people who make TV you've actually met.

          To whom do you refer?

          If you mean the people who make "programs", then I know a few... but they work for Australian government channels (ABC and SBS), and thus are the exception rather than the rule as these are ad-free stations and they aren't under any great pressure from the network for ratings. In general, if they top a 4, they are considered doing well.

          If you mean people who make the advertisements, then yes, I'm actually related to one of t

    • TV isn't a right. TV is for entertainment and education, both of which you can get elsewhere. The government assisting people with television upgrades is such a huge waste of money. If you can't afford a television upgrade yourself, then you have a few years to start saving.

      TV is an important media channel that does often have more up-to-date and more easily accessible information. Everyone should be entitled to the use. The government already regulates to some degree CSPAN, public access, PBS, and other

  • so consumers have a choice -- between analog (black borders on the sides of their digital TVs) and digital (black borders on the top and bottom of their analog TV)

    Oh geez, someone who hasn't watched a show in high definition must have written this... watching television in better resolution than DVD is a much different experience than black bar placement.
  • The Real Question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stretch0611 ( 603238 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:30PM (#10330235) Journal
    Who wants to buy a HD-TV if the only thing on the air is "reality" shows? Also, who wants to be force-fed a DRM flag for digital tv?

    I currently own a nice 36" tv with decent resolution(even though it is analog). Personally, I have no compelling reason to shell out my hard earned cash on a HD-TV.

    • I currently own a nice 36" tv with decent resolution(even though it is analog). Personally, I have no compelling reason to shell out my hard earned cash on a HD-TV.

      Preach it, brother. Maybe this switch will finally get us out of watching TV altogether (my family watches very little as it is).

  • by decipher_saint ( 72686 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:31PM (#10330264)
    First off I'm clueless, so someone 'splain it to me...

    Why not let the market decide what it can support instead of forcing an upgrade on everyone?
    • by Control Group ( 105494 ) * on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:37PM (#10330328) Homepage
      Because corporations always (well, with very few exceptions) choose short-term profit over long-term. Freeing up the bandwidth is the sort of thing which will have benefits in terms of being able to do things we haven't been able to do before - but we don't know yet what those things are. Hence, no corporation in its right mind will sacrifice current revenue streams (analog broadcasts) for future potential (digital broadcasts).

      Much like the internet itself: without government funding, the internet would never have happened. All the profits that are made off its existence now are based on services that couldn't even be conceived of until the medium to support them existed.

    • Corporate welfare (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tangurena ( 576827 )
      2 Reasons:
      • Subsidise the TV manufacturers. Not that there are any domestic manufacturers left, due to product dumping in the 70s and 80s.
      • Screw the public by overturning the Betamax ruling by technical means.

      The movie industry wants to make it hard to impossible for you to copy TV shows, impossible to share recordings between different playback units in your own house (the p2p issue is baloney). Last time they tried this was with DivX, where the decryption keys to the discs were tied to your playback un

  • by sunderland56 ( 621843 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:32PM (#10330277)
    between analog (black borders on the sides of their digital TVs) and digital (black borders on the top and bottom of their analog TV)

    Digital versus analog is NOT the same as aspect ratio. The two concepts have little, if anything, to do with one another.

    If your television screen's aspect ratio matches the aspect ratio of the program being broadcast, you will have no black bars. If the two do not match, you will have black bars, whether or not the broadcast is in an analog or digital form. I've got a Sony 36" HD set at home that has a 4:3 aspect ratio screen - no black bars when watching analog TV (or 4:3 digital broadcasts such as Fox).

    Side rant: if you watch NBC digital, you get #(*&^%# annoying GREY bars on the sides. On dimly lit shows, those grey bars are much brighter than anything else in the room - annoying beyond belief.
    • The grey bars are intended to lessen burnin on expensive plasma sets. Plasmas have worse burnin than CRTs, and the neutral grey helps mitigate that.

