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Time runs short for DTV update

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Final switch happens today

By Greg Summers

Ready or not, the switch from analog television to the digital age is here.

If you don’t notice anything different, that’s a good thing, analysts say.

“When you get up Saturday morning and turn on your TV, if it doesn’t work,  you’ll know,” said Doug Crenshaw, owner of the Energy Center, who is certified to sell the special converter boxes that decode the digital signal.

The FCC has set up  a toll-free hot line – 1-888-CALL FCC (225-5322) – for viewers with technical difficulties.

“There’s going to be a few surprises out there,” Crenshaw said. “Most people are ready, but there are a few  who have been waiting to the last minute.”

Crenshaw said many consumers still don’t understand if they do or don’t need a converter box.

It only affects consumers who get their television signal through the air or have televisions manufactured before 2007.

If you are hooked into a cable or satellite system or have a television that’s less than 2 years old, you don’t need a converter box.

However, in addition to a converter box, residents trying to receive a digital signal over-the-air will need an antenna of some sort to assist in the process.

The Nielsen Co., which measures audiences and trends in TV usage, estimates that about three million households nationwide – about one in five rabbit-ear TV viewers – will lose their TV reception when the switch takes place. The switch will take place at a different hour at each station.

“It’s kind of haywire,” Crenshaw said. “There is a lot of confusion about it, but the bottom line is if you have a digital TV, you have everything you need.”

The digital signal will provide most viewers with better sound, an improved picture and more channels.

“Once folks get over the change, everything will be OK,” Crenshaw said. “If you have a decent TV picture tube with an antenna, it’s only going to get better.”  

However, the improved signal isn’t the reason behind the change.

The upgrade puts full-power TV stations into compliance with a 2005 law that makes them provide a digital signal. The transition allows more room on the broadcast spectrum.

The frequencies vacated by television’s switch to digital will be assigned to law enforcement and other agencies, or will be auctioned off to private telecommunications companies. It is estimated the government will make $20 billion by selling the old analog airwaves.

The change was supposed to happen Feb. 17.  Many stations have been operating off two signals – digital and analog for about 10 years. To comply with the law, they will simply turn off the analog.

The FCC said that about one-third of the nation’s full-power television stations have already gone digital.

According the Associated Press, the federal government postponed the switch until June 12 because it was unclear how many consumers wouldn’t be able to use their old televisions without a converter box. The shutdown was delayed by the Obama administration after funding ran out for $40 coupons the government offered to help people buy converter boxes for old TVs.

“I think the extra time paid off,” Crenshaw said. “But I can tell by some of the phone calls we’re getting some people who waited until the last minute are going to be scrambling around Saturday morning. They keep telling folks about what to expect, but not all of them have been listening.”

To get a coupon

Each household is eligible for up to two converter box coupons, worth $40 each, toward the purchase of the boxes, which can cost between $50 and $80. The coupons are available through July 31, but could run out sooner, depending on requests, an FCC spokesman said. 

Consumers can apply for coupons online at www.DTV2009.gov, by phone at 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009), by fax at 1-877-DTV-4ME2 (1-877-388-4632) or by mail to P.O. Box 2000, Portland, OR 97208. Deaf or hard-of-hearing callers may dial 1-877-530-2634 (English TTY) or 1-866-495-1161 (Spanish TTY).

Re-scan television channels

Crenshaw said those who have already bought and installed conversion boxes will need to re-scan the channels Saturday.

When consumers first set up their box, they scanned them to find the right channels.

After the change, Crenshaw said you must scan for channels one more time.ee Some converter boxes have a button on the remote control that re-scans for channels, and others have a multiple step process that the directions would describe.

“You need to do that after the switch is flipped,” Crenshaw said.