Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

I hear TV and Radio are converting to all digital. How will that affect me?


I hear with in two years TV, Radio Communications and maybe Computers will
go from Analog to Digital. How will this change effect all the TV’s, Radio
Communication Devices and computers in use today???

Well, to begin with, I think you’ve overstated things a little. The only
devices under imminent “digitalization” are televisions.

But even then, things aren’t quite as bad as you think.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

First, your computer is already a digital device. Not sure what parts of it
you were thinking might be analog, (technically VGA-style video output and
speaker/headphone output are analog) but there’s nothing there that I know of
that is going to be affected by any impending change unless perhaps you have a
TV tuner card.

Radio, to the best of my knowledge, isn’t changing any time soon. Consumer
radio, most commonly the AM and FM bands on your radio, are probably going to
be around for a long time. There are other bands used for other purposes that
are already digital, but they were pretty much digital from the start, and are
typically special purpose.

Of course any radio you listen to over the internet is digital. It may have
been converted from an analog source, but in order to travel over the internet
it’s digital.

Television, however, is undergoing a change.

Here’s a quote from the FCC

At midnight on February 17, 2009, federal law requires that all full-power
television broadcast stations stop broadcasting in analog format and broadcast
only in digital format.

OK, so what does that mean?

There are some things that are very easy to miss in that statement:

  1. This is happening in The United States. Other countries may
    or may not be imposing similar changes on a similar, or different, time

  2. This all about over-the-air programming. In other words, it only
    affects what you pick up with a plain TV antenna.

  3. This mandates digital TV, but does not mandate high-definition.

“If you get your television via Satellite or Cable …
it’s more than likely you’ll need do nothing.”

OK, so knowing all that, what do you need to do?

  • If you live in a country outside the United States, check
    with your local broadcast regulation agency. It’s quite possible you need to do
    something different, or nothing at all.

  • If you get your television via Satellite or Cable check
    with your provider, but it’s more than likely you’ll need do nothing. In many
    cases your signal is already being sent digitally, and being converted to
    analog for your TV by your cable or satellite box.

  • If you get your television using an antenna (over-the-air),
    then you’ll need to either upgrade your TV to a digital-ready device, or
    purchase a converter box before the deadline.

Digital-ready TVs are available now. In fact, to quote the FCC again, “The
FCC requires all televisions manufactured or imported into the United States
after March 1, 2007, to incorporate digital tuners.” TVs imported or created
before that date which are analog-only are now supposed to have a warning on
them when sold in the U.S. that indicates that they may not work after the
deadline without a converter.

What about HDTV?

Nothing in the change discusses or requires that High Definition TV be
provided. That being said, HDTV is a digital format and requires a
digital-ready TV.

The good news is that many stations are broadcasting HD already in addition
to digital SD (standard definition) along with their analog signal. Even better
that number is only going to increase.

If you do get an HDTV with a digital tuner (built in or external) it’ll be
ready for both HD and SD broadcasts.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

9 comments on “I hear TV and Radio are converting to all digital. How will that affect me?”

  1. In the U.K the last Transmitter to switch to Digital only will be in 2011….

    Us brits take a bit ore time with everything….

  2. That seems to be the case (2011) in Canada also, thank goodness because I have an ancient non-digital TV and really DISLIKE being forced to upgrade…bad enough to have to do it with computers and software all the time.

    And I wonder how the switch will affect folks like us, far enough from the transmitter (yes, I still use an antenna to get 5 or 6 channels depending on weather etc.) that the signal is never the best anyway. So will digital make it better, or will we not be able to see it at all and be forced to get satellite?

    And what’s with that anyway – why do governments feel compelled to force broadcasters (and hence citizens) to upgrade to digital TV even though we’ve never had a voice in the process?


  3. I think it is terrible that they make the people of the U.S. do this. This is just for money so that you have to buy the box or a new TV. What is wrong with what he have. Many people do not have jobs and if they have several old TV’s that have to get a boxs for each and if you cannont attach the box to make yours work YOU ARE OUT OF LUCK. They should be able to both systems and let the 3 million people keep their old TV’s WHO DO NOT HAVE CABLE. All this is a money making business. The public have nothing to say as poeple above us in office have the first say so. If they need that channel, create a new system just for that and let us alone with what we have..

  4. Okay, I am so very informed of this digital transition that I feel like a little info overload. I have had satelite for years since we live in no-where-ville. However, I have an Emerson weather band radio with TV sound. I use it when the satelite goes out in foul wx (Oklahoma). What I am not finding an answer to is will I be able to hear TV on my radio when the broadcast goes digital? If not, then where does that leave those of us who rely on non-tv based news updates?

    Hash: SHA1

    I believe that old radios that recieve TV audio-only will no
    longer work.

    I’m hopeful that new digital versions of those radios will
    be made available.

    In the mean time, the only alternative I can see is to just
    listen to actual radio stations and not TV.


    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


  6. My converter box and new upgraded antenna are installed, but some channels only come in if I have my hands on the antenna. What’s up with that?

    Sounds like you’re not getting a strong enough signal on the antenna. Too many variables for me to say what to do, but that’s the thing to focus on.

    – Leo
  7. Dumb question I’m sure but I currently pay for premium HD channels through my local Cable provider. With this change over, will everyone who has an HD set get these for free?

    No. The change only affects people getting things via antenna, and does not change what they get, only how they get it.

    – Leo
  8. I am only 31, but I too find it frustrating. I have a portable TV and a radio, with a tv band on it. I use the portable tv when the power goes out at home. Now I will have to spend $200 for a new digital portable tv. I too started a new less paying job, I don’t know when I will be able to get one. In addition, they also say we may need a new antenna. They cost about $20. Are they going to give us a coupon for that. nope. And as far as the radio goes, I realize a lot of people have ipods or can use radio via computer, if your job lets you. But I spent $70 on my radio/tv band, and it still works great, but now I can only listen to radio. I don’t like Ipods and I hate having things in my ears. Just because the government says its for our own good, doesn’t mean it is. I hope they don’t conjure up anything else we’ll have to pay for until, the economy is completely better. Technology, whoopee!

  9. For people like me who listened to TV on their special radios with TV band tuners, there is a way to listen to digital TV without getting a TV. You have to be able to receive the Digital TV signal in your area. Just get one of those government subsidised converter boxes. And it actually functions as an audio tuner/radio. All you do is add headphones. So, get one of those digital converter boxes paid for with the government issued coupon. Make sure it is a model with with the two audio OUT plugs on the back. (Most have this I believe) Then hook up an antenna. Then you hook up your headphones to the back of the digital converter box using two adapters from Radio Shack. (The radio shack people will get you them. Then you connect up a tv (one time only) navigate to the auto scan and scan in all your stations. Then get rid of the tv and just use the converter box remote control to tune in stations and adjust the volume. The sound is great. And all you need is a converter box, the headphones, antenna and those audio cable adapter. HEre’s a website I created today to see a picture of the setup, the adapter and the instructions. I hope it helps people since FCC and no one else is providing any good answers on this problem since the transition.
    -Rick Allen


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.