Ready or not, here it comes

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TV signals switch from analog to digital

By Scotty McDaniel

Popular TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance? have captured the attention of viewers across the nation. But come Friday, the real question is do you think you can watch?

That's because television stations are set to switch from an analog broadcast signal to a digital signal Friday, and reports are indicating that millions of unprepared people still do not have the needed converter box, or an alternate service of cable or satellite. Those left without the proper equipment will lose their television signal and only see the dance off between black and white ants: static.

A survey by the Nielsen Company states that more than 10 percent of the 114 million U.S. households with TVs were still not prepared for the digital transition as of May.

The transition deadline was recently set to occur on Feb. 17, but President Barack Obama delayed it by four months to give Americans more time to obtain government coupons for converter boxes and prepare for the change. That time is now up.

But despite the extra time, Gene Morris, manager of the local Radio Shack, said there's still a lot of confusion about the transition in Shelby County.

"There's a lot of people who call over the phone and say, 'Well, I don't need an antenna with that [the converter box] right?' And I say, 'No you still need an antenna with the box,'" he said.

Judging by what he has seen, Morris said it seems people living month-to-month with today's economy are more concerned about other expenses right now so converter boxes haven't been flying off the shelves.

"They've [sales] not really been that good in the last couple weeks. We've seen maybe 12 [purchased]," he said.

What that amounts to is a lot of static come Friday.

And even those with the proper equipment may have trouble getting their channels, he added.

"A lot of people think this new digital signal is going to be better. As far as picture quality that's right," he said. "But your digital signal actually doesn't go as far."

A digital signal might travel 40 to 50 miles, he said, while the old analog could go 75 to 100 miles.

For example, that means some homes that used to pick up the Louisville-based WAVE 3 channel on their antenna may not be able to after the transition takes place, he said.

But change is imminent, although Congress has extended the timeframe for people to receive and redeem the government's $40 coupons for converter boxes through Oct. 31.

The idea of the switch is to move away from analog and toward more efficient 100% digital broadcasting as a way of freeing up space in the nation's airwaves.

A more technical explanation is that digital signals break an image and sound into binary code in which data is represented by a series of zeros and ones. A digital receiver takes that code and reassembles it back into picture and audio. This method allows more information to move through the airwaves than an analog signal does.

A quality antenna is still required to receive a signal, but the digital converter box is necessary to convert the signal so an analog TV set can read it. If you own a digital television, an antenna is needed but a converter box is not.

In a recent statement, President Obama encouraged people to make the change with the television stations and adapt soon.

"I want to be clear: there will not be another delay. I urge everyone who is not yet prepared to act today, so you don't lose important news and emergency information on June 12," he said.

Have questions or need help with the transition in your home?

Call 1-888-CALL-FCC or visit www.dtv.gov and enter your zip code or state in the upper right-hand corner of the page to find local events, assistance and information.