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What Canadians Need To Know About Digital Television (DTV)

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Undoubtedly, many Canadians while watching American network affiliates on their cable or satellite service have seen the announcements proclaiming that in February 2009 that older TV’s will go to static if they do not get a converter box. For Americans who use an antenna as their only source of television signals this is true. Over the air television broadcasting in the United States is in the middle of a transition from traditional analog signals to digital. It is in February of 2009 that television broadcasting using analog signals will come to an end on the American side of the boarder.

In Canada the same conversion is starting to happen with digital TV signals already being transmitted in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. The roll out of digital TV started later in Canada Analog TV stations will have until August of 2011 to make the switch to digital. The two year extension past the American deadline was to accommodate the later roll out of DTV in Canada, it should not enable Canada’s Television Industry to drag their feet on transitioning to digital broadcasting.

The reason for the change over to digital broadcasting is because it opens up frequency space for more services like cell phones and wireless broadband services. Analog television broadcasting uses a lot of bandwidth, a digital video signal in equivalent picture and sound quality only uses one sixth of the broadcast bandwidth. While that may not mean much to who receive their television signals using an antenna, but the advantages of digital television are far and above the initial misunderstanding of the transition. For the first time over the air television viewers will be able to enjoy picture and sound quality that is as clear as that enjoyed by those who use cable or satellite TV.

It’s not just those who use over the air broadcast to receive television programming that are going to benefit from the transition to digital television. In many homes that have cable or satellite service there maybe a second or third TV with nothing but a set of rabbit ears. Even cable subscribers will see a difference because most cable operators acquire signals from local TV stations that are distributed to subscribers with an antenna.

The apathy from Canada’s television networks towards DTV transition is nothing short of astounding. Not only do the television stations have to get the equipment in place to transmit signals they have to start to do so before the deadline comes in 2011. Then comes the issue surrounding older analog TV sets that will still be in use. Converter boxes that receive digital signals and outputs an analog signal on channel 3 aren’t even on the Canadian market yet. A voucher program to provide converter boxes at a discount will still need to be put into place despite having an additional three years to sell TV sets with digital tuners, there are still TV sets that can only receive analog signals in Canada right now.

For many television is just television and the change over to digital broadcast just isn’t an issue that on the top of peoples’ minds. Broadcast television and radio is people’s first source of public safety information. When cable TV infrastructure or satellite dishes have been blown down in a storm it’s over the air TV and radio stations that people turn to for information. In order to be a most reliable source clear sound and picture are not just ideal it’s essential.

Pressure must be placed upon the broadcasting industry gets things into gear and gets the business of making the change over to digital sooner rather than later. Government regulators and the broadcasting industry groups need to hear from Canadians that getting on with making the change over to digital broadcasting need to happen sooner rather than later. The time is soon coming that future TV’s will have digital tuners only and without analog tuning capability and those buying those TV’s could end up in the situation that they will be unable to receive the analog signals that TV stations are transmitting if they are allowed to continue to put off making the change over to digital broadcasting.

Television networks such as CTV and Global will try to justify their inactivity and may try to persuade the CRTC to extend the deadline, but in order for viewers of over the air broadcasting to start to enjoy the same picture and sound quality that cable and satellite subscribers enjoy then CRTC needs to hear from TV viewers from across Canada that time to hold television broadcasters feet to the fire is now.


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