DTV Transition Starts, World Doesn’t End

Contrary to the expectations of Congress and the FCC, the first phase of the DTV transition took place without major incident. Some 23% of American TV stations stopped sending out analog signals Tuesday at midnight, and only 28,000 calls came into the centers the FCC and the cable and satellite providers have established for transition help. The biggest category of call, close to half of all calls, was from people unable to pick up the digital broadcasts at all, or picking them up with very poor quality. A significant number didn’t know how to setup their converter boxes, or didn’t realize that the converter boxes have to scan for channels.

These numbers support a suspicion I’ve had for a while now, that the emphasis on converter boxes is misplaced. The problem that most people are going to have is a complete inability to receive digital broadcasts at all, because they don’t have the right kind of antenna, the antenna isn’t oriented properly, or because they live in the wrong place. Many stations are moving transmitter locations to alter service areas, and won’t be serving some traditional customers any more. Others are reducing power, sometimes quite substantially. Digital broadcasts are more robust, so some reduction in power is quite sensible. But I suspect that over-the-air delivery of TV is such a small percentage of the overall market – well below 20%, and in some areas less than 10% – that it doesn’t make financial sense for stations to invest heavily in high power transmitters.

The timing of the transition was very bad for this reason. A substantial number of OTA TV viewers are doing to need upgrades to roof-mounted antennas, and in many cases they’re going to need multiple antennas pointing in different directions. Getting up on a roof in February is not a pleasant experience in much of America, so a May or June transition date would have been much more sensible. In any event, it’s a good time to buy stock in antenna companies.

I’ve been doing some experiments with roof-mounted antennas that I’ll be reporting on shortly. So far, I can only get 5 stations where I live, and four broadcast in Spanish. Perhaps the FCC needs a budget for bilingual education as well as for converter boxes and antennas.

11 thoughts on “DTV Transition Starts, World Doesn’t End”

  1. Surely you mean 5 stations with an indoor antenna right? I get 30 channels with an indoor antenna and 40+ channels with an outdoor antenna. Granted, many channels are wasted with static images or replica programming coming in different video formats. The point is that I can still get a lot of channels.

  2. Indeed I did, and two others as well. The first antenna I tested conforms to the expected behavior of yellow antennas when mounted outdoors, even though it’s amplified. My second antenna test picks up more channels. So now we’re playing with placement and amplification. Generally, speaking, I’m about 15 miles north of the San Jose transmitters, 35 miles east of Frisco, and 45 miles south of Sacramento. Since there’s a wall of hills between me and Sacto, I don’t expect much from that direction.

  3. These are the stations I get listed on when I point 300 degrees NW towards San Francisco.

    2.1, 2.1, 4.1, 4.1, 5.1, 5.1, 7.1, 7.1, 9.1, 9.1, 11.1, 20.1, 20.1, 26.1, 26.1, 33.1, 38.1, 38.1, 43.1, 43.1, 44.1, 44.1, 65.1, 66.1, 66.1

    Distance wise, I’m about the same heading towards SF so I don’t understand why you can’t just aim at SF and get the same channels I get. Furthermore, I’m in the valley and you’re high up so you should have a pretty clear shot if you point to SF.

  4. Antennaweb doesn’t take topographical features into account. I live in the so-called Tri-Valley area, north of the Sunol Grade, east of the Castro Valley hills, and west of the Altamont Pass. Maximum TV reception in this area is going to require optimum mounting, high over the top of the roof, and amplification.

    You’ve got mostly water between your residence and the Frisco transmitters.

    On the stations I do get, the DTV versions are much more clear than the analog versions, and I notice that Channel 36 is broadcasting a “nightlight” service in English and Spanish advising customers to go get the digital broadcast as the analog has been cut off.

    I’m not getting 11, 20 or 36 now, but I get most of the other Frisco stations as long as I elevate the antenna 8 feet above the gutter. I started out by using the J-mast I installed for DBS, and it’s not ideal. I think the problem with 11 is due to my antenna preferring UHF.

  5. I’m actually behind a lot of trees which is blocking my antenna. But that doesn’t seem to be problematic as long as the antenna is situated outside of my house. In some spots within my home, I can get close to 30 channels (mostly sub channels) with a non-amplified indoor antenna

    I think in your case, it sounds like you’re just going to have to bite the bullet and raise that antenna as high as possible. But antenna installation is still easier than running the cable from the outside of the house to the inside of the house with an amplified splitter along the way.

    But this is all worthwhile even if you have Satellite or Cable service as the content isn’t re-compressed and degraded. Maybe if you had Verizon FiOS this over compression problem wouldn’t exist but even they charge a couple dollars a month for local TV service which seems silly to pay when you can get it free over the air.

    DTV is a significant threat to television service revenues because some people who only want basic services would be happy with just DTV.

  6. I’m pulling in 53 channels from 20 call signs now. Channel 20 has a co-channel problem and needs to be tuned from digital 19, but 36 and 11 are still problematic. According to the topographical charts, 11 should be me second strongest signal, but it’s not viewable. Channel 26.1, which has the same transmitter orientation, is my strongest signal in terms of measurement, but the prediction has it way down the list. 36 comes from San Jose, due south, and even though it’s half the distance of the Frisco channels I don’t pick it up the way my antenna is oriented, due west.

    Amplifying these signals isn’t difficult at all, you attach a pre-amp to the mast and power it from inside the house over the co-ax.

    The eye-opener in this exercise is that I live in an area where analog TV reception is not at all practical, but the digital transition makes cable a luxury.

  7. “The eye-opener in this exercise is that I live in an area where analog TV reception is not at all practical”

    That is very significant, because many people are claiming that DTV provide inferior coverage. It’s clear that you’re getting almost everything now.

    You’re right that amplification isn’t difficult, but for me it means I have to bring the wire up to the house where the amplifier is because the amp requires a power supply. If I didn’t need an amplifier (though I probably don’t since the signal is enough for just about everything), then I could use a passive splitter under the house and it makes wiring simpler.

  8. I only get the coverage I do because I installed a brand-new, high-gain antenna high up over my house. The people who think the digital transition is simply a matter of installing a converter box are in for a big surprise.

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