Digital TV transition: Not so fast!

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by Erica Mauter • Okay, so the digital tv transition is coming up. February 17. I requested a convertor box coupon last summer, I got it in the mail, and then I forgot about it. I went to go buy a convertor box literally the day after it expired, so I didn’t bother. Then my girlfriend and I decided to go ahead and just buy a new HDTV. We don’t watch that much television as it airs. We watch the little bit of television we do like after the fact. And there’s the occasional movie. We had the most basic analog cable package, just so we’d get a better picture for our regular network channels, but we’re ready to kick that to the curb. So we don’t even use a TV that much to begin with, but we like the experience of it to be good. And I got to watch the inauguration in HD.

fresh.mn is a cityblog for and about life in the Twin Cities, published by Erica Mauter. Contact erica@fresh.mn

Everything you want to know about the impact of the digital TV transition in the Twin Cities can be found in this Minneapolis/St. Paul Area Digital TV and HDTV Cheat Sheet. At least the nuts and bolts of it. Definitions, channel lineups, antennas, a/v cables, tower locations, etc. It also includes this nugget:

Wilmington, NC, has already completed their Digital TV conversion as a test market. The biggest issue that was encountered is that people had DTV sets (or converters), but did not have proper antennas. The big learning is that Digital TV requires a far larger antenna than analog TV. If it is important for you to be ready on day one of the switch, then you need to test your reception now so you have time to upgrade your antenna, if needed.

So from a technical standpoint, having a decent antenna for over the air (OTA) reception is your main issue. Unless you have cable or satellite tv already in which case this whole thing shouldn’t affect you at all.

However, there are a whole bunch of factors from a social standpoint that make it not at all simple.

Let me say up front that I absolutely think that we should move with the times and technology, so I’m not opposed to the philosophy behind the transition. Unfortunately there is this little thing called the Digital Divide and we are not all transitioning at the same pace. The more we rely on newer technology to deliver information, the more people who don’t have access to it (usually because they can’t afford it) are done a disservice.

The way the government has chosen to address that problem is by issuing the aforementioned vouchers for digital convertor boxes. However they are issuing a limited number at a time and if you’re on the waiting list, you have to wait until people with vouchers use them or they expire before you can get yours. There’s a push to move the transition date out to June 12, based mostly on the really long convertor box voucher wait list.

Which is why we have news stories referring to the digital TV conversion as a “civil rights issue” and why there are special efforts amongst community, ethnic, and mainstream media outlets to make sure communites of color have the scoop. Local TV (despite the fact that I personally don’t like to watch it) is still the leading source of news (via).

Two DTV-assistance centers opened last week to assist residents. They are located at:

Main Street Project
2104 Stevens Ave. S.
Minneapolis
612-879-7578

Lao Assistance Center
503 Irving Ave. N., Suite 100A.
Minneapolis
612-374-4967

Julio Ojeda-Zapata, the Pioneer Press tech writer guy, has everything you need to know about the DTV transition.

Do me a favor: If you have a voucher you’re sitting on or if you have $40 to spare, hook your friends and neighbors up and grandparents up.

originally published 1/22/09

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