DTV 101 (part 2): The pros & cons of going Digital

by professor.knowsitall@evpl on Tuesday, February 10 2009, 10:51am. Viewed 1,564 times.

Timmy, Sarah, & Sue anxiously awaiting the DTV transitionOn June 12 (pushed back from the original February 17 date), TV will change forever.  Whether or not you're looking forward to this technological transition, there are some important things to understand about digital TV as compared to old-school analog TV.

If you're a bit fuzzy about the DTV transition, or you're unsure if your TVs are prepared for the change, please read my previous post.

How does DTV work?

Analog TV, what we've been using for 60+ years, is broadcast similarly to how movies are recorded onto film: one frame at a time.  When watching analog TV, every single frame of the show you're watching is being sent over the air by the broadcaster, and your TV simply throws everything it receives up onto the screen.

Digital TV can be likened to watching a YouTube video: computer data is sent and reassembled by the device that's viewing it.  For DTV, the broadcaster disassembles and compresses a show into computer data, which is what they broadcast.  Digital TVs and converter boxes receive these bits & bytes and reassemble them back into a watchable picture.

Enough technobabble...why should you care about DTV?  Because it's soooo much better than analog TV!  ...well, kinda.  Unfortunately, there are some cons as well; hopefully, most of these problems will be resolved when the transition occurs.  Let's start with the pros!

Pros of DTV

  1. Digital TV broadcastingImproved picture & sound quality.  DTV should be comparable to DVD-quality.
  2. Programming guide.  With DTV, you can view the name of the program you're watching, along with a guide of future programming.  This this similar to functionality provided by cable/satellite boxes, but was not possible with analog TV.
  3. Stations can broadcast additional channels.  WFIE has 3 digital channels: 14.1 (their regular channel), 14.2 (their 24hr weather station), and 14.3 (recently changed from a music channel to additional programming).
  4. High-definition programming. More and more shows are being broadcast in high-definition.  Those with HDTVs will see these programs in glorious high-def; those not using HDTVs will see the standard definition version of the program.
  5. No more snow!  We all remember having to adjust the rabbit ears in an attempt to fix snowy reception.  A snowy picture was a sign of analog reception problems.  You won't get any snow with DTV!  (But before you start celebrating, check out #2 in the cons section...)
  6. Frees airwaves.  DTV uses a fraction of the bandwidth required for analog TV.  After the transition, the no-longer-used airwaves will be allotted to forthcoming technologies, such as faster mobile internet.

Cons of DTV

  1. Aspect ratio confusion.  DTV is broadcast in widescreen, which is great for HDTVs (which are widescreen); programs that are widescreen fill up the entire screen, and 4:3 programs (sometimes referred as "full screen") are displayed with black bars on the left & right.
    Users of standard (non-widescreen) TVs will need to change display modes on their TVs or converter boxes from "Full" (for widescreen programs) to "Zoom" (for full screen programs) depending on the current program.  Otherwise, the left & right sides of the image will be cut off (on widescreen programs) or the image won't fill the entire screen (on full screen programs).  Clear as mud, right?
  2. No more snow!  Digital TV is all or nothing.  Unlike analog TV, where you could still watch a poor signal, digital TV cannot tune in to poor signals.  With adequate signal, you'll be able to watch the station with perfect clarity.  With poor signal, you won't be able to watch the station AT ALL!
  3. Drop outs.  If a station's signal is just strong enough for you to receive, but likes to fluctuate, it will be prone to drop outs.  If you're watching a show and there's a brief reception blip, you'll get either a frozen picture, black screen, or a jumbled picture until the reception comes back.  Depending on the severity of the resulting choppiness, this can make a station completely unwatchable.
  4. Interference.  One of the supposed pros of DTV is that it is less prone to interference than analog TV.  That may be true as a whole, but I've discovered that DTV reception is affected by the WEATHER!  Pouring rain, lightning, and other weather can affect DTV reception.  If you're trying to watch TV during severe weather, you should be able to do so!!!!

My Experiences

I've been receiving digital TV on my HDTV for 3 years now.  While living on the east side, near Washington Square Mall, I was able to receive WFIE (14) & WEHT (25) perfectly using an indoor antenna.  WTVW (7), WNIN (9), and WEVV (44) were too choppy to be watchable.

I've since moved to the west side, and I've mounted a larger, outside antenna with an extra amplifier.  I now receive WTVW (7), WEHT (25), and WEVV (44) perfectly.  I get zero signal from WNIN (9).

I'm only 1 mile away from WFIE (14), and my reception from them is inexplicably erratic.  Some days they come in 100%.  Other days, reception fluctuates so much that I get severe dropouts of 1-2 seconds every 10-15 seconds.  I have found no rhyme or reason for this, but it is frustrating as the station becomes unwatchable.

Conclusion

DTV ConversionSo is DTV ready for primetime?  Good question.  To be fair, #2-#4 of my cons, along with my reception woes, could be resolved if broadcasters boost their digital signals; if they are not planning on doing so when the transition takes place, they'll probably be forced to by the number of viewers having reception problems.

In a nutshell, DTV is a much-needed improvement and is awesome...when it works.  For those that have already made the switch to DTV, what have your experiences been???

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Comments (3)

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on Tuesday, February 10 2009, 4:57pm

There was an article in this morning's Courier about how all the local stations except ABC voted to go with the Feb. deadline.  So in order not to confuse people too much, they are all planning on delaying the process.  Read it at www.courierpress.com/.../local-television-stations-wont-make-early-switch-d

on Wednesday, February 11 2009, 2:48pm

Another site, www.tvfool.com has a very sophisticated locating tool which will not only shows tower direction, but signal strength you should get at your location.

You can also download color-banded signal strength maps from torrent links which integrate with Google Earth by City/Municipality.

on Thursday, June 11 2009, 4:17pm

Tomorrow, 2.8 million households will riot in the streets when their TVs cease to work. Okay, slight