Digital TV Transition

Monday, January 05, 2009

Gale Brewer, City Council Member and chair of the Committee on Technology in Government, explains what New Yorkers need to know about the transition to digital television.


Gale Brewer

Comments [47]

Charlotte from Brooklyn

I bought a new flat screen digital tv to replace my old set instead of getting the converter box. I scanned through the menu feature to get the digital channels 1 analog and 12 digital was the total that got scanned BUT I can't get CBS/Channel 2 at all! What can I do?

Thanks for your help!

Jun. 15 2009 08:12 PM
ron lucas from northvale nj

i can get most channels with the box
however ch 13 is a blank and yet i rec
13 analog clear as a bell i have an attic
antenna can u help ?
i thought if i get a clear analog
picture the digital transmission from the same location presumably would be equally clear

Feb. 07 2009 10:04 AM
John from Mobile, Alabama

DTV conversion has been put off too long. People have had plenty of time to replace their old TV's and/or get these converter boxes.

I don't remember the original date for analog to digital conversion, but I know Bush was in his first term. If you saved $1 a day since then, you could have a 40"+ HDTV. Joe Barton is right, people will never be 100% ready no matter what date is set.

Feb. 04 2009 10:31 AM
Kimn from Iowa

I applied too early last year and received our coupon cards fairly quickly, but then our area got hit with massive, historic flooding that wiped out our downtown in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (over 9 square miles, displacing over 26,000 residents and business people!).

Our home was okay but our community was devastated, and the governor declared a state of emergency for most of our state. To add insult to injury, our coupons expired in July, when I was heavily involved in recovery efforts. In fact, boxes were not even available in our area until Christmas.

I sent an appeal in September but never heard back. So, out of principle, I just submitted another appeal but frankly, I don't expect anything from it. Now I'm looking for retailers who might accept our expired coupon cards. Anyone know of any online or chain stores doing this? Thanks.

Jan. 18 2009 03:21 PM
Bruce Foster from NYC-Manhattan

I set the converter box up on my roommate's television last night. Of course, come 2/17/09, he won't be able to record programmes that are on while he is at work. So price supports for the Yuppie TiVo franchise much? I lost Channel 13. Oh, right and did we need two channels devoted to telling us time and that it was raining today? Gee, isn't that why I have a clock and a window?

And no one asked me for one if I wanted NBC to foist Universal Sports on me.

So now it's buy a new thirty or forty dollar antenna, and some new means to record stuff that is on at night when all the upper middle class types are at home, but the working people aren't? Sorry to sound so f---ing petty, but I've now got five or six channels devoted to supporting Rupert Murdoch's offspring in their life of leisure and luxury. And I can't get 13? Why?

Jan. 07 2009 02:02 PM
B. Foster from NYC

Seems to me that this entire thing has been mis-managed. They ran out of money? Are you kidding me? I just bought a converter box with one coupon, and I'm now trying to figure out how the hell to get this thing to fit in the nest of DVD/VCR/TV connections. If I stick this thing in the daisy chain, seems to me that it's all screwed up. Suddenly I can't programme the VCR to record stuff. The DVD player? To be simple about it, I really just want to kick the --- of the moron who ran this programme.

Jan. 06 2009 07:31 PM
Daniel from Brooklin

Henry Schmelzer,

Except for the Free-to-Air channels like CBS and QVC, it is totally up to Comcast whether or not to require to rent a converter box from them for each TV. And it is also up to them to decide whether or not your VCR/PVR can be hooked up to that box. But Brian's show was not inaccurate on this point. In order to receive Over-The-Air broadcasts you will need either a TV with a 8-VSB tuner or a converter box. To receive those same channels from Comcast you will need a TV with a QAM-64 and QAM-256 tuner or a converter box. You do not need to rent or purchase a Comcast specific converter box to watch Free-to-air channels from your cable company.

