I Want (to get rid of) My DTV

My mom is a rebel and a non-compliant consumer of an ancient era. She never owned a computer, often deprograms her TV’s remote control (how she does this remains a mystery to me but it may be a ploy to get me to visit more often) and she absolutely refuses to go Cable. She feels very comfortable in the world of the four major VHF broadcast networks and still calls UHF channels “Those new, foreign stations.” If she knows it or not she and tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands or millions of her fellow citizens are about to become the great American forlorn souls as analog television quietly blinks off the air for the last time in February 2009. Before disaster set in where she could not watch her favorite Britcoms, I went to work to bring her technology up to speed and into the modern digital era.

To get my mom up and running with her analog antenna and TV I purchased two Analog to DTV converter boxes at my local big box electronics superstore using the Government co-pay program. As many of you know the Government subsidizes the purchase of these converters to the tune of $40.00 each and assists each American in purchasing two of them for their use in the digital conversion.

SIDEBAR: This writer found that $40.00 covers about half of the purchase price. In general, everywhere I shopped within normal retail channels I could not find a box for under $79.99. This was supposed to be painless to those citizens who could not afford cable and were only able to receive analog TV through an antenna so the selling price came as somewhat of a shock.

I brought the devices to mom’s home, dutifully hooked-up the converter box judiciously following the instructions, half in English and half in Spanish… then I saw it. I read the part of the manual that said an Eight year old could do this. I knew I was in real trouble after reading the words “Easy Setup.” I have to say that auto setup and electrical hook-up was pretty painless but that is about where the painlessness ends. Oh, My throbbing temples.

The headaches came when the little black box auto tuned to about 20 Spanish speaking channels, 10 channels of God TV and a bunch of Infomercial stations with picture and sound that is as solid as a rock and as sharp as a serpent’s tooth. One would think this is a good thing–solid picture and sound–what more could one want. What it neglected to tune to were two of the eight major digital channels in the area. Not a good thing, especially for mom.

Now understand that mom speaks no Spanish and while she is not Godless, at 93 she doesn’t really need some, ten different, sweaty evangelist to talk down to her about the ravages of sin while asking her to dig deep into her pocket and send him all her pictures of dead presidents that appear on all of her dirty money. She already has 103 Juicers, 117 Air Ionizers, a Pocket Fishing Rod and enough Cubic Zirconium jewels to start her own mine. The Infomercial channels are definitely not in her best interests.

Back to the headaches. This thing was pumping out a good signal and all was right with the world but unwanted channels aside, this gizmo would only tune to six of the eight local digital channels. Where are the other two high powered, local digital channels you might ask? So did I. So did mom considering several of her favorite TV shows are on those channels. I told her that they seem to be off in the cosmos somewhere with no ability to sweet-talk them into her TV. I got freeze frames and the infamous broken-up boxy image because of weak signals on two of the “found” local channels too. How can this be? I am in the suburban area of a major broadcast market and I am only 8 miles as the crow flies and in direct line of sight to the transmitting towers of these stations. They are all high powered and the towers are located in the same “Antenna Farm” within a couple thousand feet of each other.  I can see them with my naked eyes on a clear day. Why can I not tune these two major channels?

At this point, without missing a beat, mom stared me down and said, “Well, fix it. You’re a television engineer.” Woe is me… Not a good day for the guy who is supposed to be knowledgeable of all things technological. Not a good day for the little black box either as I began to approach it to perform a lateral adjustment with a finely calibrated 30-pound sledge. Visions of my mom bragging to all her neighbors about what a smart son she has began to fade.

Now for the brass tacks (or rusty tacks, depending on your outlook). Mom’s roof antenna is upwards to 45 years old so it don’t owe nobody nuthin’. It is half in the trees and the wind has caused many crashes into the surrounding foliage categorically stripping off many of the elements from the antenna mast. Over time, every once in a while mom would find them on the ground around the yard and think God sent her little aluminum plant supports from heaven. I never lead her to believe that that was not true. This delighted her to no end as she tied everything from tomato plants to creeping Ivy to the little hollow silver rods.

The long and short of all this is, me thinks mom needs a new antenna. Just goes to show you how forgiving and robust good ol’ analog was. It too just goes to show you that, even to a technology savvy installer frustrations can overcome any hope for success. Nothing is easy. Murphy was right. I can tell already that it is going to be a long hot summer. -33-

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3 responses to “I Want (to get rid of) My DTV

  1. Ah, a very interesting post. I really enjoyed reading it.

    “‘Well, fix it. You’re a television engineer.'” and “Visions of my mom bragging to all her neighbors about what a smart son she has began to fade” really got me laughing.

    I worry about what everyone is going to do in February. It shouldn’t be this hard. My parents made the jump to a (small CRT) digital-ready TV and still don’t understand why there are two or three subchannels for most stations. They actually “got it” a lot quicker than I expected, though. My buddy who has a 50-or-some-other-huge-number inch rear projection TV (which may or may not even be HD-capable) thinks he’s getting HD from the cable company, when he is not. It’s just stretched 4:3 video (so people look short and fat). Of course, I’ve seen the same thing in the HD demos of some consumer electronics stores; if they can’t get their signals correctly how can they sell to the uneducated consumer?

