Watching baseball last week with all the jitters, smears, and pauses of digital broadcasting, I realized I haven’t officially bitched about the digital switchover. All this info (well, except for the Kanye part) I think is pretty valuable:
- With good reception, digital broadcasts look good. It is a huge step forward for television clarity. Admittedly. It does work. So, if you get a new TV, yay, you get a new TV with potentially much better quality and more channels. Everybody wins!(?) The following bullet is much more important…
- DIGITAL SIGNALS ARE NOT CRYSTAL CLEAR. It’s true. Before I got a digital converter I didn’t realize this, my coworker didn’t realize this, so I assume some of you have been (or are in the process of being) mislead as well.
Now that people are using digital receivers, we’re realizing that digital TV reception is as bad or worse than analog TV. Those that haven’t gone digital yet (or in some cases can’t even afford to), hear the Networks pitching the switcheroo and it’s like they’re doing you a favor. It’s important to know that TV Networks/the government/Big Businss are NOT just doing it for your benefit.
I’m not one for conspiracy theories, hell, any rant that mentions “the government” usually makes me tune out. But this is true, apparently: The initial digital switch plan (I shit you not) was a delayed reaction to Post-9/11 communication issues. According to Bloomburg…
The government mandated the switch to free up airwaves for advanced wireless services and emergency workers’ radios, to raise money and to provide clearer pictures and more programming.
Broadcast networks volunteered to give their analog frequencies over to emergency police and fire communications. Though, “volunteered” is a stretch. Television networks were well aware that this act, which appears fairly selfless and sensible, had an overwhelming business-minded upside.
Giving up these frequencies and moving to a digital signal would mean that every American that does not subscribe to a cable subscription (~20% of the population, skewed towards the less affluent) must buy a brand new TV, update their televisions on their own dime (that’s 285 million sets as of ’05), or get cable. It was a sweetheart deal all around, exemplified by the nifty bullet points below:
- Government gets low-freq emergency channels (Which is great… whoopdie-doo.)
- Broadcast Networks, who have been trying to go digital anyway, get to do so with the government bankrolling them, and in the name of public good.
- Broadcast Networks now have multiple channels to run second-tier content on, which can steal share back from cable stations like The Weather Channel, Univision, Telemundo, and in NBC Universal’s case – ESPN.
- Cable companies profit off of new subscribers unwilling to make the digital switch
- Electronic stores (namely Radio Shack) make a killing on digital converter box sales, and on selling peripherals around the digital conversion.
- Everybody gets to pretend they’re helping John Q. Public
That last bullet is the kicker, because, if you installed the digital converter box you quickly realize that reception can, and does, still suck. What’s worse, broadcast channels that used to come in a little fuzzy on an analog television will not even register through the digital box. No longer do you have the option of watching a fuzzy screen — it’s all or nothing now.
Digital TV is a snob — if it’s not crystal clear, you’re not allowed to watch it. You cannot even manually tell your digital converter to include a channel that is not registering — this is what is happening to CBS (WBBM) on my TV and a friends in Chicago. I wonder if they’re losing ratings because the digital boxes they forced on their viewers refuse to recognize it as a channel.
The funniest part is those antannae… you know the ones you were supposed to be able to throw away… those rabbit ears they made fun of in the “swtch to digital” PSAs earlier this year? Yeah… you have to buy a new one.