Cable companies are permitted to encrypt or 'on-demandize' channels like CNN and C-SPAN so that you must rent a box from them to get those channels. There was a debate some years ago between pro-citizen and anti-citizen organizations about this, and the FCC sided with the anti-citizen groups. The FCC also issued a rule saying citizens should not be permitted to record Over-The-Air broadcasts, but the EFF defeated the "Broadcast flag" rule in court.

Another warning for people out there, many of the over-the-air converter boxes apply Macrovision content scrambling to their outputs. This means you can not hook them up to your VCR or PVR! You can purchase a 8-VSB/QAM tuner for your PC and install software such as MythTV, GB-PVR, BeyondTV or SageTV; but this is not really something your grandmother is likely to be able to handle by herself.

Jan. 06 2009 02:17 PM
gaetano catelli from manhattan

digital tv has been GREAT for me. i can't get cable in my loft. my windows face downtown and the Empire State Building is uptown from my building. so, my analogue reception was barely watchable.

but, now that i have digital, the reception is crystal clear. it's like having free basic cable. nb: i place my $10 rabbit ears antenna on the window sill and run coax to the back of my set.

Jan. 05 2009 10:38 PM
Paul from Glen Cove

Larry is quite right. I noticed some channels have already upped their output since the fall. I guess for those of you who really use the option of watching and recording a different channel at the same time - there is a solution: send the signal through a splitter and route it to two Digital TV boxes- gotta buy another!, then connect one to a TV and the other to a recorder(digital or analog). I hope that feature would be included in the future (maybe already available). If there are any recording limitations thru the use of the tuner of video recorder try using composite or available inputs. My digital TV box has 3 kinds of outputs.
This should be a workable solution for those of you who refuse to update your equipment and who can't miss a thing.

I'm not that familiar with the current generation of DVD recorders, does anybody know if there are 'Digital TV ready' types like the new TVs? Because if they are you wouldn't need the boxes at all, just splitters unless there are thru connecters on the DVD recorders.

Jan. 05 2009 09:56 PM
Larry from Boonton, NJ

I got a converter for my rooftop antenna and can't get ANY digital channels except WNJB (58.1&2). There are many details left out of the oversimplified drumbeat message to get converters for Over The Air transmission.
1) Current analog VHF channels (2,4,5,7,9,11&13) are now transmitting digital signal on UHF frequencies at lower power. On Feb 17th, 7,11&13 will switch back to VHF for digital signal, and at stronger signal, according to Will it all work then? Hate to be up on the roof in February.
2) Attaching a converter between antenna and VCR ahead of the TV will strip the VCR's capability to record programs from various channels while you are away, as the VCR's analog tuner will only see the one channel (3 or 4) output by the converter.

Jan. 05 2009 06:57 PM
B. Foster from Manhattan

I wonder about the Congressional oversight on this programme. It seems to me that none of the advertisement/announcements mentioned that the coupons expired. Or that it could take three months to get them. In three instances I know of, it took three months. One of them was for me. The coupons arrived three months after I asked for them, and while I was out of town working. I got back into town a day after they had expired. That was eighty dollars out of the funds that didn't get spent. I know of at least two instances where the coupons arrived three months later. And another where they were never utilised? Why did they need to expire in three months? Why not expire by some date in 2009? Did anyone ask us what we wanted from this programme?

On December 17th, while I was watching the Lehrer News Hour, the government assumed it had the authority to interrupt the news broadcast on ALL channels for something like five minutes to remind those of us who must either be poor or stupid (after all, isn't it true that you have to be either poor or stupid to be watching broadcast and to not have cable?)that they needed to get ready for this changeover. Five minutes of a blaring siren and a repetitive announcement? Questions? Was there any money in the fund left for coupons at that point? Would the damn things arrive in time for the change-over?

There is also the issue of signal drop-off, something that is likely to be only aggravated by digital, which is pretty much an "either/or" proposition. You've either got a signal or you don't. None of that old-style bad picture but you can hear what's going on that so many of us in NYC are used to. It's all blue screen and no signal.

When was this thing not just another giveaway to the major broadcasters? I work in video and film and in the dead of night, the FCC just gave away radio frequencies to a business lobby, and violated their own procedures to do so. Has there been any oversight?

