What is the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Assistance Program?
On February 18, 2009, full power television stations will stop analog broadcasting and transition to digital broadcasting. Households that do not subscribe to cable or satellite services will need either a television set capable of receiving DTV programming, or a digital-to-analog converter box.
Digital-to-analog converter boxes will make DTV signals viewable on analog TV sets. These converter boxes will be available in retail stores during the transition.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce is developing rules that will allow households to obtain coupons that can be applied toward the purchase of digital-to-analog converter boxes. For more information on the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Assistance Program click on NTIA's frequently asked questions.
What is the digital TV transition?
The switch from analog TV (the traditional TV system using magnetic waves to transmit and display TV pictures and sound) to digital television (the new TV system using information transmitted as "data bits" -- like a computer -- to display movie-quality pictures and sound), is referred to at the digital TV (DTV) transition.
In 1996, the U.S. Congress authorized the distribution of an additional broadcast channel to each TV broadcaster so that they could introduce DTV service while simultaneously continuing their analog TV broadcasts. In addition to improved picture and sound quality, an important benefit of DTV is that it will free up parts of the broadcast spectrum for public safety as well as other valuable uses. This is possible because the modern technology of DTV is more efficient than analog TV technology.
DTV allows the same number of stations to broadcast using fewer total channels (less of the broadcast spectrum) which will free up scarce and valuable spectrum for public safety and new wireless services.
What is the February 17th, 2009 DTV deadline date?
Congress passed a law on February 1, 2006, setting a final deadline for the DTV transition of February 17, 2009. Most television stations will continue broadcasting both analog and digital programming until February 17, 2009, when all analog broadcasting will stop. Analog TVs receiving over-the-air programming will still work after that date, but owners of these TVs will need to buy converter boxes to change digital broadcasts into analog format. Converter boxes will be available from consumer electronic products retailers at that time. Cable and satellite subscribers with analog TVs should contact their service providers about obtaining converter boxes for the DTV transition.
What is digital television (DTV)?
Digital television (DTV) is a new type of broadcasting technology that will transform television as we now know it. By transmitting the information used to make a TV picture and sound as "data bits" (like a computer), a digital broadcaster can carry more information than is currently possible with analog broadcast technology.
For example, the technology allows the transmission of pictures with higher resolution for dramatically better picture and sound quality than currently available – called High Definition Television (HDTV) - or the transmission of several "standard definition" TV programs at once – called "multicasting." "Standard definition" digital TV pictures would be similar in clarity and detail to the best TV pictures being received and displayed today using the current analog broadcast system and TV receivers.
DTV technology can also be used to provide interactive video and data services that are not possible with "analog" technology.
What is analog television?
Analog television service is the traditional TV system. Analog television has been the standard broadcast technology since the inception of television using magnetic waves to transmit and display pictures and sound. The best obtainable picture using analog television is of SDTV quality. Analog broadcasting will continue until the end of the transition period, which currently is set for February 17, 2009. Most television stations will continue broadcasting both analog and digital programming until then.
How will digital television be different than the current analog television?
DTV allows a number of new and better services. With HDTV, broadcasters can offer far higher resolution and picture quality than exists with Analog technology. Or, they can offer several different TV programs at the same time, with pictures and sound quality equal to or better than is generally available today. In addition, broadcasters can simultaneously transmit a variety of other information through a data bitstream to both enhance the TV programming and to provide entirely new services.
What is high definition TV (HDTV)? How is it different from analog television?
HDTV is a name given to two of the digital television (DTV) formats. HDTV provides high resolution programming. A current analog TV picture is made up of horizontal lines on the picture screen; an HDTV picture can have more than twice as many lines, allowing for stunning picture detail.
HDTV uses a "widescreen format." "Widescreen format" refers to an image's aspect ratio, which is a comparison of screen width to screen height. Analog television has an aspect ratio of 4 by 3, which means the screen is 4 units wide by 3 units high. The aspect ratio of HDTV is 16 by 9, similar to a movie theater screen.
HDTV programs can include Dolby Digital surround sound, the same digital sound system used in many movie theaters and DVDs. HDTV uses the same amount of bandwidth (the size of the communications channel) as the current analog system, but with HDTV, about six times more information is transmitted. This capability translates to much better quality in picture and sound.
Is HDTV the same thing as DTV?
No. HDTV is the highest quality of DTV, but it is only one of many formats. In addition to HDTV, the most common formats are Standard Definition Television (SDTV) and Enhanced Definition Television (EDTV).
SDTV is the baseline display and resolution for both analog and digital. Transmission of SDTV may be in either the traditional (4:3) or wide-screen (16:9) format.
EDTV is a step up from Analog Television. EDTV comes in widescreen (16:9) or traditional (4:3) format and provides better picture quality than SDTV, but not as high as HDTV.
Why are we switching to DTV?
DTV is a more flexible and efficient technology than the current analog system. For example, rather than being limited to providing one "analog" programming channel, a broadcaster will be able to provide a super sharp "high definition" (HDTV) program or multiple "standard definition" DTV programs simultaneously. Providing several program streams on one broadcast channel is called "multicasting." The number of programs a station can send on one digital channel depends on the level of picture detail, also known as "resolution," desired in each programming stream. DTV can provide interactive video and data services that are not possible with "analog" technology.
