Digital TV has a lot of benefits. So many in fact that TV broadcasters, the consumer electronics industry, and the Federal government have allied to make digital TV the sole mode of over the air TV transmission in the United States starting on February 19, 2009. Of course who benefits most from this conversion remains to be seen.
Excluding all of the potential economic and political benefits and pitfalls, digital TV has a number of benefits when compared to the older analog format that’s primarily in use right now. Digital TV uses computer equipment to convert the images and sounds of TV into digital data (a bunch of ones and zeros) before transmitting them to their viewers. Once the digital TV signals arrive at their destination, other computer equipment cleans interference out of the signal and reconstructs all of that computer data into the TV programming that the viewer can watch on his or her TV screen. The fact that the interference can be cleaned out means that the picture can be much clearer than it would ever be from an analog signal. Digital TV also allows for the use of an on screen program guide- even with over the air programming- and other similar features. The fact that digital TV can also be subjected to video compression technology means that it can take up a lot less bandwidth than analog TV and that leaves more frequencies available to be used for other kinds of transmissions.
Of course, like anything else digital TV has some drawbacks when compared to analog TV. The biggest disadvantage is that analog TV can provide a more cohesive signal over a greater distance than an equivalent digital signal. In other words, as you get farther away from the transmission source of an analog TV signal, the picture and sound get fuzzier but are still understandable. As you get farther away from the source of a digital signal the transmission still fades, but you won’t notice any degradation of the picture quality until it suddenly becomes to weak and disappears all together. This means that many people who put up with fuzzy over the air analog TV probably won’t be able to receive a digital signal broadcast from the same location and at the same strength. This alone might make those big rooftop antennas of the mid-twentieth century much more popular again.
Another major problem with digital TV is that a digital TV tuner is needed to watch it and this hardware isn’t built into older TV sets (or a lot of newer ones either, for that matter!). This means that in order to watch over the air TV after February 19, 2009, anyone with an analog only TV set either has to buy a new TV set or get a special set top box that contains a digital tuner and can convert the digital signal into an analog signal that the TV set can understand.
And that’s where the political and economic advantages and disadvantages come into play! TV electronics manufacturers stand to make a lot of money because of this conversion- all the more so because they continued to sell analog only TV set even after they knew the conversion was imminent.
Ultimately the American people will benefit from the conversion to digital TV, but in the mean time some special interests will definitely come into play as a lot of TV viewers will probably be understandably frustrated and confused.