Jan. 05 2009 01:42 PM
henry schmelzer from Somerset, NJ 08873

Comcast customers need special converter boxes working only for Comcast service. Comcast uses special software incompatible with government coupon issue boxes.

The info on your show was therefore incorrect on a substantive point.

Jan. 05 2009 12:35 PM
Paul from Glen Cove

My reception is good normally but actually better now with the digital converter box [ch 13 has upped their broadcast], but for those with poor reception I would imagine they would similar problems. The problem is now for apartment dwellers is: wires that brought "Free" TV now carry cable. There probably could be filters to carry both cable and free digital TV through the same cable throughout the building and protect the cable TV media rights. Just install a new antenna on top of the building and merge the signal. Since all of the TV data is now digital, services could be encoded to protect paid for TV, and eliminate the cost of rewiring apartment buildings across America. Free TV would still have it's same broadcast area.
But that would cost time and effort, but something the FCC should enact.

Jan. 05 2009 12:32 PM
henry schmelzer from Somerset, NJ

Brian, the information given on your show on digital Tv conversion is like all other info from lther sources not correct, because it is incomplete. Government coupon converter boxes do not work - at least with my cable company Comcast,. Comcast customers need to get Comcast boxes and pay for them in rentals (in addition to general Comcast service). The Comcast boxes use special software not compatible with other boxes.

Its not right, but that seems to be the situation.

Jan. 05 2009 12:28 PM
Aaron from Brooklyn

4) Reception in the Five Burroughs has always been challenging because most of us live in the man-made equivalent of giant stone canyons. These are highly physically disruptive to most radio-frequency broadcasts, which is why you need to get above the fray with rooftop antennas. That problem is not specific to digital TV.

5) The only converter boxes supported by the government coupon program are the basic ones with a specific, mandated feature set. They don't support Picture-in-picture because PIP uses *two tuners*, but your PIP capable TV will still be able to view a TV channel through the converter and the output from, say, your VCR or DVD player.

Now, I agree that these basic facts haven't been diligently advertised by the FCC (which, under the Bush administration has become a profoundly special interest driven institution), but the fact is that digital TV is important for this country, and that this transition will probably be far more Y2K like than some are claiming, but there is something disconcerting about knowing that come February 17th, that old TV simply won't get signals by its self.

- /\aron

Jan. 05 2009 12:24 PM
Aaron from Brooklyn

Ok, some of these questions really are pretty easy to answer:

1) The transition from analog to digital TV is happening because radio spectrum is a very limited resource, and the analog TV standard, which is over 65 years old, is very inefficient. By changing the standard that broadcast TV uses, lots of very valuable radio spectrum can be freed for use by many technologies, such as those used by first responders, broadband data transmission for cellphones, etc, etc...

2) Any "HDTV" that you buy will have the new type of tuner (called ATSC, as opposed to the old analog standard, NTSC) built right in to it, so you can use it for new and old over-the air broadcasts out of the box.

3) Because the nature of the new signals is different from the old ones, the traditional "whips and rabbit ears" antennas are not the optimal length and shape for receiving these new signals, and the rooftop antennas optimized for these old signals are equally inefficient (however they are still useful)

Jan. 05 2009 12:24 PM
Alexander from NYC

Sorry, mixed up numbers in my post, coop will charge for rooftop antenna $100.00 yearly, up from $10.00 before digital transition... Still don't get the amount of money.

Jan. 05 2009 12:15 PM
Daniel from Brooklyn

Just to answer two questions:

1/ Why is this being done? This frees up the portion of the spectrum used by channels that won't make the transition, this portion of the spectrum has already been sold to cell phone providers to raise money to cover a small portion of the federal budget deficit in 2008.

