From Analog to Digital

It’s less than a year until the date when all the TV stations are required by federal law to switch off their old analog signals and start broadcasting in digital only. Of course, the push is on for everyone to get an HDTV, but the reality is that while it would be awesome to get one to take advantage of the full signals given off by these digital channels, you only need to get a DVD recorder – they have digital tuners, which can pick up HDTV signals, but not broadcast them in full HD.

However, if you do want to buy yourself a new HDTV set with, say, the $600 you’re getting from the government, or from your tax refund from this year, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First – when shopping around, make sure that your set has two coaxial inputs – one for cable and one for antenna. That way, you can pick up the cable channels you’re already getting on your analog TVs (and which you will still receive after the air stations go dark). Also, you might be able to pick up extra channels from your cable company’s digital packages, and sometimes even get the on demand programming, depending on how your cable system’s set up. Of course, the other coaxial input is for your antenna that you have (admit it!) on your roof, even though you haven’t used it for nearly 15 years ever since cable was installed…not that I’m guilty of that.

Not at all. 😉

The cool thing about the antenna input is the fact that you will get extra channels than you would get if you got your HDTV via cable or satellite.  Let’s take an example of the stations in this area.

First up is channel 4 – 4.1 is the main TV signal, in mixed format between widescreen HD and 4:3 Standard TV, 4.2 is a digital-only weather channel, NBC’s Weather Plus (people in the city will jump up and exclaim that it’s on cable, but it ain’t here!)

Next is channel 6 – they only have 6.1, the Fox signal, comprised of HD programming, 4:3 programs, and some widescreen programs

Channel 10 is where digital comes alive, literally. This is the great thing of having two PBS stations in the market run by the same broadcaster. Channel 10’s digital signal has 7 separate subchannels – none of which are on cable – 10.1 – MPTV World, featuring rebroadcasts of PBS and local programming, 10.2 – V me, PBS’ Spanish language channel, 10.3 – MPTV Kids, featuring all children’s programming, 10.4 – Create, a channel which airs overnights on 36, but this is the 24-hour feed of cooking, craft and other awesome PBS shows, 10.5-7 – MPTV Extra; weather and traffic video, with different audio tracks – classical music, weather radio, and world radio network, which rebroadcasts national broadcasters from around the world.

Channel 12 has just one digital channel, featuring ABC’s HD feed, with the lovely added bonus of a constant 12 logo on the screen, because we wouldn’t know we were watching channel 12 without that logo on there in addition to the ABC logo…

Channel 18 also only has one signal, featuring the CW’s HD programming.

Channel 24 used to have a second digital subchannel featuring The Tube music network, but from what I have heard, they suspended that channel.

Channel 30 has a digital channel, but nothing in HD. I think the less said about their programming the better…

Channel 36’s digital feed (the other PBS station in town) is dedicated completely to delivering HD programs. It’s a 24-hour HD channel, commercial free.

The next channel worth mentioning (aside from some random religious channels and a shopping channel) is 55 – the Pax network (now called ion, which stands for infomercials on now). They have 4 digital channels, none in HD – 55.1 – ion Main feed, 55.2 Qubo children’s programming, 55.3 Ion Life and 55.4 Worship.

Channel 58 is an interesting channel – during this time of year, they actually drop the HD feed because of the running of the NCAA tournament – which takes up 58.1-58.4 (and the same channels on cable 581-584). During the rest of the year, 58.1 is the main CBS feed, 58.2 is the rebroadcast of channel 41, an independent. It has been rumored that they will be adding a classic TV network to their lineup in the next couple of months, but nothing firm has been mentioned.

Oh, by the way, those are just the Milwaukee channels. Who says that we can’t get the Madison channels as well? If the weather’s right, Chicago isn’t out of the question. Nevertheless, all the choices offered by FREE HDTV are probably better than what you get on the digital packages on cable (though satellite is a different question).

Now, if only we could get something like the UK has with their Freeview program, encompassing a ton of free TV, along with a ton of digital radio. Ah well, I guess beggars can’t be choosers. We get our TV truly for free, the UK has the licence to deal with…