NOTE: This material applies only to the USA. If you are in Canada, some of this material may affect you peripherally. If you are elsewhere in the world, you can safely ignore what follows.Updated: 30 April 20101. What's this analog shutdown I've been hearing about?
As a result of legislation of the US Congress, all full-power analog over-the-air (OTA) broadcast TV ended on June 12, 2009, leaving only the digital broadcasts that most stations had also been sending already. (Some stations had already shut down their analog transmitters before this.) Low-power stations and translators were not subject to this deadline. The FCC is pushing those stations to convert also, as soon as feasable, but has not announced any deadlines at this writing.2. Does this mean that analog cable is going to shut down, too?
The congressional mandate applies only to OTA broadcasts. Cable companies are free to convert their analog channels to digital whenever they choose, except for local broadcast stations that have chosen "must carry" status and therefore foregone any compensation by cable companies. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled in September 2007 that cable companies must provide those channels in analog form through June 12, 2012. I suppose that other local broadcast channels, that have negotiated compensation for carriage by cable companies, will continue to negotiate for carriage in analog form.
However, cable companies want to convert their analog channels to digital sooner or later, because they can send more digital channels than analog in the same bandwidth. Also, with digital cable it's easier to block unauthorized access. Comcast is now converting its "extended basic" customers from analog to digital. Only the "limited basic" channels will remain in analog form, including mainly the local OTA broadcast stations. Other cable companies will probably do something similar during the next few years.3. How does all this affect DVD recorders?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandated that as of March 1, 2007, all devices made or imported to the USA, that can receive OTA broadcasts, must include digital (ATSC) tuners. Previously, practically all DVD recorders sold in the USA had only analog (NTSC) tuners.
In April 2007, new DVD recorders began to appear on dealers' shelves, with both NTSC and ATSC tuners. All models seen so far also have QAM (digital cable) tuners. See other threads in this forum for discussion about specific models. Meanwhile, older models with only NTSC tuners have disappeared from the marketplace, as dealers sold out their stock. These models are now available only through after-market sources such as eBay.
Also, some DVD recorders have now appeared, that have no tuner at all. They can record only from other devices with tuners (e.g. cable STBs or DVRs, or standalone ATSC tuners for OTA broadcasts) via their line inputs.4. Does this mean that my old DVD recorder (or VCR) is going to be useless after analog shutdown?
There are now few OTA analog (NTSC) broadcasts for it to tune to, only whatever low-power stations or translators operate in your area. As your cable company shuts down analog channels, you will no longer be able to tune those, either. However, you can still record from an external digital tuner via the recorder's line inputs. For example, you can use a composite-video or S-video connection from a cable set top box or DVR, or a standalone ATSC tuner for OTA broadcasts. People have reported success in using a Panasonic DVD recorder with an "infrared (IR) blaster" to control the Zenith DTT900 digital-to-analog converter box
. The Zenith DTT901 works the same way. The Channel Master CM-7000 converter box can also be controlled this way, using a Pioneer cable box code.5. My DVD recorder has the TV Guide On Screen (TVGOS) feature. How does the analog shutdown affect TVGOS?
TVGOS receives its electronic program guide (EPG) data via a signal embedded in the OTA broadcast signal of stations which have contracted with Macrovision (the current owner of TVGOS) to provide this service. In preparation for the OTA digital transition, Macrovision developed a new version of TVGOS which uses digital (ATSC) instead of analog (NTSC) broadcast signals. It appears that most areas have digital TVGOS service as of November 2009, but some areas have lost it, and some others have had "teething problems" with the new service.
So far, no DVD recorders with ATSC tuners include the TVGOS feature. All DVD recorders with TVGOS have only NTSC tuners. Nevertheless, there are two "loopholes" by which they may be able to receive digital TVGOS indirectly.
First, for people who get TV via analog cable, Macrovision is working with cable TV providers to enable them to convert digital TVGOS data (received from a broadcast station in their area), to analog form for insertion into one of their remaining analog cable channels. This should allow analog-only devices with TVGOS to function as before, although possibly using a different TVGOS host channel. It requires that your cable company install the conversion and insertion equipment.
