Tuning in to digital TV

Joseph Cogel, 7, stares at a High Definition Plasma Television set in Miami, Florida. By February 2009, all but the smallest new televisions must be able to receive digital broadcast signals.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Tess Vigeland: Super Bowl weekend is upon us and here's a statistic that's almost as impressive as Tom Brady's 50 regular-season touchdown passes: football fans were expected to buy 2.5 million new high-def TVs to watch the big game this year.

But a year from now, that figure could be even higher, as viewers scramble to catch up with the TV industry's transition to digital television. A survey out this week from Consumer Reports shows more than a third of TV-owning households don't even know about the big changes that are on the way. Here to help explain is Marketplace's Lisa Napoli:


Vigeland: Hey Lisa.

Lisa Napoli: Hi Tess.

Vigeland: "Digital transition" -- break this down for us in terms of our TVs. What exactly is happening?

Napoli: As of February 17, 2009, so we've got lots of time to prepare, the government is requiring broadcasters to start pumping out their signals not in analog, but in digital, which means snazzier picture and it means that they can pump out more information to you, meaning even more TV to watch than ever before!

Vigeland: Well, what does that mean for folks who have not made the transition to digital television yet? What happens to those analog TVs?

Napoli: OK, so the first question many people will have hearing you say that is "how do I know I know whether my television is analog or digital?" Now, as you say, if you're a TV junkie like you, you probably know -- you've bought your set in the last couple of years. Those sets have come down in price; a lot of people have been buying them. Those are OK. You have to do nothing. But if you're like me and you've got a TV that you've had for seven and a half years now, then you have to worry if you don't have cable or satellite.

Vigeland: And what if you have an older television and you do have cable or satellite?

Napoli: You're OK for at least the next three years. That's how long the broadcasters have to continue sending out that analog signal. Don't worry about that now. The thing we have to worry about right now are the 30 million people, because there are 30 million of me out there, with these older televisions who don't cable or satellite or one of these newfangled systems that you get through your Internet provider.

Vigeland: Well, what about this set-top box that we hear about, this converter that will allow people with analog televisions to get a digital signal? And the government is helping subsidize that?

Napoli: Yep, because the government is forcing this transition, they don't want to force you to have to go out and buy a new TV. So you can go to the government Web site, which we'll have on our Web site. Basically, you can get up to two boxes per home, the government will subsidize $40 a box, the boxes are somewhere around $60 and this box will attach to your TVs and will covert the signals for you automatically.

Vigeland: So does this mean that I should prepare a plot for my rabbit ears -- not that I have any?

Napoli: You probably haven't had rabbit ears is years! Not just yet; it's not going to become a hood ornament just yet, those rabbit ears. You're still going to need them if you are like me and you have this Model T of a television hanging around you're house. Once you get the converter box, you're still going to need to rely on the good old fashioned rabbit ears to tune everything in.

Vigeland: Alright, Marketplace's Lisa Napoli -- happy viewing!

Napoli: You too.

About the author

In more then twenty years in journalism, Lisa Napoli has managed to work for almost every major

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