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Why Should I Care: Digital TV Transition


Like shooting finance in a barrel.

If you own a TV, know someone who owns a TV, or are at all familiar with this whole TV thing, you've probably heard about the upcoming nationwide transition from the traditional analog feed to digital broadcast.

For the typical TV viewer, it seems about as relevant as who will win the ongoing season of Rock of Love Bus (though our money is on Brittanya). But now that 6 other countries have already shut down their analog terrestrial broadcasts (even Jamaica is making the DTV switch - Jamaica, for God's sake), this transition should affect you and your 42-inch plasma in ways you never dreamed.

First off, don't assume that every American is already watching their Lou Dobbs in HD (not a pleasant experience, by the way). Even though Best Buy (BBY) stopped selling analog TVs more than a year ago, roughly 35 million Americans still own analog sets not connected to cable or satellite television.

Because these people aren't actually living in caves -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- the government has initiated a large-scale coupon program to help them buy digital-converter boxes. That program is now so overwhelmed by demand that legislation to delay the transition from February 17 to June 12 is currently circulating through both houses of Congress .

With these converters, viewers will receive sharper picture and sound quality, which we all ultimately want. It's also a more efficient spectrum for broadcasters, who can typically provide 4 to 5 standard definition channels out of the same block required by one analog channel.

But there's more to the digital-TV transition than just picture and sound.

You probably didn't notice, but while you were sending regrettable late-night text messages, the cluttered analog spectrum was becoming a liability. In fact, the 9/11 Commission's final report noted that, on September 11, 2001, the NYPD and FDNY suffered from poor communication due to weak signal strength.

That frequency set aside for first responders and emergency services? It might someday mean that DTV could save your life.

It wasn't mentioned in the most recent season of Flavor of Love, but the transition is also paving the way for new -- and potentially profitable -- technologies. At the most recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the Open Mobile Video Coalition announced the DTV transition would see 63 stations in 22 markets providing mobile-television content for wireless devices.

But broadcasters aren't the only ones looking to find some much-needed revenue in the transition.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission auctioned off rights to the vacated radio spectrum licenses. In the most lucrative government auction in history, $19.6 billion was infused into the Treasury (a place that could definitely use a few extra billion).

Money aside, emerging technologies -- from interactive video (exciting) to improved closed-captioning services (probably less exciting) could see the DTV transition change your life more than you realized.

Alright, we're done here. You can go back to watching Gossip Girl.
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