      Not that it's not ass-ugly, that's for sure. But it might be better than turning on your plasma one day and seeing that the picture area outside the middle 4:3 area has the black burnt it.

      This should definitely be an option in the receiver, however. Although this won't work with upconverted NTSC, as said upconverters also tend to have the gray/black setting, s
      • No I think it's the other way around. The black areas on a plasma screen are not being utilized, meaning that the middle 4:3 area is being burnt-out at a faster rate. You would one day turn on your tube to realize that the middle area is dimmer and less colorful than the edges.

        I believe the effect of the grey is to help wear out the entire screen at the same rate, so you don't notice it. Very similar to when you run "maintenance mode" on a plasma screen by watching it with inverted colors. You attempt t
  • I'm at a loss here. (Score:3, Informative)

    by phaetonic ( 621542 ) * on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:33PM (#10330288)
    McCain's reason to help foot the bill to the tune of $1 billion is : "The nation cannot risk the further loss of life due to public safety agencies' first responders' inability to communicate effectively in the event of another terrorist act or national crisis," the draft legislation said.

    Currently, my digital cable box gets both analog and digital signals. If I put the HD channel on by accident, I can hear audio but see no video. Therefore, people who can't afford a digital TV in 2009 can keep their analog TV and leave it tuned to the one analog channel for emergencies until they can afford a digital tv.
    • Two things:

      One, it's your digital cable box they're talking about having to foot the bill for (though it would be a digital off-the-air box). That's what the 1 billion is for. They want the ability to break in to "Who Wants to Marry my Million Dogs" with the emergency broadcast since that's where folks will be tuned, not the mandated emergency channel.

      Two, a "high def" channel can switch to a lower resolution MPEG program stream at any time if it wants to.

      Again, digital has nothing to do with HD. You
  • Nice Pun (Score:4, Funny)

    by McComas ( 398515 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:35PM (#10330305)
    Oh Slashdot. That is terrible. Using the word 'dithering' [] in a headline about television standards technology. Shame on you. Punnery is the lowest humor.
    • Punnery is the lowest humor.

      Yeah, right. I think you'll find it's sarcasm.


      • Re:Nice Pun (Score:3, Funny)

        by McComas ( 398515 )
        Well met. I think you will find that, without the slightest shred of doubt, in every conceivable universe and in every way you can possibly consider, over-blown exaggeration is the lowest form of humor.
  • Why Bother? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tangurena ( 576827 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:38PM (#10330344)
    Digital TV does not solve any problem that we as consumers have. Digital TV does not automagically render TV shows into something worth watching. The only features that appear to be worth pushing this technology, are the ones that only Hollywood wants: to overturn Betamax. I didn't want the V-chip (and despite the promises of that technology, it still did not prevent the Janet Jackson incident). And I don't want this dorky new tech. Is Never Twice the Same Color (NTSC) an ancient technology? Yes, and so are books.

    What can digital tv show that analog can't? I'm sure that you can come up with all sorts of trivial features, but it doesn't solve a problem that I have. Therefore there is no reason for me to go out and piss thousands of dollars down the drain on some new boob tube.

    I think it is painfully clear that I am not alone in rejecting digital tv: the market isn't buying it. Corporate welfare to prop up the TV manufacturers (by subsidizing them) is a little late and quite misguided. As long as there is a difference in price between a digital tv and an analog one, price will win every time.

    • Re:Why Bother? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Smitty825 ( 114634 )
      I agree that Digital TV doesn't "solve" any problems we as consumers have. However, it does provide a nicer form of entertainment (higher quality picture, progressive scan options (60fps), 5.1 digital sound, etc). IMHO, HDTVs are not catching on because of their high price, not due to consumer demand. (How many people do you know that want a nice plasma tv?)

      That being said, this article is about digital transmissions, and that _does_ solve a problem that people have. With the digital transmission, yo
    • Re:Why Bother? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rusty0101 ( 565565 )
      Just a minor quible, Digital TV does not solve any problems you as a specific consumer has. It very well may provide solutions that other consumers may be seeing.

