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Do you need a digital cable converter?

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Is your TV too old to make the switch to digital?
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The time of digital-only TV is right around the corner

Most people know by now that as of February 17, 2009 network television stations will no longer be allowed to broadcast analog signals.

On that day, all signals from any network station will be available only in digital form.  Cable channels will have a bit more time, but eventually analog television signals will be a thing of the past.  As with most technologies, the time for television's switch from analog to digital has come.

Why is this happening?

Why is the U.S. government forcing this switch upon us?  Well, it's actually a good thing for quite a few reasons.  Digital signals aren't perfect, but they are superior to analog signals.  Even so, they take less bandwidth and less electricity to send out, meaning considerable energy savings on a national level.

Also, networks are currently sending out both digital and analog signals which means that every network currently takes up twice the number of frequencies that it should.  Once this switch is made, the newly available frequencies will be made available to other companies, which translates to more channels available to us.

What is digital?

In the context of this article, there are two kinds of signals sent out over the air or through wires; analog and digital.  Analog is the old kind of signal, the one that's been used in television since TV's first started entering homes in the 1950's.  Digital data is transmitted differently than analog data and is superior in many ways.

Consumers saw the most recent major shift from analog to digital just a year ago in the form of cell phones.  When that switch was made, anyone with an old analog cellular phone had to purchase a new phone, because their old analog version stopped working.  As with televisions however, cell phone manufacturers and service providers had been preparing for this for years, so when the change came, very few people were affected.

When does this happen?

As mentioned above, the required date for broadcast networks to make the switch is February 17, 2009.

However, many cable companies have longer to make the switch and will continue to offer both analog and digital signals for a little while.  The major networks (which includes NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX and The CW and a few smaller nets like PBS) are the only ones that have to comply as of that date.

Am I prepared?

In some circles, this switch is being met with almost Y2K-like paranoia.  The truth is though, many people won't even realize this has happened.  Manufacturers of TV's and related products have been preparing for this for years.

Any television set sold in the U.S. after February 2007 has a digital tuner built in, so no extra equipment will be needed.  However, that's only the date that all televisions had to be compliant.  Most TV's were already compliant well before that date.

Even if you have an old analog television set, there are other ways to be compliant.  If you have a DVD player, a DVR, or a cable box, chances are you're already in good shape.  Any DVD player made in recent years will have a digital tuner if it has a tuner at all.  DVR's will all be digital, and most cable boxes these days are also digital.

If in doubt, check the website for your equipment's manufacturer or give your local cable provider a call to find out.

Is HDTV the same as digital TV?

No, it's not.  All HDTV (High Definition Television) is digital, but there are many SDTV's (Standard Definition Televisions) that are also digital.  As stated above, every television legally sold in the U.S. for the last two years, whether standard or HD, has been digital, so any television you buy today will definitely be compliant.

Having a HDTV is a guarantee that you are compatible with the switch, but not having one doesn't necessarily mean you'll need to rush out and buy a new TV (sorry guys...).

Worst case scenario, you can simply wait until February 17th and see if your TV still works.  If it doesn't, you can go buy a new TV, DVD or DVR with a built-in tuner, or call your cable company and get a new digital cable box.

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