Understanding the digital switch - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Understanding the digital switch


MADISON (WKOW) -- The way we watch television will change forever in February 2009, when television stations across the country flip the switch to broadcast in digital instead of analog.

You've seen the public service announcements, one after another after another, telling you about the broadcasting switch from analog to digital.

The DTV switch isn't an option for full-powered television stations, it's a federal mandate.

Wisconsin Broadcasters Association President Michelle Vetterkind explains: "The digital spectrum is more efficient than analog spectrum. The federal government wants some of the spectrum back in order to provide that to emergency responders."

And, thanks to all that air time, Vetterkind says people are aware of what will happen on February 17, 2009.

But while televisions sold after March 1 of 2007 have digital tuners built into them and are set for the change, older analog TVs are not automatically ready for digital television.

Wisconsin ties for third in the country of TV watchers who get their signal over the air. That means those TVs will go static after February 17.

If you do fall into that category, you have three ways to avoid losing your signal:

1. Subscribe to cable or satellite

2. Purchase a TV set with built-in digital tuner

3. Purchase a DTV converter box.

If you pick option number three, you can buy a converter box at local retailers. It hooks up to the back of the TV just like your VCR would.

The federal government doesn't want you left out, so it is offering each household two $40 coupons towards the purchase of converter boxes. They run about $40 to $70 a piece.

TV viewers have requested more than 34 million converter box coupons, and about a million of them came from Wisconsin. But out of that million, people have redeemed only 500,000.

We do want to point out that coupons expire 90 days from being issued. And, you don't have to wait until February, because most stations including WKOW-27 are already broadcasting in digital as well as analog.

One way you can figure out if you are ready or not, on December 10, all Madison TV stations will run a test for about five minutes at the same time, so analog TV users will know if they have to make any changes.

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