      When it comes down to it, the arguments you have provided can very easily be described as being valid for Sattelite DBS TV, or even Cable TV. And that's just in the TV realm.

      When it comes to 'books', the argument could have been made that the printing press did not provide any solutions to consumers of books that was not already being supported b
  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:42PM (#10330387) Homepage Journal
    If you rent bandwidth, then its an easy thing to alternative squelch speech by making the 'rental' fee far to high, unless you are one of the big media giants..

    No, not a good idea at all...

    • ???

      I'm confused by this. In the current system, the cost of advertising is so high, that we have polticians who run for office only on the strength of their campaign coffers. Opening up a scarce resource to market economics will lower the cost of that resource much more effectively than inefficient regulation of that resource, which artificially raises the price.

      Maybe it's just me but this seems like a strawman point. The resource is already priced out of reach of the VAST majority of people. The spec
  • Don't knock analog (Score:5, Insightful)

    by overshoot ( 39700 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:43PM (#10330396)
    The only TV I watch is by time-shifting. At least I can time-shift analog. I'm certainly in no hurry to trade in the ability to timeshift for the priveledge of having to pay several times as much for a set whose primary design feature is its ability to keep me from recording broadcast programs.

    The old analog set works, and I'm not planning to replace it.

  • by MadHungarian1917 ( 661496 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:43PM (#10330403)
    For better or worse TV is the primary information channel for most of the population and digital modulation schemes are simply not appropriate in many rural areas. Don't watch much TV anymore but I can receive the analog broadcasts from the nearest major market ~100 miles away with reasonable quality.

    I do have a digital tuner and the digital broadcasts don't make the trip. I can pick up 1 station in a 30 mile radius
    I do have a Satellite for the family - ie h*ll will freeze over before I give Comcast a single dime but Digital is a great idea for the metro NY/LA markets but it just doesnt cut it for the rest of the country.

    BTW the reason NTSC uses its odd phase modulation scheme for color was to ensure backwards compatibility with the existing B&W sets.

    This scheme is just a moneygrab by the Gov't because even Big Media doesn't want Digital because there is nothing in it for them either. ie spend millions of dollars to reequip the TV studio to broadcast the same stuff to fewer advertising viewers.

    Sounds like a great deal to me Sign us up!

    PS - Sorry for the blank posts not enough coffee
    • "I do have a digital tuner and the digital broadcasts don't make the trip. I can pick up 1 station in a 30 mile radius"

      That's because most digital stations in the country are at low power.

      KWGN out of Denver is at 1/2 power, and I can recieve their signal on a 1st-generation digital reciever with a $9.95 pair of rabbit ears.

      DTV rocks when it's at full power. Compared to analog, it travels further and provides increased quality.

      Now if only the other Denver stations would move to a reasonable power level..
  • Taxes and DRM (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DownWithTheMan ( 797237 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:52PM (#10330505)
    From my understanding Japan has just recently (this year) made the change to digital TV. What I've read and heard though tells me consumers are not too happy with the DRM restrictions that have been put in place with the broadcast flags. Japan, none to happy with DRM [] The EFF has also released some docs though on how to make a homebrew digital DVR that doesn't respond to the broadcast flags and can still record the digital streams. [] But so not only would we be taxed for the whole thing twice as has been previously stated, but the content that we would be forced to pay for would be moderated and controlled as well for what we can do with it. Frankly I think the whole U.S. has lost it's mind. What the government may have thought would help to ignite digital innovation, has instead helped to block end users in again and support the white collar executives instead. So remember kids when you go to vote this November, Congress has around a 90% incumbency rate...
  • by FerretFrottage ( 714136 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:57PM (#10330556)
    Since the US educational system [k-12] is all about memorizing and less about how to think and apply knowledge these days, and with kids watching so much tv, us the border(s) for education. You can put the multiplication tables on one side, state information on the top border, lunch ads on the other side, and critical thinking at the bottom [border].

