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Making the Switch to DTV

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Will your television set go dark when the U.S. switches to all-digital TV broadcasting on February 17, 2009? In this article, Switching to Digital TV author Michael Miller tells you what you need to do to prepare for the digital TV switch — and keep watching your favorite television programs.

Something big is about to happen to broadcast television, something that could affect whether or not you continue to receive television broadcasts. The United States is about to switch to all digital TV broadcasting, which promises better picture and sound, along with more channels—if you're prepared to receive those digital broadcasts.

Are you ready for the switch to digital TV? Read on to find out!

What Happens on February 17, 2009?

On February 17, 2009, all current television stations will turn off their existing analog broadcast signals and switch over to completely digital broadcasting. This switchover, dubbed the digital TV (DTV) transition, is a big deal that potentially affects every television viewer in the United States.

Switching from analog to digital broadcasts is a major undertaking, both for television broadcasters and for viewers. The current broadcast channels will switch to new digital channels; these channels can only be received by TVs with digital tuners, not by older analog sets.

If you have a TV that's capable of receiving digital signals, all you have to do to continue watching your favorite programming is to switch to the new digital channels. If your TV isn't DTV-compatible, not only won't you be able to receive the new digital channels, but all your current analog channels won't work, either.

Note, however, that this mandate to switch to all-digital broadcasts doesn't affect all television stations or viewers. There are some very notable exceptions:

  • The DTV switch only affects broadcast television stations; it does not affect cable or satellite television. So if you receive your programming via a cable or satellite service, nothing changes.
  • The DTV switch applies only to full-power broadcast television stations. Low-power TV stations (such as "repeater" stations in remote areas) can still transmit analog signals.
  • The DTV switch is only for United States broadcast stations. Television stations in other countries are totally unaffected by the new U.S. rules.

And what happens to all those analog broadcast channels when U.S. television stations switch over to all-digital transmission? At that point, the now-unused analog broadcast frequencies revert back to the U.S. federal government, which has already auctioned them off for future use.

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