DTV Transition -

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A DTV converter box like this one by Zenith is necessary to watch over the air broadcast Digital TV (DTV) when the switch over occurs on February 17, 2009. If you watch local analog standard definition channels KEPR 19, KNDU 25, KTNW 31, and KVEW 42 using an antenna you will need one of these to receive Digital TV.

The DTV Transition - It Affects Everyone Even Sports Fans

What it means and how to prepare

Updated Information February 15, 2009

KVEW-TV has announced that it will turn off it's analog channel 42 transmitter on February 17, 2009.

KNDU has announced that it will turn off it's analog channel 25 transmitter on February 17, 2009. KNDU is currently is using a low power digital transmitter that can not be received in Hermiston. That means viewers in the Hermiston area will not be able to receive a full power digital signal until KNDU finishes an upgrade to their digital transmitter that they say will be completed in May, 2009. If you live in Hermiston and have a converter box you will NOT be able to receive KNDU-DT over the air until sometime in May, 2009.

Posted Thursday January 22, 2009

By Terry Aichele

HERMISTON - The DTV transition is set to occur on February 17, 2009. On that day full power television stations on the U.S. mainland may switch off their analog transmitters. Analog transmissions are the legacy TV systems that date back to the 1940s that broadcast on VHF channels 2-13 and UHF channels 14-69. Originally the UHF band extended through channel 83. Low power translators and transmitters will not be affected at this time.

Originally the analog transmitters were to be shut off on February 17. Now legislation was passed called The Short-term Analog Flash and Emergency Readiness Act (SAFER Act) that may allow broadcasters to transmit emergency information and videos on how to upgrade to digital reception for 30 days following February 17. Plus PBS, CBS, ABC and NBC have supported the continued broadcasting of analog television in a proposal to the Barack Obama presidential team beyond the 30 days.

Hawaii will be making the transition to digital television on January 15, 2009 due to issues with the location of the existing analog towers.

You will need to take some type of action if you receive over the air TV on a broadcast channel. In the Hermiston area that could include the following channels - KEPR TV 19 a CBS affiliate, KNDU TV 25 a NBC affiliate, KVEW TV 42 an ABC affiliate, KTNW TV 31 a PBS affiliate, and KFFX TV 11 a FOX affiliate.

If you subscribe to cable TV or satellite TV you will probably not have to take action to make sure that you continue to receive the local TV stations.

Charter Communications in Hermiston will continue to provide the standard broadcasting channels on their cable system that can be received by standard TVs.

DISH and Direct TV satellite TV services both carry a number of over the air TV stations. In some cases where the local stations are not transmitted by the satellite the vendor's satellite installer hooks up an antenna to receive local channels.

DISH Network no longer carries Fisher Communications TV stations which include KIMA TV in Yakima, KATU 2 in Portland, and KOMO in Seattle.

What Do I Need To Do?
If you receive TV over the air using an antenna - built in rabbit ears or a roof antenna you will need just one of the following:
A digital converter box.
A TV with digital tuner.
Subscribe to a cable TV company.
Subscribe to a satellite TV company.

What is DTV and HDTV?
It can be confusing. All TVs will need to be able to receive DTV but only some TV receivers may be true HDTV.

All full power TV stations will be broadcasting in a digital format that uses an MPEG compression system similar to what is used with streaming video on the internet. Stations are given a wider bandwidth than the old analog channels had. This wider bandwidth allows for one HD channel and several lower definition channels. A station could choose to transmit several 480 line subchannels. There have been reports that up to five standard definition channels could be broadcast by one DTV station. A DTV station might even be able to squeeze two HD channels into their bandwidth. Most TV stations are putting a HD signal of their primary network on the air then providing several subchannels.

Locally KVEW TV is transmitting ABC on their HD channel and MyNetworkTV on their second channel.

Fisher Communications, the parent company of KEPR is reported to be negotiating with a program service to provide a second channel for some of their stations.

KNDU apparently is providing a news channel and weather channel on their alternate channels. Following the purchase of The Weather Channel by NBC Universal it has been reported that the NBC Weather Plus would cease broadcasting sometime in March, 2009.

The HD signal has a 16:9 shape which is wider than an SD or standard definition TV signal had. It's more the shape that a lot of movies are projected in. The HD signal is likely to be one of two resolutions - 1080 lines which could be interlaced or progressive and 720 lines which is usually progressive. Both provide a noticable improvement over standard analog TV.

The good news is that you don't need to buy a new HD or DTV TV to see the DTV HDTV signal. The low cost DTV converter box converts the 1080 or 720 line signal into the analog signal that can be shown on a regular TV. The picture is not HD but it is surprisingly good. One of the surprises for most people is that the converted digital image is sharper and clearer with more detail than what their TV was with an analog signal.

Another point is that the audio maybe up to Dolby 5.1 surround sound. But even the stereo sound through the TV will sound a lot better. For example, watching KVEW's analog stereo broadcast and the HD digital signal of the Oscars last year showed a dramatic improvement in dynamic range and stereo spread of the sound. If you like music shows on TV you will like DTV.

