Archive for Thursday, December 20, 2007

Council on Aging prepares residents for TV changeover

December 20, 2007

Come midnight Feb. 17, 2009, many people might be in for a shock when they go to turn on their televisions and nothing happens.

But to avoid such a surprise, the Federal Communications Commission is planning ahead, warning people of the impending switch from analog to digital broadcast television.

On Friday, Dec. 14 more than 40 senior citizens met at the Council on Aging, 109-A Delaware in Leavenworth, to hear a presentation from Karen Raines, a compliance specialist with the FCC bureau in Lee's Summit, Mo.

"It just goes to show you, you don't mess with our TVs," joked Patty Willmeth, staff member with the Council on Aging, about the number of people who showed up for the presentation.

While most of the attendees said they were aware that all U.S. full-power TV stations would stop broadcasting in analog format and would transmit only in digital, most wanted to know what they should do to prepare.

Raines said the first thing to understand was that those residents who had satellite or cable subscriptions should wait to hear from their providers about what each company was individually planning to do.

The biggest change would be for those people who do not have subscription television and use an antenna. In that case, Raines said there were two options.

First, check whether your current telvision sets have analog or digital tuners. If a television was manufactured before 1998, it does not have a digital tuner. If it was manufactured between 1998 and 2006, it could be either analog or digital. Raines said the best thing to do was check the owner's manual or call the company who made the television set.

If the television is analog, the first option is to go buy a new digital television. As of March 2007, all television sets being made are digital. Raines said stores still were selling analog sets but with consumer-warning labels on the boxes.

"You think you're getting a terrific deal, but it may not be that good," she said, once the stations make the switch.

Raines said consumers also should understand the difference between D-TV, which means digital TV, and HDTV, which means high-definition TV. She said buying a new HDTV will only better a person's resolution and still could not work come February 2009 if it isn't also a D-TV.

But buying a new television isn't necessary. Raines said the second option was purchasing a converter box that will allow analog television sets to be compatible with the digital radio waves. No converter boxes have been produced yet, so Raines said she could only make an estimate on the price, which should be between $40 and $80.

A $40 voucher will be made available to all those people who request one by calling or by visiting a Web site, which the federal government will set up at a later date. The voucher will be one way to help people make the transition, but Raines expects other options for those who can't afford a converter box will come up as the time gets closer.

So why is the government making this change? Raines said it had to do with the limited number of radio waves available for everyone in the U.S.

"The radio spectrum is a natural resource," she said. " We can't use more than we've got. The only thing we can do is to control what we've got better."

Analog radio waves take up more space on the radio spectrum than digital radio waves do. By changing to digital, Raines said space would be freed up on the spectrum for emergency signals between fire and medical offices.

Ada Carrell, of Leavenworth, attended the presentation because she had read a brief article about the change in an AARP flier but still had more questions. She said she doesn't expect the whole process to be too difficult.

"There's nothing I can say now," she said. "It's a done deal. I just hope the cost is reasonable."

Raines said she planned to come back next year as it gets closer to the changeover date. She said by that point she hopes to have more concrete information about the converter boxes.

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