Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Your Digital TV Q&As

Late last week, we put out the call for your questions about the digital TV transition.

Here's our first batch of those questions:

Q: Perhaps a list of stations and their actual operating frequencies would be helpful to all.

A: We'll start here, because that information is pretty basic and should be up front. The following covers all full power local TV stations in the Northeast Ohio area. For those of you in the other parts of the state, that list would be way too long...a quick stop by the AntennaWeb or TV Fool websites should help you get that list based on your own address.

We'll order the list by current analog channel numbers, since that's how most people are used to listing stations. Then, we'll list the RF channels the DT stations are actually using, or applying to use.

If there's only one DT RF channel number listed, the station is using that channel now, and will continue to use it after the February analog-to-digital transition.

Thanks to computerized information sent alongside the digital TV signal, all channels will appear on digital tuners or converter boxes to be on their former analog channel number by way of a "virtual channel":

3 - WKYC Cleveland (NBC) - DT: 2 (current), 17 (post-transition)
5 - WEWS Cleveland (ABC) - DT: 15
8 - WJW Cleveland (FOX) - DT: 31 (current), 8 (post-transition)
17 - WDLI Canton (TBN) - DT: 39 (current), applying for 49 (post-transition)
19 - WOIO Shaker Heights (CBS) - DT: 10
21 - WFMJ Youngstown (NBC) - DT: 20
23 - WVPX Akron (ION) - DT: 23 (post-transition - has never used pre-transition 59, and has no current digital signal)
25 - WVIZ Cleveland (PBS) - DT: 26
27 - WKBN Youngstown (CBS) - DT: 41
33 - WYTV Youngstown (ABC) - DT: 36
43 - WUAB Lorain (MyNet) - DT: 28
45 - WNEO Alliance (PBS) - DT: 46 (current), 45 (post-transition - starting in November 2008)
49 - WEAO Akron (PBS) - DT: 50
55 - WBNX Akron (CW) - DT: 30
61 - WQHS Cleveland (UNI) - DT: 34
67 - WOAC Canton (IND) - DT: 47
68 - WMFD Mansfield (IND) - DT: 12 (analog 68 now off-air)

Generally speaking, you don't need to know that DT RF number. Digital tuners and converter boxes scan the band and do the translation automatically. The numbers ARE helpful if you have to manually scan per channel, for some reason (antenna reaiming, etc.).

Q: When the digital transition occurs will the stations be operating on the same frequencies, Channel 3, 5, 8, 19, etc etc.? Or will all be located in the UHF spectrum? I am interested in moving to off the air pick-up with HDTV sets or converter equipped analog sets in the house and getting off the cable, but living quite about 8 miles south west of the airport will probably require an outside antenna. A smaller UHF antenna would facilitate matters.

A: See above. (Our reader actually asked this question first.)

After analog signals shut off, you'll need some sort of VHF antenna for WJW (moving to its current analog channel 8 at the transition). Even now, you'll need one for WOIO (staying on DT 10). Those living near Mansfield will need one, even now, for WMFD-DT on RF 12.

But many UHF antennas are able to pick up signal on the high-VHF band, where all three stations will reside.

Both WJW and WOIO have filed to "maximize" their VHF digital allocations after the transition.

WOIO's application is lower in power than WJW's, and WOIO still has interference problems from CFPL (currently analog 10) in London, Ontario, Canada for those near Lake Erie. CFPL will presumably go digital at the Canadian transition date in 2011, and so far, it looks like they hope to stay on channel 10 digitally in London.

Your mileage may vary, and how this all works out in practice may be different than how it looks on digital paper.

Q: What kind of TV antenna - indoor or outdoor - should we buy to get the best reception?

A: There's a general rule when it comes to antennas. The best is "high, outside and away from obstructions". Anything else is generally a compromise.

If you can put an outdoor antenna on your roof, or high on your home, do so. If not, and you have an attic, you can put it there - but you'll lose signal going inside the house.

If you can mount an outdoor antenna on a balcony or deck of your condo or apartment, that'd be the next bet. If you can point one out of a window, that'd be the next best idea.

Indoor antennas are generally nowhere near as good an option as outdoor ones, unless you're living fairly close to the stations you want to pick up.

They should be used basically if you don't have any ability to use an outdoor antenna, or if you're close enough and can still pick up stations with no difficulty.

For example, if you live in the southern Cleveland suburbs or northern Akron suburbs, you might be fine with an indoor antenna...basically, the closer you are to the Parma "antenna farm" where all the full-power local TV stations have their towers...ditto for Youngstown folks south of downtown into places like Canfield, Boardman and Poland.

Keep in mind, though, that indoor antennas may appear to provide a stable signal, but what if you walk in front of your antenna in the living room? What if it's aiming out the window, doing fine with picking up your favorite stations, and a big truck rolls down your street in front of it? You get the idea.

Amplified antennas may or may not help, depending on the antenna, where you are, and if there's enough signal to amplify vs. the noise surrounding the signal.

Overall, an indoor antenna is basically always a second choice, unless you're bathing in very strong signal, where it wouldn't matter what kind of antenna you're using.

Even so, putting up an outdoor/roof antenna in high-signal areas may give you options you wouldn't have otherwise, like picking up nearby market stations. We know folks in Parma who can aim their antenna at the Youngstown area and get WKBN-DT with no problem...ditto for Youngstown market viewers who get stations from Cleveland and Pittsburgh thanks to a roof antenna...

