Thanks to DTV, my television has ‘fallen off a cliff’
Column: Don’t assume the digital TV transition will improve reception.
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I bought a longer coaxial cable so that I could move the antenna. I put it on top of a bookcase. I piled up a few boxes in one corner and put it there. Et cetera. Et cetera. Nothing improved the signal.Skip to next paragraph
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Then I bought a signal booster. No change. I bought a new digital antenna. The picture actually grew worse, so I took it back. The signal was super finicky. If I walked in a certain part of the room, the signal disappeared all together.
How could my neighbor get so much reception, and I get so little? I decided to do a little research.
The first thing you need to know about a digital TV signal is that you either get it, or you don’t. Unlike analog TV, which still produces a fuzzy picture if reception is poor, digital gives you all or nothing. The moment the signal drops below a certain level, the set goes black. The TV industry has an interesting way to describe this: “falling off a cliff.” No kidding.
Discovery two: A digital signal is affected by practically everything – where your TV set is located in your house, the walls in your house, the number of trees in your yard, how close it is to other electronic devices, birds migrating south in the fall. No kidding. A Washington Post story described how a woman who lived on the 20th floor of an apartment building would lose her signal for a few moments every time a plane landed or took off from Reagan National airport.
My third finding: Indoor antennas are almost useless when it comes to digital signals. Oh, if you live in the right place, have no criminal record, and go to church every Sunday, you might get the entire broadcast spectrum. But chances are you’ll end up like me.
You can buy an outdoor antenna and hope for the best. Of course, if you live in an apartment building or condo, putting up an outdoor antenna is a bit more difficult. The FCC has ruled that no one can prevent you from putting up an antenna (despite what the apartment or association rules might say). But getting a clear picture might not be worth dealing with nagging neighbors or a treacherous climb onto the roof.
Either way, take this as a warning: Don’t wait until February to update your TV. At least I can still get analog TV for a few more months while I sort this out.
What bothers me the most about this entire exercise? I feel led astray. The information that has been coming out from broadcasters and the FCC about the switch from analog to digital has been nothing but glowing. They haven’t told us (or at least haven’t spoken loudly enough) about the problems we might have getting digital signals. They haven’t told people about the extra expense that might be involved. And they haven’t told people that come Feb. 17, their television-viewing experience might be worse, not better.
The FCC has done several test rollouts in small cities such as Wilmington, N.C., and says it’s already refining its DTV strategy to make the transition as easy as possible. But for some of us, I think we’re going to be stranded here for a while.