2/ Rabbit ears don't work now, will they work after the transition? Maybe. A number of channels are at low power or on alternate frequencies right now, once the analog transmissions stop a number will switch to better frequencies and transmit at higher power levels. The small "HDTV" antennas sold at local retailers will not work well in New York since we will have VHF digital channels, rabbit ears will be more effective for those channels -- after the transition. For example, you will need a "Rabbit Ears" for VHF channels like ABC, but you will need something like a "loop" for UHF channels like CBS. Right now, both those channels are transmitting in UHF, but after the transition only CBS will be.

Right now you really need a roof antenna to get Digital TV. So antenna wise "getting ready" now is really a waste of time. Wait until February 17th.

Jan. 05 2009 12:02 PM
Geralyn Abinader from Weehawken, NJ

We've been using the converter for a while. Though the picture is good, I get a lot of breaking up and interference.

Also, I helped a friend in Manhattan set hers up and we can't get Ch.13, the only one she watches. There seems to be no place to get technical help,no call in number, nothing. Anybody know of how we can get help?

Jan. 05 2009 11:49 AM
JW from Williamsburg

Bought the converter box ($40), and then had to get a powered antenna (another $40) to boost the signal in order to get standard channels, including 13, we had w/o the box.

We're still waiting for the "amazing picture and sound quality" we were promised, and are frustrated by the audio blips and visual artefacts. As the internets would say: FAIL.

Jan. 05 2009 11:49 AM
Carlos from jackson heights, ny

These new converters DON'T WORK. Even when you have a rabbit ear antenna or other antennas hooked up to one's TV, the damn boxes don't work!
It's very frustrating to have a frozen screen in the middle of shows one might be watching, or NO RECEPTION at all on certain channels...

Jan. 05 2009 11:47 AM

you should be able to use both $40 cards for one box!
i decided long ago to never spend $ on tv. . ..

Jan. 05 2009 11:47 AM
Samantha from Brooklyn

Responding to the caller who states that, "rabbit ears don't work". This is not true in all areas.

I live in a Bay Ridge apartment building and get crystal clear HD signals from my rabbit ears antenna. Don't fall for cable TV hype. Free TV is certainly possible through rabbit ears in many parts of the city.

Jan. 05 2009 11:47 AM
John from Bronx

Digital TV is much better than analog TV. By switching to completely digital they will create more frequencies for cellphones, EMT etc. It is absolutely essential because they are running out of over the air bandwidth. Think about how many wireless devices are currently in use.

Jan. 05 2009 11:47 AM
Alexander Rastopchin from NYC

My coop building starts to charge $100.00 MONTHLY fee for "installation and maintenance of the roof top antenna", so if even I get a successful coupon deal, it's like they force me yo switch to this service?! Is it legal to charge a MONTHLY fee?

Sincerely, Alexander

Jan. 05 2009 11:46 AM
Frank Diaz from Jackson Heights NY

Since this conversion has been in the works for awhile why have compatible TVs not been labeled as such for at least a couple of years or more!

Jan. 05 2009 11:46 AM
nycthinker from NYC

The best antenna is your coax cable connection (even if you don't have cable!).

Jan. 05 2009 11:45 AM
Scott from Brooklyn


I heard the scam is that these boxes the government are helping you buy are the most basic boxes out there. People who buy them are going to find they can't do the things they are used to doing, such as recording one show and watching another. What I heard was the more "advanced" boxes will be sold later for more money. People will be buying their basic boxes and then buying the boxes later.

Jan. 05 2009 11:45 AM
suki shackelford from williamsburg

The unfortunate thing is that Time Warner representatives have no idea what they're talking about. I was attempting to cancel an exorbitant cable package I don't watch and was told that I needed to keep the converter box (at $7) a month in order for my television (a 2008 flat screen) to work. How do we expect this process to work if the dispatchers of information don't even know how the process works?

Jan. 05 2009 11:45 AM
barbara from nyc

Will the stores accept expired (12/1/08) coupons?

Jan. 05 2009 11:44 AM
Scott Smith

Why it's being done: Congress wanted to raise money by auctioning off the analog spectrum space which requires vacating the analog broadcasts.

Jan. 05 2009 11:44 AM
NWP from Greenwich, CT

Did the money for the coupons come from the companies that bought the channels?