    Better yet, put Canada on the top border, Mexico on the bottom border, and the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans on the left and right respectively.

  • by ausoleil ( 322752 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @12:59PM (#10330582) Homepage
    I feel so sorry for the poor -- they won't be able to receive TV after the analog signals are no longer on the air. Right. Drive through the poorest part of West Virginia and count the DirecTV dishes. Better be able to count high -- real high.

    Even though it is another country, I vividly remember a bus trip through the Yucatan in Mexico. Those people are poor -- their houses were often nothing more than mud and straw, and they had nothing. Nothing, that is, except for the ubiquitous satellite dish.

    Most of the country already receives it's television through digital means -- be it cable or sattelite, you almost always end up going through "a TV box" to get your programs. While it is not 85% (yet) it is most. Thus, the market has already spoken for those calling for it to do so.

    HDTV is making inroads, and is quickly reaching critical mass. Most all major network programming is in HDTV, and this year, finally Fox has joined the fray. Given a few years, it is reasonable to assume that HDTV will be the defacto standard. In my town (Ralwigh NC) we get 19 HD channels on cable. Four OTA. Again, the market is speaking.

    The only ones left out are the Luddites who do not want to replace their gear and want to receive their signal over the air. And since they are in the minority, why are we catering to them? Why not set a date and only mandate that a D->A converter be available for sale?

    Having a television is not an entitlement, after all. If everyone else can have their taxes reduced by the government gaining income from spectrum lease, the quicker the better. Then, some of the money we all now send to Washington could be spent in our communities and spur on the economy of those areas.
  • How about this? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mjh ( 57755 ) <mark.hornclan@com> on Thursday September 23, 2004 @01:09PM (#10330686) Homepage Journal
    Let the current holders of the frequencies, sell/rent them to those who want it. Right now, the current holders can use it only for TV purposes. If they could rent it and take in money for it, how quickly do you think they'd transition the space? How quickly do you think they'd subsidize the cost of your new digital TV in order to get additional rent in from the cell phone providers who desparately want some of that space? Don't think they'd do this? How much do you pay for your cable box? How much did you pay for your DBS receiver? Not a penny. Why because the providers of those services know that the one time cost is worth taking in favor of the long term revenue stream.

    Making this change would involve no government intervention, other than changing the current rule. This would incent the current holders to get off the space. What it wouldn't do, is turn into a windfall for the federal government who wants to collect auction dollars. Which is, of course, why no politician will ever suggest it. But it is, IMHO, the most effective way to encourage the transition to digital TV.

    While I'd like to take credit for this idea, I can't. Someone WAY smarter than me came up with it:

    Perhaps one solution would be for the FCC to hold another auction. In the new auction, current license owners could put their spectrum up for sale, and the spectrum could be bid on by new or existing owners. Once the spectrum has been re-auctioned, it could be used for any purpose, and it could be sold at any time.

    - Arnold Kling []
  • selling vs leasing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheSHAD0W ( 258774 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @01:12PM (#10330722) Homepage
    The government would probably get less revenue, IMO, by trying to lease radio spectrum rights rather than selling them, because companies have to make significant investments to infrastructure in order to use them. Why should a complany spend tens or hundreds of millions on cell tower transceivers when they might become useless 5 years down the road? What would a company say to their customers when their cell phones go dark because the government raised their lease payment too high?
  • by LocalH ( 28506 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @01:26PM (#10330901) Homepage
    "digital (black borders on the top and bottom of their analog TV"

    That's funny, I monitor a digital terrestrial signal EVERY DAY that completely fills a 4:3 screen.

