A Guide to Digital Television

By Daisy Whitney

     By now you've probably heard about digital television. You know that local TV stations around the country are transitioning to digital TV. But you might not know what that means for you. Here's a guide to help you understand the new universe of digital TV.

Broadcasters are changing to digital because the government has mandated that local TV stations must provide their programming in the new broadcasting technology known as digital TV. Digital brings a crisper, clearer look to your TV picture. Digital technology also lets broadcasters transmit network programming in high-definition as well, also a much sharper picture. Finally, digital technology is also more efficient and frees up space to transmit other information, such as safety services or additional channels. Nearly all local stations are currently sending their programming today in digital, but they also are continuing to transmit their signals in analog. But, they will no longer transmit their programs in analog after Feb. 17, 2009, per the government mandate.

However you won't lose your local programming on that date. Nor do you have to rush out today to buy a new set.  But here's what you will need to know to keep receiving your regular programs from the local station.

The big question you probably have is what do you need to buy?

All high-definition sets are also digital, but not all digital sets are high-definition.

If you decide to take the high-definition plunge, you'll need a new set. High-definition sets have dropped significantly in price the last few years. While you can still spend several thousand for a fancy model to hang on the wall or stretch across your living room, the good news is you can also buy a high-definition set for under $500 today. Head into any electronics retailer that sells TVs and you should be able to find one. You may want to check a consumer guide in advance for specific details on makes and models.

Once you've got the set, you'll either need to sign up for high-definition programming from your cable provider or satellite operator. But if you don't have cable, you can still get high-definition signals and digital TV. You simply need an antenna appropriate for your location receive your local programming free over the air on your new high-definition set.

Also, remember that if you don't want to invest in a high-definition TV, your set won't go dark on Feb. 18, 2009. You can essentially turn your analog TV of today into a TV that receives digital signals simply with a converter box. You might even be eligible to receive a government subsidy towards the purchase of one. You can also buy a converter box from most electronics stores like Circuit City, Best Buy, Radio Shack or a locally-owned dealer.

When you go to the store, simply tell the salesperson that you need a high-definition receiver to get digital signals.

By the end of 2007 more than 47 million households in the United States will have high-definition TV sets, up from 35 million at the end of 2006. Also, by the end of 2007, only 16 million of those 47 million homes will have hooked up their high-definition sets to high-defitnion programming, according to Jupiter Research. Many consumers don't realize they must sign up for HD programming from their cable or satellite operator, or use rabbit ears to receive the programming free via their local broadcaster.

So if you do buy that new set, don't forget to get the programming too!