Second, for people who get TV OTA, the Dish TR-40, DTVPal, DTVPal Plus coupon eligible converter boxes (CECBs), the Dish DTVPal DVR and the ARTEC T3APR-T(TVG) CECB have a mode which converts digital TVGOS from an OTA broadcast into the analog version, for use with analog-only devices with TVGOS. This uses a different data stream (SCTE 127) in the digital OTA signal, than the one (TVG1) used by digital devices with TVGOS. Note that these devices can receive only digital OTA (ATSC) signals, not digital cable (QAM) signals. Therefore they are not a solution for people with digital-only cable service.6. Why are there so few DVD recorders with hard disks (HDD) on sale now?
Older models with only NTSC tuners have disappeared from normal retail channels as pre March 1, 2007 stock sold out. As of May 2010, only seven new models with ATSC/QAM tuners and HDD have appeared or are forthcoming:Philips DVDR3575H/37Philips DVDR3576H/37Polaroid DRA-01601AMagnavox H2080MW8Magnavox H2160MW9Magnavox H2160MW9A
(a slight update to the preceding unit)Magnavox MDR513H
(another slight update)
The Philips and Magnavox units share a common FAQ/discussion thread, linked to the names above. The Polaroid has its own thread.Update, November 2009:
The only model that is currently available is the Magnavox H2160MW9A. See section 10 of the first post of the thread linked above for sources.Update, May 2010:
The Magnavox H2160MW9A has gone on clearance sale, and is apparently going to be replaced by a new model, the MDR513H. This has a larger HDD (320GB) and will reportedly be available in June. See the Philips/Magnavox FAQ/discussion thread for the latest information.
Other companies (Panasonic, Toshiba, and Pioneer, at least) have no plans for such units. Companies that have given reasons for this have indicated poor sales of the previous NTSC-only units. This is in line with the common availability in the USA of HDD DVRs leased by cable and satellite TV providers. These units have relatively low monthly fees in contrast to the high up-front cost of an HDD/DVD recorder, and can record encrypted channels that DVD recorders cannot (at least not directly). Most people apparently mainly want to be able to time-shift programs by recording them temporarily, and have limited interest in archiving programs on DVD.
This situation may change in the future as a result of the FCC mandate discussed in the next section.
Note that HDD/DVD recorders for analog and/or digital TV are widely available outside the USA, e.g. in Europe, Japan and Australia, which do not have such a high penetration of proprietary leased cable and satellite equipment. Some of these are available in the USA through gray-market import channels, from dealers who specialize in multisystem (PAL/SECAM/NTSC) analog video equipment.
Some people have speculated that digital-rights management (DRM) issues are a cause of the lack of HDD/DVD recorders. That is, these units make it too easy to make high-quality recordings of copyrighted programs, so content providers have pressured consumer-electronics manufacturers to stop selling them in the USA.7. Which digital cable channels can I record with QAM-capable recorders?
Current QAM-capable recorders can tune only those digital channels that a cable company does not encrypt (sometimes called "clear QAM"). With most cable companies, this currently means only the HD versions of the local broadcast channels (often not even all of those), plus perhaps a few odds and ends. You must tune other channels with a cable set top box and record them via a line input on the recorder. Many people expect that this will continue to be the case after the extended-basic channels are converted to digital, although this is not clear yet. Again, this is for current recorders; for possible future recorders, see below.
The FCC has mandated that as of July 1, 2007, new cable set top boxes and recorders must decouple the access and authorization functions so that third party manufacturers can sell STBs and DVRs that can be used with any cable company. These devices would use something like CableCard 2.0 (which has been renamed as "Tru2way" technology) or downloadable software to authorize and decrypt channels as necessary. So far the only Tru2way devices are some Panasonic TVs, but there may be significant availability of Tru2way service from cable companies (particularly Comcast) in 2010, which might lead to the availability of Tru2way recorders.8. Can I use an ATSC-capable DVD recorder as an HDTV receiver?
All of the units seen so far deliver only standard-definition (SD) output. They can receive high-definition (HD) signals, but they downconvert HD to SD both for recording and for immediate viewing via a line output. This is because of limitations in the integrated chips that are used for decoding and processing the ATSC signal in these units.