Digital Conversion's Dirty Little Secret

Today's cuppa: Jolt cola

I'm George Dickie and I'll be doing Cuppa blog posts in Kate O'Hare's absence.

Today I'd like to discuss something that to my knowledge has not been addressed in all of the mainstream articles about the impending analog-to-digital conversion planned for Feb. 17. It has to do with the digital signal itself and how it might be a problem for those living on the fringes of a broadcast area.

Those of us who have ever received TV signals over an antenna know about "ghosts," which you get when a signal is so weak that your TV only displays outlines of people, places or things. And generally speaking, it's weak because your set is too far from the transmitter, although atmospheric and ground conditions can affect signal strength as well.

When the switch is flipped over to digital next month, chances are TV will disappear for many in outlying areas. That's because digital signals are an either/or proposition -- if you live within, say, a 32-mile radius of the transmitter (and this is an arbitrary number), you will get a perfect picture; beyond that and you'll get nothing. As opposed to analog signals, which will gradually fade and weaken as you get 40, 50, 60 or more miles away from the transmitter until it becomes all snow.

So if you're one of those folks who lives in an outlying area who can only get weak TV signals, you might want to think twice about buying one of those converter boxes that were federally subsidized until the government program funding them ran out of money, because you might find they don't work for you. You may find yourself having to turn to satellite or cable to receive your "American Idol," "Desperate Housewives" or "The Office."

And that's not a terrible thing in and of itself, as both offer greater choices and a perfect picture. On the downside, they're not free like broadcast is, so you will have an extra bill.

But if you happen to be in one of those outlying areas not serviced by cable and you don't have access to the portion of the sky needed to receive a satellite signal, you may find yourself going without TV entirely.

Which could mean more people would have to entertain themselves by reading. And that's not a terrible thing in and of itself, as it offers greater choices and a more vivid picture.