Q: Will broadcast station increase their signals once they go to transmitting in digital only? Are most digital signals running at full power or are they slightly cut back?

A: Excellent question.

The short answer is, most area broadcasters are running "full power" under the current conditions on the TV band.

The extra answer is, after all the analog stations go away next February, conditions change, and many stations have filed to "maximize" their power levels to take advantage of those conditions.

We've talked about them here on occasion - WJW, WOIO, WYTV and others have filed those applications.

Though many of the "maximization" applications aren't huge power leaps, WYTV's is particularly notable, as it will go from 50KW to 1000KW! WJW will have an interim power level on digital channel 8 until they get approval for the upgrade to 30KW.

And yes, that's maximizing on the VHF band, where stations don't need the 1000KW power level to provide maximum service...just as VHF analog stations don't need the same power levels as UHF analog stations.

These changes won't be able to be implemented until after the analog dial shuts down, allowing those increases.

The current, pre-transition signal problems in the area...we've covered in the past.

* WKYC-DT is on low-VHF channel 2 digitally. That means even a decent power level can't overcome the electrical noise and other such problems that make it difficult to receive for thousands of viewers, particularly those without roof antennas or far from Parma. That goes away in February, when WKYC's digital signal is scheduled to land on DT RF channel 17 - the channel being vacated by analog WDLI/17 Canton.

* WVIZ-DT's problems are also well-documented on this blog. A long-running legal and technical dispute with CBS Radio's WNCX/98.5 - where the current WVIZ analog channel 25 trasmitter site is - was never fully resolved.

WVIZ has been running a puny temporary digital signal (1KW) from a tower behind its former studio facility on Brookpark Road in Parma. As we reported earlier, WVIZ-DT will light up its post-transition full-power facility on a new tower being built with WKYC at WKYC's current site.

This is a good a time as any to note some new information: that WVIZ has received FCC approval for a more powerful (10KW) temporary digital facility on an existing tower at that same WKYC site.

It would appear that the move is necessitated by the sale of the former WVIZ studios! This temporary facility will be replaced by the permanent post-transition installation described above.

Since it doesn't have to wait for a station to vacate an analog channel, like future tower mate WKYC, WVIZ should be able to light up from the new permanent tower at WKYC whenever that's done...the station says in the STA application that it hopes to do so by November.

We welcome any questions, comments or corrections. Your Primary Editorial Voice(tm) has a lot of information stored up in this noggin about the digital TV transition, but we're not infallible...any clarifications are welcome!


andrew727 said...

I'm really looking forward to the changeover to all digital - I have a 1080p tuner in my computer, a digital widescreen in the kitchen, two digital converter boxes, one for my trusty 1976 Sony Color Trinitron and for my handheld. Especially looking forward to the increased power of WVIZ TV 25 to watch science and nature programs on my front projection tv unit. Love Digital when it works right. Hint for those planning to buy a new digital widescreen - think Sony and Samsung!-)

- Andrew, MALL727net -

antennaguy said...

For those viewers who have not yet purchased a converter box, Consumer Reports has upgraded their ratings on some of the available converter boxes at: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/electronics-computers/televisions/digital-tv-converter/ratings/dtv-converter-boxes-ratings.htm

Here is a quick summary of a lot of models: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/electronics-computers/televisions/digital-tv-converter/overview/dtv-converter-box-guide.htm

Here’s a full list of eligible boxes: https://www.ntiadtv.gov/cecb_list.cfm

While cable and satellite program providers will continue to serve the great majority of homes as the primary signal source, missing HD local reception, compression issues, higher costs, billing add-ons, service outages, contact difficulties, in-home service waits and no shows have left many of these subscribers looking to OTA antennas as a good alternative.

But Off-Air FREE TV reception starts with the right antenna.

Viewers should certainly try their old antenna first. It’s true that any of these older antennas will pick up some signals, maybe all the broadcast signals a viewer wants to receive, depending on their location. If they’re getting all the OTA channels they want and some of their local stations aren’t changing from VHF to UHF or UHF to VHF, than they’re good to go.

In order to know if you’ll have the right antenna or combination of antennas, viewers can look up “DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and Second Rounds” at
http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_publi...-06-1082A2.pdf and “Third Round DTV Tentative Channel Designations” at http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_publi...-06-1675A2.pdf to find out from what channels local stations will be broadcasting after the transition.

Or go to antennapoint.com for a quick look at a specific city and those within range.

While Antennas can’t tell the difference between analog and digital signals, they certainly can between a UHF and VHF antenna and there are definitely certain models which have higher DTV batting averages than others. Not all antennas are equally suited for DTV. A percentage of viewers will require something a little more tailored for DTV reception.

With one of the newer and smaller OTA antennas, with greatly improved performance, power and aesthetics, viewers may also be able to receive out-of-town channels, carrying blacked out sports programs not available locally, several additional sub-channels or network broadcasts.
And for those with an HDTV, almost completely uncompressed HD broadcasts (unlike cable or satellite).

And if viewers decide to buy a newer antenna, they should buy it from a source that will completely refund their purchase price, no questions asked, if it doesn’t do the job.