    Part of the problem is that consumers have so many sources of “tainted” information. The TV set manufacturers wanted to sell more TVs, so they came up with “HD-Ready” or whatever they called the sets that were capable of displaying an HD signal but had no ATSC tuner. So the public, who already just wanted to watch Wheel or Days or whatever (and don’t care about the infomercials and all which you discovered) doesn’t care about NTSC vs ATSC vs QAM (or whatever the cable companies are using these days). I have to care — or want to anyway, since I work in TV, but my parents shouldn’t need to read the label and understand the difference between “NTSC tuner” and “NTSC/ATSC tuner” on their new set. It’s all in the marketing (where we’ve gone astray, that is). For TV engineers like yourself, yes, the label is critically important. For the general public, who doesn’t even understand why you would chop off the top and bottom of the picture in a letterbox video in the first place — much less the difference between analog over-the-air, digital over-the-air, analog cable, digital cable, HD, non-HD 16:9 widescreen…[SIGH].

    I feel I’ve ranted enough, so I’ll close with this thought. I recently read a published article, available online but published in one of the better known newspapers (but I don’t recall which) which explicitly stated that cable TV is also subject to the same February 2009 analog cutoff the over-the-air is (that is incorrect). If people are reading information that is outright wrong, how can one even try to educate themselves?

  2. By the way, good luck replacing the antenna. Try not to get too tangled up in the foliage :-)

  3. Televising The Revolution

    Thank you for your kind remarks. I am glad you enjoyed reading the article.

    Ibennetch WROTE:

    “(A friend) thinks he’s getting HD from the cable company, when he is not. It’s just stretched 4:3 video (so people look short and fat).”

    I have a term for this phenomenon, which is “Television from the heavy gravity planet.” Your friend is not alone; too many people are fooled by marketing hype. Another big misconception is “because it is digital it HAS to be better.” That is like saying Ansel Adams was a great photographer because he owned and used a $5000. View Camera. It wasn’t the camera it was the mind behind the camera that made him great. It is not digital in and of itself it is how the technology is utilized that will make it better.

    Ibennetch WROTE:

    “I recently read a published article, available online but published in one of the better known newspapers (but I don’t recall which) which explicitly stated that cable TV is also subject to the same February 2009 analog cutoff the over-the-air is (that is incorrect).”

    This may differ from market to market. Larger Metro markets and major cable operators may very well continue sending in Analog as well as Digital. Some smaller, and some more rural markets may not have the technical and financial resources to send in both technologies. The only way to find out is for the consumer to contact the local cable operator for the correct answers. The official Federal Government Website on digital television http://www.dtv.gov makes the following statement in their FAQ section concerning your point. This can be found at http://www.dtv.gov/consumercorner.html#faq29:

    “Does the DTV transition affect TV sets that are connected to cable services?

    No. If you subscribe to cable service, the DTV transition should not affect any TV sets that are connected to your cable services. The DTV transition applies only to full-power broadcast television stations – stations that use the public airwaves to transmit their programming to viewers through a broadcast antenna.”

    “Will cable customers with analog TVs have to buy or rent a set-top box from their cable company? If so, how much will it cost?

    First, it’s important to know that the February 17, 2009 deadline for the digital television transition only applies to full-power broadcast stations. Cable companies are not required by the government to transition their systems to digital, and can continue to deliver channels to their customers in analog. Cable companies are actually required by FCC rules to continue offering local broadcast stations to their customers in analog as long as they offer any analog service. This requirement will continue for at least three years after February 17, 2009. The Commission will decide in 2011 whether the requirement should be continued beyond February 17, 2012. This means that customers who receive analog cable service (without a cable set-top box) will be able to continue to do so.

    However, for business reasons (among other things, digital is much more efficient than analog), cable companies may be interested in transitioning their systems from analog delivery to digital delivery. If a cable company makes the business decision to go all-digital (meaning it will stop offering any channels to its customers in analog), it must ensure that its analog customers can continue to watch their local broadcast stations. This may require customers with analog televisions to get a set-top box. If the cable company provides the customer with a set-top box, any costs related to it will be determined by the cable company. Therefore, it is recommended that analog cable customers contact their cable company to ask if a set-top box will be needed, when it will be needed, and if there will be a cost.

    It is also important to note that a cable set-top box is different from a digital-to-analog converter box. A digital-to-analog converter box is necessary only for analog televisions that receive their programming over-the-air using a rooftop antenna or “rabbit ears” connected to the set. A digital-to-analog converter box is not necessary for a TV connected to a paid television service such as a cable or satellite TV provider. Information on any set-top boxes needed for a paid service such as cable or satellite should be obtained from the service provider.”

    Consumers need to do their research. AS you found there are many inaccurate resources giving the wrong information. -33-

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