Here's a copy of what I'm sending out to various entities, especially the elderly/handicapped/subsidized-housing units' managements:
(Text File of DTV/MATV info for e-mails)
Essentially, what is happening is, for the last eight years or so, all broadcast TV stations in the United States have been in the process of adding a second channel which broadcasts only in Digital TV mode, or preparing their facilities to flash cut their transmissions to all-Digital in 2009. Most of the major (full-power) Salt Lake City area stations have been operating a Digital TV channel since 1999 or 2000, with the first (KSL and KTVX) going on-line on October 28, 1999.
Currently, there are ten full-power DTV (Digital Television) stations in Salt Lake, offering 20+ channels of TV programming. Additional stations, mostly the LPTV (Low-Power TV) ones, are in the process of licensing their "Digital Companion Channels", and should begin construction in the near future. The remaining full-power stations, like 20, 24, and 32, may have to "flash-cut" to Digital at some future date, since they (their analog stations) were initially licensed too late to get a second-channel allocation for Digital TV.
All existing "-TV" stations are required by law to cease operation by midnight of Tuesday, February 17, 2009.
Beginning February 18, 2009, all over-the-air transmission of television in the U.S. and its territories will be via Digital means.....this is the ATSC (Advanced Television Standards Committee) format that you may have heard about. All stations will then identify as "-DT" (Digital Television) or "-LD" (Low-Power Digital Television). Anyone who relies on an over the air signal, and does not have a suitable ATSC receiver, will see only "snow" on their analog TV sets, VCRs, DVRs, etc.
Viewers who receive Cable TV, or Satellite TV (from DISH Network or DirecTV), may continue to receive the same programming as before, but this will depend on the level of service they purchase (i.e.: they might continue to receive a standard definition, 4:3 ratio picture and stereo sound, rather than the high definition widescreen picture and surround/multi-channel/multi-language audio). Those who purchase "local" stations via satellite will still receive local stations, although those who use an antenna for the "locals" may need a Digital ATSC receiver....unless their TV set is already equipped with one, or they have an "HD Satellite" receiver, which usually has the ATSC receiver built-in.
Since the end of March, 2007, all TV devices being manufactured with any tuner at-all, must include an ATSC Digital tuner. This only excludes "monitors", or "standalone" video recorders, that do not receive any signals at all.
There is a federal program, with details currently being finalized, to subsidize the purchase of converter boxes for those who need them. The "subsidized converter" program would provide one or two coupons per-household, to be worth $40.00 off the cost of each converter. These converters, which are currently being tested as prototype units, are expected to cost about $50-60 each, so the final cost to each household would be about $20 per unit.
Those converters are designed to be a "bootstrap" measure, to prevent anyone from having to go without television after the cutoff date. They will not provide a High-Definition picture, or full surround-sound, since they are only designed to keep the existing analog set working....just with the ability to receive the digital over-the-air (not Cable or satellite) signal, presenting it in normal analog-like definition.
These converters are expected to be available beginning in January, 2008. Viewers who wish to receive the subsidy coupons will need to apply for them by phone, mail or internet. The coupons, which must be used within ninety days of receipt, can then be used to help purchase converters from participating traditional retail outlets.
My concerns are directed toward those facilities that provide television to their residents via MATV (Master Antenna TV) systems, which receive an over-the-air signal via antenna, then distribute the signals to the individual living quarters. Most Digital TV stations will be broadcasting in the UHF frequency bands (470-806 MHz), and many, especially older, systems may not be capable of these higher frequencies. This would preclude tenants from receiving over-the-air Digital TV, unless they were located where an indoor antenna would work. Indoor antennas do work in many cases, but their usefulness might be limited by blockage from other buildings, by interference, or by their location within the building.
Also, the design of the MATV system is of concern. Many larger systems use processors on each existing channel, so that for instance, UHF channels (14-69) can be carried on lower-numbered channels, or so certain additional (non-broadcast) channels may be added. These processor-based systems might need additional equipment in order to pass the new Digital channels through to viewers.
I'm afraid that many facilities and institutions may just consider eliminating their MATV systems altogether, and purchasing Basic Cable TV service for their tenants. However, the Cable industry will convert their channel lineups, entirely, to Digital at some future date...in some cases, even before the 2-17-09 broadcast deadline. At that time, there are no guarantees that local TV will continue to be available on Cable systems without the necessity of leased cable boxes (or, Digital TV sets with QAM-capable Digital tuners, which might receive the local stations only), nor are there any guarantees that all of the broadcaster-provided sub-channels and ancillary services will be carried. Satellite TV would be another expensive option in the long run, and may not be required to carry all local channels, either. The subsidized converter boxes, by law, will not work on the commonly-used Digital Cable QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) system, since they were designed only to be a replacement for over-the-air tuners.
No matter what route is taken, there will probably be technical issues, and some redesign and rewiring will be needed in many facilities.
What I would like, is to develop some data on:
1. What facilities are currently supplying MATV to their tenants, as opposed to those with (exclusively) Cable or satellite service?
2. In facilities with MATV, how many tenants are receiving the local stations via the MATV system, and how many tenants have their own subscriptions to Cable or satellite service?
3. How many MATV systems would need upgrades of their wiring, amplifiers, and distribution equipment, in order to even pass the UHF channels? Also, do these systems even have proper UHF antennas that can receive the Digital channels?
4. What systems currently use individual-channel processing in their systems? These are commonly considered essential in systems that add non-broadcast programming, or place channels consecutively (adjacent-channel systems, with no gaps between stations). Those would be systems that might need major upgrades.
Please feel free to pass this info along to anyone who is interested. We really need the feedback.
Ken English, Sr. Engineer, KSL-TV.
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