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The ABCs of DTV, Part 1 - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

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The ABCs of DTV, Part 1

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Joe Tymecki Joe Tymecki

Burlington, Vermont - February 19, 2008

Not much has stayed the same since Channel 3's first broadcast in 1954.

The station's call letters were WMVT.

The picture was in black-and-white.

The images were much less sophisticated.

But it has always been broadcast over the air -- carried into Vermont homes by analog tuners and antennas.

Next year, that, too, will change.

"After February 17, 2009, that analog TV set with the set of rabbit ears is not going to work anymore," said Joe Tymecki, Channel 3's chief engineer. "There will not be an analog signal for that TV to pick up."

Many stations, including Channel 3, already broadcast a digital signal as well as the analog signal, which uses an older technology.

Federal law requires all full-power TV stations to pull the plug on their analog signal and broadcast only in digital.

"There are a couple reasons they're mandating the change from analog to digital," Tymecki said. "The biggest one is the United States has a history of technological leadership."      

Tymecki said digital television, or DTV, promises better quality -- a clearer picture, surround sound, and the option of transmitting in high definition. It also gives stations the option of multicasting -- broadcasting more than one channel at the same time. Channel 3, for example, can broadcast one show on its main channel, WCAX, and something else on its digital channel, WCAXtra.

In that sense, it's a much more efficient way of using the airwaves.

"When TV stations are made to be digital, they can actually pack them in on the TV dial closer together," Tymecki said. "This has the effect of freeing up additional channels, which is RF spectrum, or radio space, that can be used for other things. Probably the biggest re-use will be palm-sized world wide web browsers, cell phones, homeland security, emergency management-type communications."

The switch has forced TV stations to invest in digital upgrades. For Channel 3, that means millions of dollars on new equipment, new cameras, and a new digital transmitter on top of Mount Mansfield.

"Every activity at Channel 3 for the last 10 years has been leading up to this day," Tymecki said.      

The broadcast industry has been issuing public service announcements in an effort to educate the public about the switch to digital.

But the reception has been fuzzy.

A recent survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that more than a third of Americans -- 36 percent -- are completely unaware of the change.

"I don't think it really hits home with them yet that that analog signal, good old-fashioned Channel 3, a year from now will be gone," Tymecki said.

The analog signal will be gone, but the vast majority of people won't see any difference at all. That's because they get their signal from cable or satellite, not over the air.

Here in Vermont, there are 246,250 households with TVs, according to the National Association of Broadcasters. Only about 31,340 get their TV signal over the air. That's about one in eight households, or 12.7 percent, that are affected by the switch.

In Part 2 of the ABCs of DTV, we'll tell you what the switch to digital means for consumers -- and what decisions they'll have to make.

Kate Duffy - WCAX News

Related Story:

The ABCs of DTV, Part 2

The ABCs of DTV, Part 3

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