Wait, why are we doing this, again?
February 8, 2009 9:37 AM   Subscribe

I want to understand more about the switch from analog to digital television. Why is the FCC doing this, and how are the analog waves now going to be used? Where can I go to find out more information?
posted by theefixedstars to Technology (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The official version:

Why are we switching to DTV?

An important benefit of the switch to all-digital broadcasting is that it will free up parts of the valuable broadcast spectrum for public safety communications (such as police, fire departments, and rescue squads. Also, some of the spectrum will be auctioned to companies that will be able to provide consumers with more advanced wireless services (such as wireless broadband).

Consumers also benefit because digital broadcasting allows stations to offer improved picture and sound quality, and digital is much more efficient than analog. For example, rather than being limited to providing one analog program, a broadcaster is able to offer a super sharp “high definition” (HD) digital program or multiple “standard definition” (SD) digital programs simultaneously through a process called “multicasting.” Multicasting allows broadcast stations to offer several channels of digital programming at the same time, using the same amount of spectrum required for one analog program. So, for example, while a station broadcasting in analog on channel 7 is only able to offer viewers one program, a station broadcasting in digital on channel 7 can offer viewers one digital program on channel 7-1, a second digital program on channel 7-2, a third digital program on channel 7-3, and so on. This means more programming choices for viewers. Further, DTV can provide interactive video and data services that are not possible with analog technology.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:41 AM on February 8, 2009

Wikipedia has some data.
posted by iamabot at 9:42 AM on February 8, 2009

See Digital television for details about the switch and the technologies involved.

For what analog frequencies will be used for after the switch see United States 2008 wireless spectrum auction.
posted by mohrr at 9:42 AM on February 8, 2009

All the important government URLs are on this video.
posted by netbros at 9:57 AM on February 8, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the help. I guess I should be more specific, however. Does anyone know of any blogs or articles where people are discussing the implications of this conversion and the sale of the analog spectrum?
posted by theefixedstars at 10:14 AM on February 8, 2009

The sale of spectrum went through a while ago. I think most of it went to Verizon. It doesn't need to be used for analog communications any more, and will probably go digital.
posted by delmoi at 10:20 AM on February 8, 2009

We're doing it mostly for the money. That is, the money the government will make from auctioning-off the spectrum. And the money stations can make from multicasting infomercials. Also, the money Comcast is going to make from scaring consumers into buying their cable service.

As for any real benefit to consumers...well...I suppose there is that supposed improvement in picture quality. As long as you get a strong signal. Although, it is only now coming out that the FCC's test procedure for determining digital reception quality was based on an assumption of the average viewer having a outdoor, directional antenna mounted on a 30-foot tower. Back in reality, they are discovering that large numbers of consumers are actually going to lose stations, due to their having small, indoor antennas. So, I guess you can "money retailers will make selling external antennas" to the above.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:23 AM on February 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Thorzdad, one consumer benefit you're leaving out is the long term usage of that slice of spectrum, now that we're no longer using it for relatively inefficient analog television. The idea is that we will see, over the next few years, wireless data applications being developed using that spectrum (I think Nortel (or some other similar company) is going to be more hurt by any DTV switchover delay than other companies, because they have a lot of infrastructure ready to be turned on, but will be left sitting idle for half a year.)

It's not just about TV. It's largely about carving out space for wireless data, including high speed Internet access that will go through walls more effectively than our cell signals currently do. There's a reason the TV stations chose that part of the spectrum to use many decades ago.
posted by chengjih at 10:31 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

This blog has a lot of good information about the whys and wherefores of the digital switch.
posted by _Mona_ at 10:38 AM on February 8, 2009

Also, digital TV uses the exact same spectrum as analog tv. It just uses it a more efficient manner so that portions of the spectrum can go to other uses.

It's also cheaper to run for the broadcasters, even if they eventually have to up their power.
posted by gjc at 11:18 AM on February 8, 2009

The idea is that we will see, over the next few years, wireless data applications being developed using that spectrum...

That's just another profit stream for corporations, not necessarily a consumer benefit. The point is, the whole switch is promulgated upon increasing profits, not necessarily providing any real benefit to the consumer. Increased opportunities to spend more money is not a benefit. YMMV.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:47 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thorzdad, how does that work? Consumers need a product to consume, and products are usually produced by corporations, at a profit, without which they don't operate for long. Yes, I suppose the government providing these products would bypass this, but the government generally doesn't provide benefits to consumers, they allow corporations to do so. Increased opportunities to spend money IS a benefit in a capitalist society.

Naturally corporations do all they can to increase profit, consumers do all they can to reduce spending, and government does all it can to maximize tax revenue.
posted by lhauser at 12:19 PM on February 8, 2009

Thorzdad, every "consumer" worth his salt is also a "producer". Reducing the inefficient give-away 1950s allocations of spectrum is a very good thing, since spectrum usage rights are exactly analogous if not equivalent to land titles, so freeing up spectrum for other users will in retrospect make the nation as a whole more productive (since more service providers can "till" this land providing more services to more users).

Wealth is that which provides utility satisfying human needs and wants, and communication and entertainment is a major, major segment of utility that we all demand these days as part of our 21st century standard of living.

'course, as a Georgist I find the outright sale and not leasing of these new spectrum rights to be a colossal mistake, and as a leftist I harbor no great expectation that the free market left to its own devices will actually create a consumer-friendly value proposition, but here's hoping.
posted by troy at 12:36 PM on February 8, 2009

FWIW, the old FCC analog TV prediction models used a 30 feet antenna height too. They used that for DTV, and have been pretty much since they started talking about it years ago. If it was a suprise to anyone, they weren't paying attention.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:16 PM on February 8, 2009

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