In just 13 short months, analog television signals, the conduits through which TV has broadcast since its emergence in the late '30s, will cease to be. Anticipated for more than 10 years, old-hat analog will soon be replaced by the not-very-wavy wave of the future: digital television. Aside from improved picture quality, DTV's superiority lies in the fact that it takes up less bandwidth, freeing scarce space within the broadcast spectrum and, according to the government, transforming your viewing experience.
Last year the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibited the manufacture, import and shipment of televisions equipped solely with soon-to-be obsolete analog tuners. On top of that, Congress allocated a somewhat shocking $1.5 billion for a program that aims to update the millions who still watch the old-fashioned way. The largest monetary portion of that program goes toward $40 government coupons available to anyone who requests them, redeemable for the purchase of $50 to $70 converter boxes. The modular boxes will allow the new digital broadcast to be viewed on old, cableless, antenna-using TV sets.
While some have expressed that not enough is being done to prepare the public for the switch, both the money and the energy hurled at the transition seems exorbitant considering that it's TV--more a source of entertainment than an essential infrastructure like, say, power, bridges and levees.
Indeed, initially the switch to digital comes off like a government conspiracy, a mammoth effort to ensure Americans keep tuning in to what is, more or less, the exploitation of our senses. But, in fact, the whole world is going digital. It began with Luxembourg, and countries like the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland have already switched from magnetic waves to the jagged, binary data bits that are DTV.
It's likely that most won't miss the frustration associated with adjusting rabbit ears, getting them just right, only to have the picture turn back to black-and-white fuzz upon your retreat. However, it's a little bittersweet to think about the end: In this case, the end of catching signals floating through the air, the end of white noise softly humming to a snowy shimmer inside of a cathode ray tube, the end of an era.
The switch from analog to digital happens Feb. 19, 2009. For more information, visit www.dtv.gov or call (888) 388-2009.