July 10, 2003 - Posted at: 9:48 p.m. CDT
JONESBORO, Ark. -- For the past 40 years, KAIT has been broadcasting a television signal to homes all over the Region 8 area consisting of Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri.
New rules from the Federal Communications Commission means a brave new world of broadcasting with a TV signal that is changing for the better. DTV, ATV, SDTV, and HDTV. But what does it all mean and why should you care? The future of television is unfolding before your eyes and if you don't know what it's all about, it could cost you a lot of cash in the long run.
The simple truth: you have been digitized. The digital age is here and that goes for what you're watching on television as well.
"Digital makes the difference," KAIT General Manager Clyde Anderson said. "The old, what we call analog signal was a totally different kind of signal. And this new digital signal is a series of ones and zeroes, don't ask me the technical aspect of that but, however it works. It works beautifully."
How it works boils down to this: Analog TV transmits video and audio on continuously varying signals. Because of this, there can be interference and distortion, snow and ghosting. But with Digital TV, there is no bad reception. The signal is made up of coded instructions. So if you can dial it in, either you get a crystal clear picture or you get nothing.
"There'll be no more snow, there won't be any herringbone patterns, there won't be anything in your picture but pure vibrant clean clear pictures, period," Anderson said. "Or you won't get a picture at all. There's no in between."
As of Thursday, KAIT is now broadcasting a full power digital signal on channel 9 and will also broadcast the ABC network's high definition programming.
"There's a total of 21 hours of ABC primetime and 18 of it will be broadcast in HDTV."
But until you get a digital set, the Federal Communications Commission mandates, KAIT and all television stations to simulcast both a digital and traditional signal until 2006, that's when every station will be required to go totally digital.
"Now down the road, in a few years, we'll be putting out multiple signals on our HD signal," Anderson said. "We can put out four or five pictures on that one set. Now it will be different kinds of programming, but that's what it will be coming to in a few years."
Between now and then, you can use you outside antennae and either buy a set top box converter for about $300, to convert the digital signal to use on your traditional TV, but you'll end up with the letter box format, black screen on the top and bottom. Or, you can buy a brand new TV set with a digital tuner already built in.
"You've got to be prepared for all the future," said Gary Metz, a local television retailer. "Right now, High Definition digital is coming. It's a mandate so it's gotta come. The thing about that is that it's changed a few times so you've gotta be careful not to buy a lot of equipment you can't use."
"Pretty soon every TV is going to be capable of just plugging in a cable to it and it can produce that high definition signal," said retailer Cliff Crossfield.
That brings us to HDTV, that's where you will see the biggest change. It takes standard digital television and ramps things up a bit. The picture detail is 10 times what you're watching right now, and 6 times better than standard DTV. Plus, it widens your perspective, giving your living room that theatre quality feel.
"The difference is like not having your glasses or contacts in and then putting them in," Crossfield. "That's the difference between HD and a regular signal.
"If you've got a big picture window in front of your house, just go stand in front of it and look out side and see the clarity and color," Anderson said. "That's exactly what you're going to see on your TV set."
But the widescreen HD-ready televisions from 40-60 inches will cost you between $1,500 and $15,000, depending on the type of display. ANother thing to remember: if it's an HDTV monitor then you'll still have to fork over $400 bucks for a tuner to dial in the High Definition signal.
The good news is that prices on flat screen and plasma screen TV's have dropped drastically over the last couple of years and will continue to do so as the transition approaches.