The End of Analog Television

Adios, Analog: The End of an Era

As 2008 progresses, American consumers will hear more and more about an event taking place on Feb. 17, 2009: Analog broadcasting, which brought the first black-and-white television program to American homes in the late 1940s, comes to an end. On that day, all television broadcast stations will switch to the digital format.

Digital transmission is more efficient than analog because it allows several channels to share the same bandwidth, called “multicasting.” Digital broadcasting is not a new notion—it has been around since the late 1990s. But broadcasters have been in transition, with most using two separate channels: one for analog signals, the other for digital. Come Feb. 17, 2009, they are required to broadcast only digital signals, and will be allowed just one broadcast channel. Consumers will also become accustomed to the acronym for digital TV—“DTV.”

So what does this mean to consumers? It depends.

For those who receive the free broadcast channels (no cable or satellite service):

  1. Analog TV owners need to purchase and connect a digital-to-analog converter box to their TV, and need an antenna that receives UHF signals (channel 14 and above).
  2. Digital TV owners also need the same kind of antenna.

Satellite subscribers need to do nothing, regardless of whether their TV is analog or digital.

Cable subscribers with DTV need to do nothing. Those with analog TVs may or may not need a digital-to-analog converter box; they will be notified by their cable providers.

Consumers who are not sure if their TVs are analog or digital (or digital-ready) should note the model number and go to the manufacturer’s web site. TV sets purchased after May 25, 2007 must either contain a digital tuner or prominently carry a notice that in February 2009 the buyer will need to purchase a digital-to-analog converter box.

Between Jan. 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009, the FCC is offering households up to two $40 coupons toward the purchase of eligible converter boxes.

A public information campaign is underway to notify consumers about the coming changes. More information is available at the FCC’s web site.

Changes in broadcasting technology are definitely changing television viewers' options, but they don't mean everyone has to replace their old analog TV sets when the FCC's new rules go into effect in early 2009. This is an explanation of what changes digital broadcasting, including HDTV, may bring to your household.