Thursday, June 12, 2014

Technology Corner: Five Years Ago- The Digital TV Transition

Screenshot of this author's portable 7" Haier Digital TV, which is
great for power outages (and for picking up DTV signals
in other areas when traveling).

Promotional picture for PBS' DTV Readiness Campaign,
with Norm Abram & Kevin O'Connor of This Old House.
June 12, 2009: I can't believe that the transition to Digital Television took place five years ago, yet it seems like it happened yesterday.

It was a day in history, as the nation's full-powered broadcast television stations shifted from the NTSC analog broadcast standard to exclusive telecasts in the ATSC digital broadcast standard. The mandated transition was supposed to take effect in February of the same year, but Congress extended the deadline to make sure that everyone was prepared for the switch-over.  While our other sets in the household were ready (via cable), my family and I purchased a digital converter box for our non-cable Zenith set.

On the day of the transition, I did not get to witness the Washington/Baltimore area stations shutting off their analog transmissions. I was busy working for Frederick Community College's "Ambassador Scholarship" program- covering a charity golf game (with other fellow students in the program) for prominent golfers and college donors.  As the various participants in the charity game went over to our refreshment station (at the Glade Valley Golf Club) for discussion, I asked the players if their TV sets were ready for the Digital switch-over.  Only a few knew about the transition on that day, many were not aware that June 12th was the date for the switch to digital.

I had learned that the Washington stations shut off their analog transmitters around Noon on that day.  Most of the local stations did a quick cut-off (to allow for full-powered digital telecasting). An example of one area station's "farewell" to analog broadcasting (WTTG Channel 5*) can be seen here, along with a vintage DuMont test pattern.

Though five years have passed in Digital TV Broadcasting, there have been many advancements in this field, and the introduction of digital sub-channels for local stations (to compliment their main High-Definition channel, such as MeTVAntenna TVMovies!, etc.).

Unfortunately, there are negative sides to the ATSC standard- the picture quality may be perfect, or you may not receive anything.  At The Matinee's home base is in a "digital dead zone" for crystal-clear over-the-air reception (for the Zenith). A standard for "Mobile DTV" is still being debated, yet streaming may be the other "wave of the future" for television broadcasting.

As most people in the nation have been dropping cable and satellite (due to outrageous fees and crummy service, in this author's view), this author thinks that that over-the-air Digital Television broadcasting is still  thriving in this day and age.  Though, they could have come up with a "lossless" digital broadcast standard to reduce signal loss.   I still can't believe the transition took place five years ago.

*WTTG was named after DuMont chief engineer Thomas T. Goldsmith, the network lasted from 1946 to 1956. Channel 5 (and its New York sister station) were independent stations, and would be part of John Kluge's Metromedia group (originally known as Metropolitan Broadcasting).  Kluge would then sell the Metromedia independent stations to controversial Australian tabloid mogul Rupert Murdoch in 1986, which played into the formation of the "Fox Network" (adapted after Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, which Murdoch acquired in 1984).  WTTG has been broadcasting out of its present Wisconsin Avenue facility since 1964 (which also served as Washington offices for Metromedia).

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The proprietor of "At The Matinee", Chris Hamby- welcomes your comments and suggestions on any post featured. NOTE: All comments are monitored by the author.