The Digital Television Transition, Libraries and You

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Television as you know it is about to change. By law, on February 17, 2009, television stations nationwide must stop transmitting signals in analog format and begin transmitting in digital. That process has come to be known as the Digital Television (DTV) Transition and libraries are set to play a big role.

What is the DTV Transition exactly?

Television signals are traditionally transmitted in analog format, which has been the standard broadcast technology since the inception of television. DTV is a new type of broadcasting technology that transmits the information used to make a TV picture and sound as "data bits" (like a computer). The difference between analog and digital broadcasting is similar to that between compact discs and cassette tapes.

So why make the change from analog to digital? One answer is that DTV enables television stations to provide dramatically clearer pictures and better sound quality. Further, DTV is more efficient and more flexible than analog. For example, DTV makes it possible for stations to broadcast multiple channels of free programming simultaneously (called multicasting), instead of broadcasting only one channel at a time. DTV technology can also be used to provide interactive video and data services that are not possible with analog technology.

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What does this have to do with libraries?

Librarians are frequently looked to for information - especially when it involves a new government initiative or process. The DTV transition will be no exception and when you make a stop at your local library looking for answers, useful information will be at your fingertips.

Libraries will offer a variety of services to help make the switch less challenging. Primarily, the library will be most valuable for the free, public access to the Internet it provides (over 99% of libraries can make this claim). Starting in January 2008, librarians will also be able to provide you with assistance in applying for the converter box coupon and will be able to offer you educational DTV pamphlets and flyers, as well as answer your general questions about why the transition is happening.

In any instance, the public library will be an invaluable resource in your community for providing the necessary assistance to making a successful transition from analog to digital television.

What are the implications of the DTV Transition?

The DTV Transition represents what is possibly the most significant advancement of television technology since color broadcast was introduced. Television stations have been preparing for the transition since the late 1990s, when they began building digital facilities and airing digital channels alongside regular analog broadcasts. Today, 1,624 out of 1,762 full power television stations nationwide offer digital programming.

While this change will mark the end of the traditional "over-the-air" television, it won't signal the end of free broadcast television, and your favorite broadcast programs and local television stations will still be available. Consumers who subscribe to a "pay" television service such as cable and satellite aren't likely to be affected by the switch, but if you currently receive television via an antenna you might need to take action to continue watching your favorite stations.

What do you need to do?

There are a few ways to ensure that you continue to receive programming after the transition takes effect:

  • Determine whether or not you need a digital-to-analog converter box for your television. Many televisions are "DTV ready," but in order to know for sure you must contact your television's manufacturer.
  • If you need one, purchase a converter box. The boxes, which are expected to cost between $50 - 70, will be available for purchase beginning January 1, 2008.
  •    At that time, U.S. households can request up to two coupons valued at $40 each from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Each coupon can go toward the purchase of a single set-top converter box. For more information on the coupon, please visit
  • Subscribe to a cable, satellite or telecommunications service provider if all desired local broadcast stations are carried by that service.

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