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Suppose you want to bake a cake for a friend who lives in another town. You mix all the ingredients together, bake it, and decorate it perfectly. It is a masterpiece. But then you ship it to your friend. It jostles in the box and sits inside a hot delivery truck. When your friend pulls your creation from the box, it hardly resembles the cake you so carefully prepared.

That’s basically what happens with an analog television signal, according to Gary White, president and CEO of the Kentucky Broadcasters Association. The signal loses clarity and crispness as it is delivered through an antenna, rabbit ears, or set-top loop.

If, however, you send premium ingredients and your friend puts them together, there is a much greater likelihood that the finished product will be excellent. White says this is what happens with digital signals. A digital receiver takes the signal—transmitted in bits and bytes just like computers use—and reproduces exactly what was sent, so there is no loss in clarity. You get a clearer, higher-quality picture and better sound, closer to what you experience in a movie theater.

Digital television, often called DTV, is also a more efficient way to broadcast, according to White. This efficiency will free up airwaves for new services, such as those used by police, firefighters, and emergency responders.

These advantages led Congress to mandate what is commonly called the DTV Transition. After February 17, 2009, all full-service broadcast stations will permanently turn off their analog signals and transmit totally in a digital format. White says all Kentucky broadcasters are ready for this transition.

Consumers who own and use analog TVs will need to ensure they can receive the digital signals.

“The digital age has been with us for some time,” White acknowledges. “This (DTV Transition) is simply the next logical step.”

Logical or not, it is confusing and many people still have questions. Here are answers to the most common questions.

Why is the DTV Transition occurring?

Legally, the answer is because Congress mandated it in 2005. The reason for the congressional mandate is that the digital system is far more flexible and efficient than its analog predecessor. Television stations will be able to broadcast better picture and sound, more channels, and even over-the-air, high-definition television (HDTV) for viewers with HD television sets. (Don’t confuse HDTV with DTV. See the explanations that follow.)

Will my TV still work?

If you have a digital television, you don’t need to do anything. To determine if your TV set has a built-in digital tuner, look on the set for an indication of an Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) tuner or check the manual from the TV manufacturer. Your television will function normally.

If you have an analog set, there are two ways to make your television work:

1. Subscribe to cable, satellite, or any other paid television service, and make sure your subscription includes local channels AND that all your analog TVs are connected to that service. You may need new DTV equipment to view DTV programming in digital format. You should ask your service provider what you will need and when. Your service provider will do the work for you. White says 85% of Kentuckians have either cable or satellite service, so they will not need to do anything. White warns, however, that you will not have the quality picture and sound that digital televisions offer.

2. Connect your analog TV to a DTV converter box.

What is the TV Converter Box Coupon Program?

Digital TV converter boxes, available in many brands from retailers, cost from $50 to $80, but the federal government through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is providing each household up to two coupons, each worth $40, that can be applied toward the purchase of these boxes.

Simply call (888) DTV-2009 for a user-friendly automated system or go on the Web to www.DTV2009.gov to order your plastic coupons that look like gift cards. For English/TTY for deaf or hard-of-hearing persons, call (877) 530-2634. The coupons can be ordered anytime until March 31, 2009, but it typically takes four to 12 weeks, depending upon volume of calls, for the coupons to arrive, so plan ahead. Kentuckians had requested 206,998 coupons as of June 6.

Where can I buy a digital converter box?

The good news is that the coupons come with a list of retailers in your area that sell the converter boxes, which are available at local and national retailers. You can purchase converter boxes at other retailers, but only retailers who are participating in the coupon program will be able to accept the coupons. National retailers participating in the program include Best Buy, Circuit City, Radio Shack, Sears, Target, and Wal-Mart. You will need to purchase the box in the store in order to use your coupons, and coupons must be used within 90 days of their issue. Remember to call ahead to confirm availability of coupon-eligible converter boxes at the store on the day you plan to shop. There is still some confusion over the use of the coupon cards, so build some time into your shopping trip.

Can I still get free TV?

Yes, you can still pick up digital signals over the air free with an antenna as long as the television has an internal digital tuner or is connected to a DTV converter box. The box contains the digital tuner needed to translate the signal. You may even notice that you now receive several new channels, and that the quality of those channels is better.

Will I need a professional to install the converter box?

Probably not. The converters are easy to connect between your TV and antenna. The location of the antenna can greatly affect signal reception, so you may need to experiment with where you place your antenna. If your antenna works well for analog TV, it should work equally well for digital signals.

Do I need an HDTV set?

You do not need a high-definition television (HDTV) to receive digital signals. These wide-screen format sets will give you a superior picture, and they will allow you to receive programs recorded in high definition. However, they are far more expensive than regular DTVs.

If I want to buy a new television, what should I look for?

Be sure the television has a built-in digital tuner or an Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) tuner. Beware if the box says digital monitor. It may not contain the internal tuner needed to receive digital signals, and in that case, you would still need a converter. Also, there are still analog sets out there for sale. Just because it is new in the box does not mean it is a digital television. Retailers are required to attach a warning label to its analog TVs and accessories stating the technology will no longer work after February 2009, but there is still noncompliance. Reputable dealers will tell you the difference, so be sure to ask if the set is analog or digital.

What should I do with my old TV?

One television set can leak eight pounds of lead into the environment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, so if possible, recycle your set. Go online to www.mygreenelectronics.org or www.earth911.org and type in your zip code. A list of area recycling centers will come up with addresses and telephone numbers. You can also contact the U.S. Environmental Recycling Hotline at (800) 253-2687.



QUESTIONS ON CONVERTING TO DIGITAL TV?

Here’s where to get more answers:

KET Digital Helpline
Call Kentucky Educational Television toll-free at (866) 291-8189 and a real person will answer your questions, or go online to www.ket.org/dtv.

Antenna Web
www.antennaweb.org
Information specific to antenna selection and placement from the Con­sumer Electronics Association and the National Association of Broadcasters.

Using a good indoor or outdoor antenna will help maximize your over-the-air DTV reception.

After the transition, in most cases, the same antenna that currently gives you quality reception on your analog TV set will also give you good DTV reception.

TV Converter Box Coupon Program
Each family can receive up to two $40 coupons from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for use toward purchasing digital converters. Call (888) DTV-2009 or go online to www.DTV2009.gov. English/TTY for deaf or hard-of-hearing persons can call (877) 530-2634. A list of local and national retailers is available online, along with a good FAQ (frequently asked questions) section.

Federal Communications Commission
www.dtv.gov
Everything about the transition from publications to a glossary, FAQ, and also an “Audio & Video” segment available in voice and American Sign Language. A useful “Transition Partners” link connects you to broadcasters, cable/satellite, and other digital broadcasting services, as well as major TV and electronics manufacturers.

National Association of Broadcasters
www.dtvanswers.com
Offers an easy-to-use tutorial for your options based on the type of television you have in your house.

National Telecommuni­­cations and Information Administration
www.ntia.doc.gov
Up-to-date information on the coupon program, converter applications for use by mail and fax, retailer listing, and more.

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