Is Your TV Set to Go Digital?
The day was Jan. 1, 1954, and people across the nation huddled around small 12-inch screens to watch the Tournament of Roses Parade. But it wasn't the parade that was out of the ordinary; it was the color screen it appeared on. That day marked the first coast-to-coast color broadcast in the U.S.
And just like Dorothy opening the door to Oz, black-and-white television gave way to color. Today, similar evolution is occurring as color TVs give way to high-definition.
What is HDTV?
Referred to as the "future of television," high-definition television, or HDTV, provides crystal-clear programming by using a digital service vs. the analog service of traditional TVs.
What makes one service better than the other? Clarity.
Television pictures consist of lines scanned horizontally across the screen. Not only is HDTV made up of twice as many lines, but the set is wider, like a movie-theater screen. This screen width more closely complements human peripheral vision, making it easier to view.
"It's as close to a movie experience in the home as possible," says HDTV consumer Brian Olsen of Highlands Ranch, Colo. "I don't watch a lot of TV, but what I do watch, I want to view the best way possible. HDTV is really what you've been seeing your whole life, just for the first time on your television set."
The push for HDTV is about improving your entertainment experience.
The 2009 national switch
According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), there are an estimated 36.5 million HDTV sets in the country--about 30% of U.S. households have an HDTV. The CEA expects 16 million more HD sets will be sold in 2007, which would bring the total to 52.5 million. Still, that's a relatively small number compared with the 248 million traditional TVs in households across the nation, as recorded by the U.S. Census in 2001, the most recent figure available. Despite the undertaking, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched a campaign to shift the nation's viewing experience from analog to digital.
In October 2004, FCC Chairman Michael Powell announced the digital television (DTV) consumer education campaign, "DTV--Get it!" This campaign was created to inform the public about the transition to DTV, including the availability of high-definition and other digital content.
"Although for the vast majority of American households digital television may be uncharted territory, we will not let them go it alone," said Powell. "If [consumers] have questions about digital television, the FCC is ready to serve as a primary resource for quick answers. Then we hope they will get DTV—get the set, get the connection, get the content."
If you have a TV, get ready to make a change.
Making the switch to digital
The push for HDTV is about improving your entertainment experience and engaging you fully in the programming.
"Clearly, the consumer benefits from the rich experience, but operators and programmers benefit as well," says Joan Ziff, Showtime Networks Inc. director of trade and media relations. "By providing the best product available, both operators and programmers build consumer loyalty. For Showtime, high definition is one part of a vision to provide consumers with a unique television experience unlike what they can get anywhere else."
But getting the full experience comes at a price. "It costs money for everyone involved (consumers, TV producers, networks, broadcasters, and cable and satellite companies) to switch to HDTV," says Patrick Hurley, director of research at TeleChoice Inc., and co-author of "HDTV for Dummies." "But remember, you don't have to spend a ton." You can buy a HDTV for less than $200.
Prices have been declining for sevaral years, but now are decreasing at a slower rate each year. Prices vary dramatically depending on screen size, display technology, and features. And while HDTV sets are a lot cheaper now than when they first hit the market, don't forget to factor additional costs of an antenna, tuner, and service. It adds up.
Remember, you don't have to spend a ton.
Ultimately, research is the key to getting the best digital experience. Here are some things to consider and tips to remember before taking the plunge.
Sticking with analog
Even if you're happy with your traditional television, don't think you can tune out the high-definition trend. Once digital is fully migrated, analog broadcasting will come to an end--and so will the use of your current TV. Congress passed a law setting Feb. 17, 2009 as the date for migration completion.
Don't fret! You can avoid purchasing a DTV even after the transition to digital takes place. You can use a converter set-top box, available in retail stores, to receive digital signals and adapt them to your TV's current format. While the converter will not enhance the picture display, it will save you from buying a new TV and accompanying accessories until you're ready. The Commerce Departmet will offer two $40 coupons to help cover the cost of DTV converters to any U. S. household that requests them between Jan. 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009.
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