January 30, 2008 12:58 PM PST
FAQ: What the digital-TV switch actually means
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January 30, 2008
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Q: Are there any limitations here? Can I use the coupons toward the cost of a digital TV?
The coupons may only be used for converter boxes certified for use by NTIA, and the agency placed a number of restrictions on what features they can employ. For instance, it's acceptable for the boxes to include an electronic program guide feature, equipment necessary for processing software upgrades, antenna inputs, and video outputs. They also must meet certain energy efficiency and interference standards.
But the coupons can't be used toward digital TVs themselves or toward more "deluxe" devices that also contain, for instance, DVD-recording or playback capabilities.
Q: Does DTV mean HDTV?
Nope. As federal officials themselves note, digital television comes in many flavors. It can be SDTV or HDTV, or somewhere in between.
Q: Have any specific models been certified for use with the coupons yet?
Yes. NTIA has certified products from several companies including, Digital Stream, Zenith, Magnavox, and Philco. Other companies including LG, Samsung, RCA, Broadcom and Echostar, are reportedly in the process of seeking certification.
For a full list of certified devices check out the NTIA Web site.
Q: Where can I get a converter?
NTIA has certified more than 100 consumer electronics retailers including Best Buy, Circuit City, Kmart, RadioShack, Sam's Club, Sears, Target, and Wal-Mart. A full list of retailers can be found on the Web site (PDF).
Q: How can I tell whether my TV is currently able to receive digital signals?
Check your owner's manual or the TV set itself for indication that it contains either an integrated HDTV tuner or an Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) tuner, which refers to the American digital-TV standard. If you can't track down the manual in paper form, try searching for your TV's make and model number on the manufacturer's Web site.
A TV designated "HD-ready" or "HDTV monitor," by contrast, does not have a built-in ATSC tuner, which means you must supplement it with a converter box or subscribe to cable or satellite.
The newer your TV is, the greater the chance that it's already primed for the switch. If it's older than a 1998 model, when TV manufacturers first began offering a limited quantity of TVs with integrated digital tuners, it likely needs a converter box. An uptick in the number of TVs equipped with digital tuners began in 2004.
Q: Remind me again--why are we even making this shift?
The U.S. government has actually been attempting to clear off the analog TV spectrum for many years to make the prime airwaves available for public safety responders and for mobile broadband projects. A portion of the vacant spectrum will automatically be set aside for use by emergency broadcasters. The rest is currently being auctioned off by the FCC to companies, including the likes of Google. These companies are eager to take advantage of the spectrum's inherent physical properties, which allow signals to travel farther and penetrate walls.
All told, the auction is expected to generate between $10 billion and $15 billion to offset the government's deficit.
Q: What's in this for me as a TV watcher?
Digital television delivers clearer pictures (meaning less-snowy versions of your favorite broadcast TV shows) and sharper sound than its analog counterpart. It also allows broadcasters to do "multicasting" of various channels at the same time--say, weather on one channel, a soap opera on another, and news on a third. According to the National Association of Broadcasters, more than 1,600 television stations already offer digital-broadcasting streams.
CNET News.com's Marguerite Reardon and Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.
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