Converting to DTV will also free up parts of the scarce and valuable broadcast airwaves. Those portions of the airwaves can then be used for other important services, such as advanced wireless and public safety services (for example, police, fire departments, and rescue squads).
Once broadcasters transition from analog to digital, will analog televisions will be obsolete?
No. Set-top boxes which convert digital signals to analog signals are available now and will continue to be available at lower prices to consumers as the transition progresses. However, to enjoy the full benefits of Digital TV, including superior sound and clarity, you must own a Digital TV set. An analog television, with the addition of a set-top box, will still allow viewers to enjoy all of the programming they have always enjoyed.
How do I get DTV or HDTV?
Receiving the DTV and HDTV signals over-the-air requires an antenna and a new DTV receiver that can decode the digital signals. In general, an antenna that provides quality reception of over-the-air analog TV signals will work for DTV reception.
If you are a cable or satellite customer, you may need a set-top box to receive DTV signals and convert them into the format of your current analog television, even after the DTV transition is complete. A DTV set-top box also may receive multicast channels and high definition programming and display them in analog picture quality.
Check with your cable or satellite provider to determine if and when you will need a set-top box. A listing of the operational DTV stations is available at http://www.fcc.gov/mb/video/files/dtvonair.html. Satellite TV providers and most cable systems are currently offering DTV programming. Subscribers should check with their service providers to see what programming is available in their area.
What is the difference between integrated DTVs and DTV monitors?
An Integrated DTV set is a digital television with a built-in digital decoder or DTV receiver. If you have an Integrated DTV and live in an area served by a DTV broadcast station, you will not need any additional equipment, with the exception of an antenna (preferably an outdoor antenna) to receive over-the-air DTV broadcast programming. Integrated TVs can usually receive and display current analog signals.
In contrast, a DTV monitor is not capable of receiving DTV broadcast programming without additional equipment; it is simply a display device without the processing capability for DTV reception. A DTV set-top decoder must be connected between the antenna and the monitor to receive and display over-the-air DTV programming. Confirm with your retailer that the DTV receiver or set-top decoder is compatible with the DTV monitor that you are purchasing. Most monitors have a built in analog receiver and can display regular analog TV programming. They can also display standard resolution video from DVD players and VCRs.
Will I need a special antenna to receive DTV over-the-air?
In general, dependable reception of DTV will require the same type of signal reception equipment that currently works to provide good quality reception of analog TV signals. If you now need a roof-top antenna to receive television, the same antenna generally will be needed to receive DTV.
Will I need a new TV?
Your current television will work as it does now until analog broadcasting stops. Even after the transition is over, your current TV will not become obsolete. A converter box can be used to receive broadcast DTV signals and change them into the format of your current television. In addition, if you use your analog set with a multichannel pay service like cable or satellite, it will continue to work as it always has. Even with a converter box, however, your current analog television will not be capable of displaying the full picture quality of DTV. To enjoy the full picture quality, you must have a DTV set. Subscribers to cable and DBS services should contact their providers regarding converter boxes for those services.
What do DTV sets look like and what will they cost?
Most DTV sets have wider, more rectangular screens than current analog TVs. This widescreen format allows for images that are more like those shown in a movie theater. Like current TV sets, a range of sizes is available. As with most new consumer electronics technologies, DTV sets have become less expensive since their introduction. Prices are expected to continue to decrease over time and will vary depending on screen size, display technology, and other features. For more information see the chart on Digital Television Types.
Can I see a big difference between analog TV and DTV?
Yes. Viewers cannot ignore the dramatic improvements offered by the DTV conversion. Visually, HDTV captures viewers with crystal clear resolution and razor sharp detail. Individual hairs, labels on footballs and the subtle effect of wind blowing through grass are all clearly visible through HDTV. Also, the detailed resolution and color provides an image akin to movie-theater screens. Combined with the capacity to deliver enhanced Dolby Digital surround sound, HDTV produces an advanced home theater effect. DTV provides viewers with sharper images, better sound, and more viewing options than have ever been available over the air.
How much better is the quality of HDTV than analog TV?
Currently, television pictures are made up of lines that are scanned horizontally. HDTV pictures are created by scanning up to twice as many lines. This resolution and other technical factors improve the sharpness of the pictures, allowing you to read on your television screen small text commonly seen on your computer. HDTV sets have wider, movie-theater like screens that more closely resemble human peripheral vision, making it more natural to watch.
What about my VCR, DVD player and camcorder? Will I be able to use them with an HDTV set?
HDTV sets are "backward compatible," meaning existing analog equipment (VCRs, DVD players, camcorders, video games, etc.) will work on digital TV sets, but not in high definition. Their video will be displayed in the maximum resolution that is available with each product.
When will the DTV transition be complete?
The final transition is February 2009. At that point, broadcasting the current "analog" channels will end and that spectrum will be put to other uses. Until the transition to DTV is complete, television stations will continue broadcasting on both their digital and analog channels.
Do I already have DTV via digital cable or satellite?
You may have DTV if you subscribe to the digital package and get digital programming, often described as HDTV. But the digital cable tier and satellite service are not necessarily DTV. Your cable or satellite system may be using digital technology as a more efficient way of delivering analog programming to you. If you have an analog television set, then you are probably not getting DTV, even though the reception may be somewhat improved. Check with your cable or satellite provider to find out for sure.