How Much of a Test was New York’s 2-Minute Drill?

The folks over at CNET caught New York’s two-minute analog-shut-off test on video yesterday. Side by side it shows one digital television broadcast behaving as normal, while an analog source displays color bars and a text crawl advising viewers of the upcoming DTV transition.

I strongly support reminders of our impending D-Day, but I’m not feeling optimistic about what these two-minute drills can do to help people with their digital converter box woes. To recap, the government has been issuing coupons for a good long while now so that over-the-air analog citizens can purchase digital converter boxes at a discount to keep their TV sets working beyond February 17th. Unfortunately, as of last week, less than half of the 32 million coupons requested have been used, and apparently 9.8 million have expired. (No, you can’t reapply once you’ve passed the expiration date.)

More to the point, who the heck is helping people set up their converter boxes when they do get around to buying them? I helped my neighbors out last month, Dave is scheduling a conference call with his mom to get her box working with the kitchen TV, and apparently in Wilmington they had volunteer firemen making house calls. Even when people do get the boxes working, there are quirks that folks aren’t prepared for. My neighbors, for example, couldn’t access any digital PBS stations. I did a little bit of research and here’s what I found:

WHYY-DT is not operating at full power level at this time. The lower power level is creating the difficulty in reception that you described. We are currently in transition to a much greater power level that will be equal to the other digital broadcast stations. This work will be completed when analog TV broadcasting ends at midnight on February 17, 2009. We apologize for the inconvenience during this transition period. Since reception is possible (although not stable) at your location, optimizing antenna positioning and perhaps the addition of an antenna pre-amplifier may improve your reception.

Not only is there no way we could have known about WHYY’s low power transmissions ahead of time, but the fact that it’s causing problems means my neighbors won’t put a converter box on their main TV set until absolutely necessary. How many other people are delaying for similar reception reasons? And what happens when new problems pop up on February 17th? Who takes that service call?

2 thoughts on “How Much of a Test was New York’s 2-Minute Drill?”

  1. When will the local cable companies switch to rebroadcasting the digital feed instead of the analog feed? I’ve seen some very snowy channels on my friends cable.

    If I was watching a show on cable, obviously I don’t need to do anything on February 17th, but I may be getting all of these scary messages on my screen.

    Personally I’ve been using OTA HD for a few years, and love the quality and cost.

    The thing I hate is when the local channels (use the NBC as an example) broadcast tickers on the digital channels warning me about the upcoming analog shutoff. I guess they have switched over their systems to digital, and then they downsample the stuff and kick it out on analog as well?

    I have three different ATSC tuners, and they seem to be different sensitivity as well. The oldest is a Samsung T-451 and it has the hardest time picking up stations. I’ve got a TiVo HD that seems to do a pretty good job, and the RCA box that I got with a government coupon plus $15 does as well as the TiVo but only outputs SD. All are running from the same antenna, split and distributed over coax.

  2. The cable switch to digital is a whole other ball of wax. The guys over at the NCTA blog – – have written about it several times if you want the details.

    Meanwhile, you’re right. The text crawl would be confusing to cable subscribers who won’t actually need to do anything on 2/17. I didn’t read the text crawl closely. Hopefully it makes clear that anyone with paid TV service is covered.

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