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Hams Can Still Help with Digital TV (DTV) Conversion

02/18/2009

Even though the mandatory conversion date for television stations to switch from analog signals to digital has been delayed by four months, hams are still assisting the FCC and their communities by providing technical support to those who need assistance. Although many TV stations won't turn off their analog signals until the new deadline, the law allows stations to apply to switch on the original date -- February 17 -- or any time before June 12.

According to the FCC, there are nearly 1800 full-power televisions stations in the US. Of these, the FCC said that "220 will have terminated their analog signals before Tuesday [February 17] and another 421 will terminate their analog signals on Tuesday [February 17] before 11:59 PM, for a total of 641 stations, or about 36 percent of all full-power stations nationwide." The FCC has posted a list of stations making the conversion on or before February 17 on their Web site.

ARRL Public Relations Manager Allen Pitts, W1AGP, said he has been getting e-mails and phone calls from Amateur Radio operators concerning the digital TV conversion, now set to take place on Friday, June 12. "People are asking what's happening with the DTV conversion -- especially now that it's been delayed -- and wondering what we as hams can do to help," he said. "There has been considerable confusion concerning the extension of the date, but the role of Amateur Radio is simply to be helpful to the people in our communities."

Pitts stressed that the ARRL program does not include making "house calls," selling any equipment or doing actual installations, just providing and distributing technical information: "Amateur Radio clubs can provide such things as a call-in telephone number for technical help, make presentations at meetings, do demonstrations at malls or give talks to other groups -- whatever works in their community."

Pitts advises those hams that are helping to provide technical educational assistance keep in mind the following troubleshooting pointers, provided by the FCC:

Check Your Connections

  •  Check that your digital-to-analog converter box (or digital television) is connected properly. Make sure that your antenna is connected to the antenna input of your digital-to-analog converter box (or digital television). If you are using a digital-to-analog converter box, ensure that the antenna output of the converter box is connected to the antenna input of your analog TV. If you are unsure of the proper connections, refer to your owners manual.

  •  Make sure that your components are plugged in and turned on.

  •  If using a digital-to-analog converter box, tune your analog TV to channel 3. You should see a set-up menu or picture on your screen. If you do not see this, re-check your connections.

Perform a Channel Scan

  •  Digital-to-analog converter boxes (and digital televisions) have a button -- usually on the remote control -- that is labeled "Set-up" or "Menu" or some similar term. Press that button to access the set-up menu. Using the directional arrow buttons on your remote, scroll to the option that allows you to perform a "channel scan." The channel scan will search for digital broadcast channels that are available in your area. If you are unsure how to do a channel scan, please refer to the owners manual for your converter box or digital television (whichever applies).

  •  Once the channel scan is complete, you will be able to tune to the digital channels received by your antenna.

Adjust Your Antenna

  •  As many hams know, small adjustments to an antenna can make a big difference; digital TV is no exception. If you have an indoor antenna, try elevating it and moving it closer to an exterior wall of your home. After adjusting your antenna, perform another channel scan to see if your reception has improved.

  •  While adjusting your antenna, it may be helpful to access the "Signal strength meter" on your converter box or digital television set to determine whether your adjustments are improving the signals' strength. You can probably find your signal strength meter via the "Menu" function on your remote control, and your owners manual will provide detailed information on how to perform this function. Remember to do another channel scan after you have adjusted your antenna.

  •  Make sure that you are using an antenna that covers both the UHF and VHF bands and that is connected properly.

Late last year, the FCC requested assistance from the ARRL in providing educational support to local communities regarding the digital TV conversion.

"I really appreciate the willingness of the ARRL to actively participate in helping Americans with the transition to DTV and your helpful suggestions," said George Dillon, FCC Deputy Bureau Chief for Field Operations (now retired). "The DTV transition will be an historic moment in the evolution of TV. Broadcast television stations can offer viewers improved picture and sound quality and new programming choices. All-digital broadcasting also will allow [the FCC] to significantly improve public safety communications and will usher in a new era of advanced wireless services such as the widespread deployment of wireless broadband. Our goal is to engage the amateur community on a cooperative basis to help with the DTV outreach and to educate consumers."

The FCC said that it is seeking to ensure that even where all or most stations in a market are terminating analog service, consumers who are unprepared for the switch will continue to have access to critical local news and emergency information. In a statement released by the FCC, the Commission "examined each market in which stations planned to end analog service to try to ensure that at least one affiliate of the four major networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- would continue broadcasting in analog after February 17. Many had such a station, but in those instances in which there would be no top-four affiliate remaining in a market, the FCC attempted to ensure that analog local news and emergency information would remain available -- generally through what is being called 'enhanced analog nightlight' service. Under 'enhanced analog nightlight,' the top-four affiliates must keep at least one analog signal on the air to provide programming that includes, at a minimum, local news and emergency information."

FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps said that the Commission is "trying to make the best of a difficult situation. While this staggered transition is confusing and disruptive for some consumers, the confusion and disruption would have been far worse had we gone ahead with a nationwide transition on [February 17]."

For more information on the conversion to digital television, please see the DTV Conversion Web site.



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