Fallout from the DTV Transition


It’s been two weeks since the digital television switch was universally flipped in what’s effectively a government spectrum fundraiser.

Immediately after the NTSC plug was pulled, I fired up my only remaining analog television device – an ElGato EyeTV Hyrbid (ATSC + NTSC) USB stick. Leading up to June 12th, many over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts contained crawls alerting folks to he transition. But I was expecting to find some sort of message on those vacated frequencies for a week or so, reinforcing what had happened and what to do next. No dice, all I found was static.

As part of their transition, many broadcasters changed/swapped frequencies. According to reports, this generated the most issues and calls into the FCC DTV hotlines. In fact, I heard from my mom who had lost some channels on her kitchen TV using the converter I got her last year. With low expectations (she’s not really geeky at all), I told her she could try poking around the menu looking for some sort of ‘rescan’ option until I found time to walk her through it. Fortunately, it must have been simple/clear enough as she managed to recover her lost channels – and a few new ones, too.

I received a similar complaint from a work buddy and suggested he rescan. Unfortunately, that didn’t resolve the problem. He’s lost both ABC and CBS in HD here in the DC region. Turns out WJLA (ABC) and WUSA (CBS) migrated from UHF to VHF as part of their transition. And thousands of local folks have lost reception. Last weekend, I confirmed the reception/power issue at a Starbucks near work (Sterling, VA) and home (Rockville, MD) using the aforementioned ElGato tuner. It’s sadly ironic as CBS always had the strongest ATSC signal in the region and was the first to go HD with their nightly news. And now they serve nothing but a blank screen, aka the ‘digital cliff‘ strikes. My DTVPal is able to pull in WUSA – probably a combination of a more powerful/better tuner in a wooden structure versus the USB tuner at a nearby SBUX. (Used the same antenna in all three scenarios.)

Lastly, as Brent and others have noted, many of the HTPC guide providers (i.e. Microsoft) were caught unprepared.

So, how’d your transition go?

9 thoughts on “Fallout from the DTV Transition”

  1. Why don’t these stations start putting repeaters up on cell phone towers in strategic area’s? With virtual channel mapping, it wouldn’t matter if they needed to use alternate frequencies, because the VCT tables could still “map” the channel to the branded number. The OTA box would just find whatever the strongest signal is.

    Now that it’s all digital, I don’t see why a distributed transmission model wouldn’t work. It’s been working for cell phones and pagers for literally YEARS.

  2. Dallas TX – I gained a bunch of OTA channels, and most stations now broadcasting in 16×9. Only issue I had was the converter box I bought in Dec of last year did on me the day before the transistion ( Apex ). The new box dosen’t have the tv guide style listins. :(

    Also, I am crrently in Austin and the local network stations are really struggling. Only CBS is in 16×9 and Fox keeps runnning ads apologizing their transmission power is too low for the digital broadcast to reach all areas that used to be covered by analog. WTF?

  3. The confusion really came in stations that didn’t let people know early enough they were going back to VHF from UHF all those people that went out to buy new antennas that were for UHF now are trying to figure out what to do. Here in the SF DMA we have many stations that are moving their antennas on Sutro Tower and that won’t be complete until Oct of this year! I don’t understand why a lot of this wasn’t taken care of before the switch. I lost 2 OTA stations that came in strong before, they changed their frequency and I can no longer watch them. Luckily for me the channels were mainly just watched via the Sling ProHD as D* supplies my regular channels. But, I do enjoy OTA for the channels people like D* don’t offer to customers (Universal Sports, weather, RTN). I also like being able to get neighboring DMA’s that OTA offers.

  4. I still don’t understand why some stations switched their ATSC back to VHF from UHF after the changeover.

    The two frequency ranges require different antennae. Many people who have bought “digital TV” antenna during this past few years have bought ones optimized for UHF, since that’s where every ATSC broadcaster was located up to the switchover.

    Here in the Seattle Area, Channel 9, 11, and 13 all reverted back to VHF. Luckily my antenna is VHF/UHF but I’ve been considering a new external antenna for permanent outdoor installation and if I’d bought it before the conversion I’d have been looking at a good multi direction Bow Tie antenna. Now I’m not so sure what I need to purchase.

    Oh, yeah, and by letting them go back to VHF, doesn’t that mean that the spectrum isn’t freed up, negating the real public benefit of the conversion?

  5. “Oh, yeah, and by letting them go back to VHF, doesn’t that mean that the spectrum isn’t freed up, negating the real public benefit of the conversion?”

    The spectrum grab was in the 700 MHz band, not VHF, and I’d opine that any public benefit is purely incidental–in effect, public-safety interests were recruited to make the overall deal more palatable to legislators. (Similarly to what happened with the 800 MHz band in 2002.)

    Of the 60 MHz reclaimed, 24 MHz goes to public safety, basically UHF channels 63 and 64 (and this doesn’t mean private concerns won’t be making money off this block). The thinned-out VHF-lo spectrum isn’t quite empty, so it will probably be allocated piecemeal if there are any takers. In my neck of the woods, channel 6 is now a low-power FM smooth-jazz station broadcasting NTSC still pictures.

  6. I formerly received all of the local tampa bay area VHF stations as ATSC signals without an issue. I am basically 30 miles from each antenna. The rabbit ears can no longer pull in the VHF signals that are now digital. Oh well, not much of a loss without NBC, CBS, and FOX. ABC sucks just as bad as the others, but at least I can still receive that station because it is UHF.

    Was there any warning that the digital signals do not travel the same distance as the analog do?

  7. I’m trying to get off Dish Network and hook up my TV to an off air antenna and the internet (hulu.com and pbs.org).
    I have a Dish DVR 501 with antenna in and out. Can I rig this up to record via a digital tuner box I bought. I get clear reception, I just want to record and be able to access the internet via my laptop with a remote.
    BTW…I’m a network admin/geek and I’ve been buying parts for my old PC, and I can get reception through an old TV Tuner PCI card, but I think the old PC would burn too many watts to leave on all day. So I’m looking for that elusive all inclusive internet/off air antennae solution.

    Many thanks!

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