    Digital doesn't mean HD, michael. You should have known that. There is digital SD (standard-def) too.
  • by pappy97 ( 784268 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @01:43PM (#10331115)
    Here is the deal:

    The FCC wants everyone to go digital, which means at least 480i digital. This isn't the problem, as the majority of over the air broadcast networks ARE doing this. I am sure some very small markets still have only analog broadcasts, but even this is dying out.

    The problem is multicasting vs. HD. Broadcasters would rather dishout several 480i digital channels (that fit into the bandwidth of one analog channel), while people who are going out to buy HDTV's simply want that channel to be an HD channel (or at least have everything upconverted to an HD resolution).

    Here is an example: PBS, as some of you may know, embraces the 1080i HDTV standard. BUT here in KC, the local affiliate just broadcasts in 720p. Why? Because it uses the extra bandwidth for a multicast channel.

    Check out for more discussion on this topic. We can't have consumers being pushed into spending thousands on an HDTV, when broadcasters are pushing to have multiple 480i digital broadcasts. There is a conflict.
  • 2007? (Score:4, Informative)

    by jav1231 ( 539129 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @02:04PM (#10331425)
    I still say until Wal-Mart can sell a digital TV for what Earl can buy a few cases of beer for, digital TV will be sharing the market with analog.
  • by unfortunateson ( 527551 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @02:17PM (#10331632) Journal
    ... and closer management will mean censorship.

    It's bad enough that broadcast TV is held to different standards than cable and sat stations, given that more houses have the latter than don't at this point.

    But if there's regular payments to the feds for the right to broadcast TV, that's going to give the feds a stronger claim to regulate and censor content.

    And who's going to pay for that extra fee? The stations? The networks? Nope, it'll get passed back to the advertisers, causing an inflationary cycle on consumer products. And those advertisers will put an even stronger grip on content, if they're paying for it.

    Sure, I don't need to see Dennis Franz' @$$ ever again, but when shows like The Shield and Rescue Me have a free reign (and commercials, hmm...), and the best drama and comedy in the Emmys were on HBO, making the networks pay more will only decrease the quality of programming.
  • Take a lesson from the Germans -- they just made everyone switch one day, and did it. No delays, everyone prepares in the last few weeks anyway.

    see this article:

    German Way to Go Digital: No Dawdling

    November 3, 2003


    BERLIN, Oct. 29 - When Sebastian Engel received a letter in the mail last winter warning that he would soon lose his over-the-air analog television service, he reacted like any 26-year-old graduate student with little money and even less interest in the vagaries of TV technology.

    Mr. Engel, who lives in a bohemian part of the former East Berlin, ignored the promotional palaver about the brave new world of digital broadcasting, and instead asked his landlord whether he could sign up for cable.

    Alas, he was told, his apartment block, with its drab, coal-heated buildings, was not wired for cable. So after procrastinating for several weeks, Mr. Engel finally paid 150 euros ($174) for a set-top box that enabled his aging, portable TV to receive a digital signal. Now, he gets 25 channels and a crystal clear picture, compared with the 6 channels and snowy reception he had before the switchover.

    "Sometimes the picture goes off for a couple of seconds, but otherwise it's pretty great," said Mr. Engel, as he channel-surfed through a soccer match, a hip-hop music video and the BBC news.

    On Aug. 3, Berlin became the world's first major city to switch from analog to entirely digital television broadcasting. The transition went almost unnoticed in Germany or elsewhere, which is remarkable, given that in the United States, the same process has been bogged down by politics, vested interests and a stubborn fear that scrapping analog television will ignite a revolt among viewers.

    The German example could prove instructive to the United States, where digital broadcasting - and the array of multimedia services likely to spring from it - still seems like a distant dream. Six years ago, Congress set the end of 2006 as the date by which most television broadcasts would be digital, but American industry executives predict the switch may not be completed before 2020.

    In Germany, officials have taken a much tougher line. "We knew it would work only if we set a hard deadline," said Sascha Bakarinov, the head of the Broadcasting Authority of Berlin and Brandenburg, which oversaw the switchover. "You can take six months or two years or a decade, and people are still only going to react in the last few weeks."

