499 days left…



We have just

499 short days

left to enjoy

our analogue

over the air (OTA)

broadcast television.


The end is near…


While congress and other government entities banter about the best way to “subsidize” home viewing of digital TV (i.e. ATSC) the broadcast cutoff is fast approaching. This is an interesting change for the government that, at the dawn of color TV, mandated that it be backward compatible with B&W TV. (This kludge is why we have 29.97 fps instead of 30.) With this transition, all those analogue signals will go dark. The FCC willre-arrange the frequencies used to free up some new 700 Mhz bandwidth that it can reselland get some much needed money in the coffers.

Unlike 2005 with found congress voting to extend the analogue shutoff to February 2009, it seems that the government has already allocated those revenues and it would be hard-pressed to not complete the spectrum auction. To facilitate this, they are working on providing vouchers for not yet availailable “low cost” ATSC tuners that could enable citizens to continue to use their NTSC TVs to watch OTA signals by converting the standard or high def ATSC digital signals to a standard NTSC video output. Sort of like a cable box, satellite tuner, IPTV box, etc.

What does this mean for cable? Legally… nothing. But cable companies will likely take this opportunity to also turn off bandwidth-sucking analogue signals since they already distribute every one of those same channels via digital signals in a tiny fraction of the bandwidth of their system. This would mean all those home cable subscribers who don’t already use a box on every screen and recorder would now be forced to do so. It would also dramatically reduce cable TV theft. So reduced signal theft, more cable box rentals, more bandwidth for more channels. It’s a no-brainer for the cable companies.

So the days of just plopping TV’s around the house without a separate tuner box may soon be coming to an end. True, there are new “solutions” to this problem called CableCards, but their deployment by the cable companies has not been very vigorous, they do not offer two-way communication for pay-tv yet, and many manufacturers have not, or do not have any intention to integrate CableCards into their products. For instance, many people still use VHS at home to time shift shows, or watch their legacy of movies. You’ll probably never see a cable-card equipped VHS deck- especially not at the under-$50 price tag the VHS users would buy it.

So there will likely be great consternation ahead. OTA viewers will need set-top boxes, something they have worked to avoid. Basic cable subscribers will be forced to pay for boxes or CableCards. This, despite the fact that the OTA shut-off has nothing to do with cable. Those who already tune digital signals won’t even notice the passing of analogue broadcast television- the end of an 80-year run.

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