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Digital TV and High-Definition TV

Starting later this year in the top ten markets, TV stations will begin transmitting using new Digital TV technology. Then stations in smaller markets will begin Digital transmissions.

Why should you care?

Eventually (by 2006 or so), The FCC will revoke all existing analog TV licenses. When this happens, your current TV and VCR will no longer work, unless you buy a converter box. Of course the TV/VCR industry would prefer that you buy a brand new TV and VCR (or several of them in fact).

The current TV system (called NTSC) requires 6 MHz of bandwidth to transmit the video and audio information. Since High Definition TV (HDTV) contains more information, a larger bandwidth would be required if conventional techniques were used. Instead, it was decided to completely change the transmission format, to compress the HDTV signal into the existing 6 MHz channels. This is completely opposite to the approach the FCC took in the 1950's, when color TV was introduced. Then, they required that the new format be compatible with existing B&W TV sets.

To ease the effects for consumers, there will be a changeover period, when stations will transmit using both the older analog format, and new new digital format. All TV stations are being assigned new Digital TV channels (there is a list at the end of the document). Eventually, (in around 2006 or so) stations will be forced to surrender their analog TV licenses.

Congress passed a law stating that TV stations will not have to pay for the radio spectrum the new Digital TV stations will require (unlike all other current commercial radio users, such as cellular phone carriers, paging services, etc), in order to help spur HDTV deployment and acceptance.

But a funny thing happened...

The new Digital TV system also has a second mode. Instead of transmitting one HDTV signal, four or five TV signals, of quality comparable to existing TV, may be sent. Several large TV station groups have publically announced that they will not implement HDTV, but instead will transmit several lower resolution signals instead. Obviously this is because four of five TV channels will bring in more money than just one HDTV signal.

By the way, by being exempt from paying for their portion of the spectrum, the TV stations are getting out of paying an estimated $70 Billion in fees, according to US Senator McCain-AZ.

These are the existing and new channel assignments for the Baltimore/Washington DC area.

The percent coverage column indicates how much of the existing coverage area will be covered by the new channels. Be careful when considering this number, it is not realistic. It only speaks of a stations "official" coverage area, and does not include viewers in so called "fringe reception" areas, who no doubt will lose reception of the signal.

Also, bear in mind, when you watch a weak analog TV station, you get a picture with some noise or static in it. With Digital TV, if the signal drops below a certain level, you will completely lose the picture and audio!

New Digital TV Assignments for the Baltimore / Washington DC Area

MARYLAND

State   City           Current  New     Percent coverage
MD      ANNAPOLIS       22      42      96.3
MD      BALTIMORE       2       52      98.0
MD      BALTIMORE       11      59      98.5
MD      BALTIMORE       13      38      99.6
MD      BALTIMORE       24      41      99.8
MD      BALTIMORE       45      46      99.7
MD      BALTIMORE       54      40      99.9
MD      BALTIMORE       67      29      98.4
MD      FREDERICK       62      28      99.4
MD      HAGERSTOWN      25      55      99.2
MD      HAGERSTOWN      31      44      99.5
MD      HAGERSTOWN      68      16      99.9
MD      OAKLAND     	36      54      100.0
MD      SALISBURY       16      21      100.0
MD      SALISBURY       28      56      99.5
MD      SALISBURY       47      53      100.0

WASHINGTON DC

State   City           Current  New     Percent coverage
DC      WASHINGTON      4       48      98.9
DC      WASHINGTON      5       6       82.9
DC      WASHINGTON      7       39      99.0
DC      WASHINGTON      9       34      100.0
DC      WASHINGTON      20      35      97.0
DC      WASHINGTON      26      27      96.9
DC      WASHINGTON      32      33      97.7
DC      WASHINGTON      50      51      99.8

VIRGINIA

       
State   City           Current  New     Percent coverage
VA      ARLINGTON       14      15      97.7
VA      FAIRFAX     	56      57      98.9
VA      MANASSAS        66      36      99.0

PENNSYLVANIA

       
State   City           Current  New     Percent coverage
PA      HARRISBURG      21      4       96.3
PA      HARRISBURG      27      57      95.1
PA      HARRISBURG      33      36      99.0
PA      LANCASTER       8       58      98.8
PA      LANCASTER       15      23      95.4
PA      PHILADELPHIA    3       26      99.9
PA      PHILADELPHIA    6       64      98.1
PA      PHILADELPHIA    10      67      98.2
PA      PHILADELPHIA    17      54      93.8
PA      PHILADELPHIA    29      42      95.8
PA      PHILADELPHIA    35      34      98.2
PA      PHILADELPHIA    57      32      99.6
PA      RED LION        49      30      99.9
PA      YORK        	43      47      97.0

A complete listing of HDTV assignments can be found on the Broadcasting & Cable web site.

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csmolinski@erols.com Chris Smolinski
Updated 24 August 1997