Technical Issues To Receiving The Signal
There are some issues with DTV transmission though. One issue is that the transmission is very directional. You have to point the antenna very accurately to pick up the signal. The second DTV broadcast signal issue is what is called the "cliff effect." With analog TV the signal degrades slowly based on the distance from the transmitter. A viewer could watch an analog channel with a little snow or distortion due to a weak signal if they could stand it. Some people have gotten used to watching a weak or fuzzy picture due to distance from the TV transmitter or obstructions such as hills, buildings and trees.

Since DTV is a digital stream that is MPEG encoded the signal has to be strong and constant. If the data stream is weak the receiver simply can't decode the signal and show the transmission. The receiver blacks out or displays a 'no signal' warning or a distorted still frame.

KEPR TV and KVEW TV digital transmitters are fairly close together from most of Hermiston. One receiving antenna should handle both. I have tried to pick up KNDU and KTNW off the air but haven't been able to. The local Charter Cable Company provides the KNDU HD and extra channels and the KTNW HD signal. While checking the KNDU website there was an unanswered question from a viewer in Hermiston wondering why he and his friends couldn't receive the KNDU digital signal. My guess is that KNDU and KTNW don't have a strong enough signal that can be received by a lot of people in Hermiston. Or the transmitter is not located in the same direction as KEPR and KVEW. I have tried moving the antenna that I use for KEPR and KVEW around from northwest to northeast in an attempt to receive KNDU and KTNW signals.

If you have installed a VCR, DVD player or video game then you should be able to install the converter box. The converter boxes usually have an antenna in, an antenna out, video out and audio out. You plug the antenna cable in to the box. Then you need to choose where to use coax cable or RCA cables to connect the converter box to the TV. If you use the coax cable to connect to the antenna input simply attach the cable to the threaded fittings. If you use Audio/Video inputs on the TV then use RCA cables connecting a cable to Video Out on the box and Video In on the TV. Then plug the audio cable to the Audio Out jacks on the back of the Converter Box and Audio In on the back of the TV.

Follow the included instructions for the Converter Box to set it up. Generally the box will have an auto setup setting that scans and programs available over the air broadcast channels. After the setup is complete you can go up and down through the channels or type in the channel number on the included remote control.

Remember that the converters don't work with cable TV.

The issue now is that the George W. Bush administration ran out of money for those $40 certificates to help with the purchase of the converter boxes. The boxes usually cost about $50 to $80. The certificate drops that to about $10 to $20. Some stores even priced the converters so that the certificate paid for the box. There were issues about the process beginning in the summer of 2008. People began getting coupons but stores weren't stocking the converters. The coupons had expiration dates that meant that they had to be used or the person lost the discount. Another issue was that people in apartments discovered that only one converter was available per street address. So the first person living in an apartment comple who ordered the certificate got one, the rest of the tennants were out of luck. That supposidly was taken care of but it took months. And now that the money has dried up there may be a lot of people who tried to get the box couldn't.

Observers are worried that many people who need converter boxes haven't purchased one yet. It was reported in the Honolulu Star Bulletin in late December that 53,000 Hawaiians requested coupons but only 13,872 coupons had been redeemed. If that percentage is projected across America then there could be some major issues in the coming months as a large segment of the population no longer has access news, information and entertainment. This is why the major networks, the FCC and the Obama administration are looking into extending analog transmission for a while longer.

Has This Ever Happened Before?
It's not often that any country changes it's broadcasting standards. Television broadcast technical standards were in a constant state of flux in from the 1920s to 1940s. That was the experimental era of the TV industry. For any country changing a broadcasting standard is a major undertaking that may make hundreds of thousands or even millions of receivers obsolete. Such actions affect many citizens.

Reportedly not since the 1940's has the FCC changed a broadcasting standard which made equipment obsolete. In that case the FM radio band was moved from the 42 to 50 Mhz band to the 88-108 Mhz band. That affected the owners of 500,000 FM radios and existing stations had go off the air and make significant changes to their transmitters. The FCC ended up allowing a transition period for the change in FM frequencies. Stations continued broadcasting in the 42 to 50 Mhz FM band until 1950.

This is the first time that America has transitioned hundreds of millions of receivers to a new broadcast standard. A similar situation occurred in England when they transitioned from 405 line to 625 line broadcasts. The 405 line TV standard existed from the 1930s in England. In the years following World War II a number of countries started up TV broadcast systems and Europe embraced two 625 line systems - PAL and SECAM. England made a decision to switch to 625 PAL in 1969. The last 405 line broadcast transmitter was shut off in 1985 about 16 years later.

The Bush administration was pushing for a rapid change over but it might take a few more years to convert everyone. Numbers are confusing. There are at least 8 million homes that have not made the transition. But the numbers of homes with cable and satellite don't total up to the total homes with TV. There are about 115 million homes with TV. There are about 64 million homes with cable. That means about 50 million homes with TV will need a DTV converter box, new DTV set, cable or satellite. The Bush administration has reported that there are about 8 million homes without access to DTV.