    Berlin's hurry-up approach was risky. Mr. Bakarinov worried about a consumer outcry over the cost of the set-top boxes, not to mention tales of aging pensioners deprived of their television. But thanks to an elaborate public relations campaign and government subsidies for people who could not afford the boxes, Berlin kept the complaints to an occasional squawk. In a city accustomed to lavish public services since German reunification, this is no small achievement.

    "The German approach is extremely radical," said Ulrich Reimers, a professor at the Technical University in Braunschweig and a chief designer of the digital television standard in Germany. "This is really the one and only place in the world where this has happened."

    The switch to digital is under way in other German cities, including Cologne, Hannover and Dsseldorf. By next May, Professor Reimers said, digital signals will reach 23 million of Germany's 82 million people. By 2010, he predicted, "Germany will be analog-free."

    It is important to remember, in talking about digital television, that the switchover affects only viewers who receive their TV over the air. Of Germany's 34 million television households, 19 million have cable and 12 million use satellite receivers. Both industries remain predominantly analog.

    That leaves 3 million German homes still using rooftop aerials or even more antiquated rabbit-ear antennas. (In the United States, an estimated 10 million of 106 million television househ
  • by mhollis ( 727905 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @09:47PM (#10336503) Journal

    Thanks to supernova87a we all know exactly how it would be done if the government controlled all television and the laws were not written with the help of lobbyists.

    Here is what a station has to do:

    1. Purchase a completely new transmitter.

    2. Build a new tower if there is no room on the existing tower (likely).
      Purchase a radiating antenna for said tower
      Purchase an NTSC upconverter to use during transition and to use later for news and older programs
      Purchase a completely new plant with VCRs and/or hard disk arrays that will record and play back HD.
      Purchase and pay to wire up that new plant as well as provide links for the old plant to the new system (for upconversion). Find a way to pay for the maintenance of all of the above as well as to send existing maintenance personnel to school to learn the new stuff.
      Find some way to pay for the costs of the electricity to run the new transmitter

    Please note, I am probably leaving out a whole lot of stuff here

    Not to overly take the stations' side on this issue, these are pretty daunting requirements. And for a station outside of the top 100 markets, it may be really close-on to impossible. Again, during this transition, there is a chicken/egg dichotomy where very few viewers will be seeing your digital signal because they won't have purchased HD television sets yet. This means you cannot report to your advertisers that you have more viewers with HD -- you probably have fewer because the Internet, cable and satellite continue to erode your viewer base.

    Small wonder the law, once feelers went out via the FCC, was heavily lobbied by all parts of the television industry. I should mention at this point that part of the reason why Congress was attracted to this law was because all television sets were being made overseas and Congress wanted there to be at least one television manufacturer located in the US. It would appear this aim was unsuccessful as multiplexo and others point out when they write here that they have televisions made in Japan or elsewhere.

    I would offer the opinion that, since the death of RCA as a television company (which would be when GE swallowed them up) there has not been any possibility of any manufacture of receivers on US soil since then.

    So, the laws were seriously written and rewritten by the lobbyists. Stations get the bandwidth with no requirement that they use it to broadcast in high definition. Congress, after "discovering" this fact called television network executives to Washington to enjoin them (really beg them) to broadcast in HD

    Cable companies are required under law to carry local stations ("Must Carry") but, perversely, must pay for "retransmission consent," thus giving all networks a free ride on cable systems for their own cable channels (did you know that NBC owns Sci Fi, Bravo, Trio, and others as well as CNBC and part of MSNBC?).

    All NYC stations will, undoubtedly, receive an extension of "Use it or Lose it" due to September 11th, 2001, which only affects towers and transmitters.

    There are tons of other fun details in the law and in the FCC rulings. I guarantee you, those shows that will be seen in HD first will not be local programming. Look for news to be "upconverted" for a long time.

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"