Will any excess stay with the government or go back to the companies?

Also are the broadcasters being "paid" for ALL the advertisments we have seen about the issue?

Jan. 05 2009 11:44 AM
david from NYC

Brian, what the public is not being told over the air waves about this transition, is that if you have a new flat screen digital tv, you do not need a converter box, I did not realize, you dont need a converter box if you dont have cable. I bought a converter box, and did not get a very good reception the picture keeped getting scrambled, I recently turned off the digital box and swithced my digital tv to air and I ended getting a better clearer picture than with the digital converter box.

Jan. 05 2009 11:44 AM
jim bourdon from croton-on-hudson, ny

I got the box, can't get HDTV 5 or 13 anymore (over the air) and 2 off & on. Kiss Jim Lehrer goodbye.

Jan. 05 2009 11:44 AM
Catherine from Rockville Centre

On CSPAN a while back, I was watching the Senate committee which oversees the FCC (forgive me, I forget which one it is) absolutely excoriating the chairman of the FCC for doing nothing to educate the public about this transition.

Jan. 05 2009 11:43 AM
Dov from NYC

Companies such as RCN have used the digital conversion to require customers to rent digital converter boxes at additional cost (when none was required before)

Jan. 05 2009 11:42 AM
Adam from NYC

I've been noticing that some of the shows I watch appear on my screen with wide black bands above and below the picture. Will this still be happening after the transition?

Jan. 05 2009 11:41 AM

Coupons for converter boxes simply drive up the prices retailers charge for them, since the gov't is footing $40 of the bill; thus a $20 converter box becomes a $60 converter box. A wiser thing would have been for the government to negotiate a bulk order of converter boxes from one or two manufacturers to redistribute to households.

Jan. 05 2009 11:41 AM

Just successfully applied for coupons in the past 5 minutes.

Jan. 05 2009 11:40 AM
Joe from Englewood, nj

Are there any special programs scheduled for the last analog transmission hour? It will be a historic event.

Jan. 05 2009 11:37 AM
Tony Jannetti from Lower East Side

The boxes work only intermittently, even with a new $70 'rabbit ears' and even on a newer style tv.

The cry will go up around the country in short order.
We have been sold out!!!

Jan. 05 2009 11:37 AM
hjs from 11211

i had to finally get cable. now i don't do anything but watch tv all night when i'm home. wasting time, money and brian cells.

Jan. 05 2009 11:37 AM
Richard Goldstein from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

I applied and received the coupons for the devices last spring. I decided to wait till last month before using the coupons. I found out that they had expired and couldn't use the coupons. WHAT DO I DO NOT?

Jan. 05 2009 11:37 AM
Michal from Brooklyn

Some parts of Brooklyn still get really bad Reception !

That makes using public DTV difficult. I wonder how good reception is for other people in Brooklyn

Jan. 05 2009 11:19 AM
stu in nyc

Here's something that is under-reported: radios that receive audio from tv stations will now be obsolete, since the audio portion is now going digital too. I am unaware if there are converters availible for this purpose. Since I have a pocket sized walkman that has receives am, fm, and tv audio, a converter would probably be too cumbersome anyway.

To George in Bay Ridge - a converter is only 10-20 dollars if you use the coupon that our federal government is giving away for the asking:

Question for Brian to ask Gale Brewer - the DTV website says to order coupons by 12/31/08. Are they still available now that the deadline has passed?

Jan. 05 2009 09:39 AM
Samuel from NYC

How 'bout we turn the television off for 6 months.
This would generate physical movement, stimulate brain function through use of imagination and reading, get people out of the house or apartment and into the city and become aware of our crumbling community, maybe people would even start listening to the radio more.
God forbid if the people go an hour without 'King of Queens' or 'American Idol' or 24 hour news they might start using the muscle called the brain.

Jan. 05 2009 09:37 AM
George from Bay Ridge

The deadline for transition is in February. Why not extend the deadline by a few months and allow more people time to buy converters and new televisions in these hard economic times?

Jan. 05 2009 05:38 AM

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