There is some anecdotal evidence that some groups - the elderly in particular - have not received or installed the DTV converter. It is very important that everyone have access to the free broadcasts because of the needs to transmit emergency information to all citizens.

Will My Battery Powered Portable TV Work?
Generally if it's a plug-in TV with an antenna input or audio and video inputs with a 10 inch or larger screen then you will likely be able to connect a DTV converter box.

If you have one of the little battery powered LCD "pocket TVs" by manufacturers such as Casio, Radio Shack and others then you are out of luck since you will be unable to easily connect to a DTV converter box. The reason is there are no small hand held converters that are compatible with the little LCD TVs.

There are a few small flat screen portable hand held DTV receivers that are starting to trickle from a few manufacturers. These are kind of expensive at this time because they are marketed towards professionals in the video production and broadcasting industries. In time the prices should come down.

If you have a laptop computer there are several USB port based DTV, ASTC, and QAM tuners that turn your computer into a TV receiver. One of the units is the Autumn Wave OnAir GT. It's a small box about the size of two audio compact cassettes and includes a remote control. It has a short USB cable which allows you to move the unit around to pick up a good signal. Another DTV/HDTV receiver is the Plextor Mini Digital HDTV Receiver. It is shaped like a USB flash memory thumb or jump drive and plugs directly into your computer's USB port.

These units will install in minutes and will scan for available channels in your area. Most of these units include DVR software for recording shows to your hard drive similar to a TiVo.

These units do require an antenna - some include a small antenna but you may need to connect to a bigger antenna to receive a good strong signal. Many of these units will also work with desktop pcs. These units can provide a true HD quality image if your computer video card and monitor are capable of showing at least 1080 lines. If they aren't then the image is scaled down to fit the screen.

Why Sports Fans Will Like DTV
Ok, you have your DTV converter or HDTV. Now what? How about great sports shows. The first thing that caught my attention was the trade off of wide screen versus the older square format screen. I thought I would miss the closeup tight shot that I was used to. The wider screen, with its increased sharpness and resolution creates a nice image with lots of detail. So even though a closeup wasn't quite as closeup as the old screen shape the extra detail made up for the slightly distant closeup. Hockey in HD really shows off the increased detail. The puck is clearly visible as are details in the player's uniforms and blade marks in the ice.

Yes you will see every blade of grass, if the shot is close enough. You will see detail beyond that of a closeup in old fashioned SD TV. Team logos, patches, cuts, scrapes, the stitching on the baseball and the rotation of the football being thrown will be clearly visible.

Extra subchannels for TV broadcasters open opportunities to broadcast local sports that they may not have done much of before. KVEW DT-2, channel 42's second channel has broadcast standard definition (SD) hockey games of the Tri-City Americans. While not HD it's still a good looking show. The games usually involve games with Spokane where KVEW has a sister station.

The Super Bowl, Rose Bowl, NCAA Basketball Tournament all look and sound great in DTV or HD. The instant replays are sharp and clear in most cases.

Viewers should enjoy the change. It's the biggest change since TV added stereo in the 1980s.

It's bigger than that. It's a major shift in what will people will come to expect in clarity and sharpness of video images.

For additional information you can go to The website provides information on how to upgrade and get on the waiting list for the $40 discount coupon.

Here is a side by side comparison of the picture quality of DTV versus standard definition (SD) analog TV. The picture on the left is a standard definition (SD) analog image. The picture on the right is a DTV picture on a SD monitor. The most noticable difference is the shape of the picture. DTV images are often in 16:9 wide screen format. If you look closely at the picture on the right you will notice that even on a regular TV the picture is sharper and there is a greater range of color, brightness, contrast and detail. Look at the building on the right and the you will notice more neutral color to the marble columns and facade. The color of the bunting hanging from the railings of the building shows more detail and color. The DTV picture has greater dynamic range that is visible as increased shadow detail and more detail in the highlights.
Image samples from the ABC coverage of the January 20, 2009 Inauguration of Barack Obama.

LEFT - Little LCD portable TVs like this RCA will not receive DTV signals when full power TV stations switch off their analog transmitters on February 17, 2009. These LCD TVs will still work with low power translators in some areas. There are no plans at this time for manufacturing DTV converters for these little LCD TVs. If you use a LCD TV/Monitor with audio video inputs with a camcorder or security camera the LCD TV will still work for that.
RIGHT - Computers can become portable TVs with the addition of tuners such as this Autumn Wave OnAir GT HDTV, DTV, ATSC and QAM unit. About the size of two audio cassettes it connects to your computer by USB cable. It draws its power from the computer so there is no need for an AC adapter "wall wart" or needing another powerstrip next to your computer. It will work with laptops and desktops with compatible video cards. Units such as this usually include DVR software that can turn your computer a TiVo-like recording device.

Photos by Terry Aichele

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Posted September 3, 2008
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