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We’ve known for some time, now, that U.S. television viewers would be faced with a challenge early this year, when broadcasters there must abandon their traditional analog channels and switch to a new digital system.

Not quite as easy as this, but relatively painless
for a majority of U.S. TV viewers

The official date by which broadcasters must make the switch is February 17, 2009, and the change will mean better TV for most viewers.

As CNet’s Marguerite Reardon reports, “For over-the-air TV viewers, the switch to digital also has many benefits, including sharper pictures, better sound quality, and more content. Using analog signals, broadcasters can only transmit one channel of content at a time. But with digital signals, broadcasters can transmit multiple channels at once. In fact, many broadcasters have already launched three or four separate digital channels, each carrying programming of interest to diverse communities. And, because there is more bandwidth available, broadcasters are also transmitting some of these channels in high-definition.”

However, recent surveys indicate that many TV viewers are unaware that they must make changes in their TV equipment or service subscriptions to keep seeing the channels they’re used to seeing.

“Unfortunately, not everyone in every corner of the U.S. will experience all the great benefits of digital TV. Because analog signals transmit over longer distances than digital signals, some over-the-air viewers living in rural areas may find that they do not get all the same channels they were able to when they received analog TV.”

In addition, some cable viewers who don’t yet have a digital converter box may need to get one to continue watching TV via their cable connections after February 17, 2009. The good news there is, the U.S. federal government, which mandated the change to digital TV broadcasting to free-up more broadcast spectrum for military use, is offering U.S. residents a (US)$40 subsidy to offset the cost of a new digital converter box.

Cable companies are making major efforts to educate and inform their customers about the subsidy and other changes, However, it’s expected to take several months before all the viewer issues arising from the U.S. digital TV switch are ironed out.

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