We’ve all seen the endless crawls and FCC-mandated alerts: Digital TV conversion is on the way.
Yet questions still abound, beginning with the most obvious:
Q.Should I care?
A.Yes, absolutely, if you are among the 15 percent of viewers in the Spokane market who get their TV over the air via antenna. You’ll probably need a digital converter box to get local stations over the air.
But if you are among the 85 percent of people here who get their TV through cable or satellite – or if you own a newer digital TV – you don’t need to do anything. You won’t notice any change.
Q.When will digital conversion take place in Spokane?
A.Tuesday, for most Spokane stations. Congress extended the deadline to June 12, but most Spokane stations are sticking with the original Tuesday date. KHQ, KXLY and KSPS will shut off their analog signals late Tuesday night. KAYU will actually make the switch a day earlier – at the end of the day Monday – because they gave their notice to the FCC earlier.
Local stations have been conducting tests for months – sometimes cutting the analog signal briefly – and they have determined that the majority of the market is ready for conversion. We’ll find out this week if that’s true, but plenty of stations around the country are doing the same thing. About half the country’s stations plan to make the switch Tuesday.
Q.Will all Spokane stations switch this week?
A.No. KREM, KSKN and KGPX will continue to broadcast in analog until June 12. Belo, the company that owns KREM and sister station KSKN, told local managers they could not make the switch unless every other station in the Spokane market did the same. So when KGPX, a small station carrying the Ion Television network, decided to wait until June 12, KREM and KSKN had to wait until June to go digital as well.
Q.Is “going digital” the correct phrase?
A.Not really. Most of the Spokane stations (including KREM and KSKN) have been broadcasting in digital for months or years. “Dropping analog” would be a more accurate phrase. The conversion is nothing more than the date when the stations finally shut off their analog signals.
The one exception: KGPX does not yet broadcast in digital. It will “flash cut” on June 12 from its analog signal to a new digital signal.
Q.What do I need to receive digital signals?
A.If you have an analog TV, you will need a converter box, available at most electronics stores and general retailers. You will also need your antenna, just as you always did to get over-the-air analog signals.
Q.How do I know if I have an analog TV?
A.Most TVs sold before 2004 are analog; most sold in 2004 and later are digital with built-in digital tuners. A few big-screen projection TVs built before 2004 also have digital tuners.
If you have a TV with a built-in digital tuner, you don’t need a converter box.
Q.What do I do once I get the converter box?
A.Hook it up to your antenna and your TV, according to the box’s instructions. Then you should use the “scan” feature to find all of the stations broadcasting in your area.
Q.What digital stations should I get in Spokane?
A.You’ll actually get more stations than before, because stations now have the ability to broadcast two or three secondary streams along with the main channel, as you’ll see below.
Here’s a list of what your converter box should pick up:
2.1, KREM, CBS.
4.1, KXLY, ABC.
4.2, KXMN (My Network, a KXLY secondary).
4.3, KXLY, reformatted for standard 4:3 TV screens.
6.1, KHQ, NBC.
6.2, SWX (a KHQ all-sports-and-weather station).
6.3, Universal Sports (an NBC-affiliated all-sports channel).
7.1, KSPS, PBS.
7.2, PBS World (news and public affairs).
7.3, Create TV (another PBS stream, with how-to programs).
22.1, KSKN, The CW.
28.1, KAYU, Fox.
28.2, KAYU-DT2, (“THIS Spokane TV,” a KAYU secondary).
34.1 KGPX, Ion (but not until June 12).
Viewers in some locations might get some other stations as well, including: KQUP out of Pullman on 24.1, KWSU out of Pullman on 10.1, KHBA out of Spokane on 39.1 and 39.2, KCDT out of Idaho on 26.1, and KUID out of Idaho at 35.1.
Q.What if I don’t get all of the stations I want?
A.Adjust your antenna and scan again. Most Spokane stations broadcast from Tower Mountain, southeast of the city. Many converter boxes have a signal-strength feature that will help you in adjusting your antenna. (You can also find customized information about antennas and signal direction online at www.antennaweb.org and www.tvfool.com.)
The main exceptions: the KXLY channels, which broadcast from Mount Spokane, northeast of Spokane.
Q.What if I get only a couple of stations?
A.Make sure your antenna receives both VHF and UHF signals. Most modern antennas have both. The VHF part of the antenna usually consists of the “rabbit ears,” and the UHF is usually a circular hoop. But there are still some VHF-only antennas out there.
You need both because all of the stations have been assigned new transmission channels for their digital signals. Here are the transmission channels for the Spokane stations:
KSPS, VHF digital 8.
KXLY, VHF digital 13.
KHQ, UHF digital 15.
KREM, UHF digital 20.
KAYU, UHF digital 30 (will change to UHF digital 28 in the summer).
KGPX, UHF digital 34.
KSKN, UHF digital 36.
You may have noticed that these numbers bear no relation to the station’s familiar “channel” numbers. Your converter box and tuner will automatically convert the above numbers to the familiar channel numbers on your TV (2 for KREM, 4 for KXLY, etc.).
The only reason you need to know the above transmission numbers is if you are having trouble receiving a station. When scanning for a station, it helps to know where to look for it.
Q.What if I try everything and still don’t get all of the stations?
A.Unfortunately, that might happen, for the same reasons some people get lousy analog reception. The culprits: mountainous terrain, tall buildings and distance from the tower. In fact, it may happen even more often because the new digital signals tend to be more line-of-sight than the old signals and may have slightly less reach.
Q.Is digital TV the same thing as HDTV?
A.Not necessarily. If you have a standard TV and a converter box, you’ll still see a standard-definition picture (although the quality should still be better than your old analog picture). If you have an HDTV with a digital tuner, you’ll see a high-definition picture, assuming the program you are watching is broadcast in HD. Not all programs are.
Q.Do I have to pay anything extra to get HD?
A.No. The over-the-air digital signal is free. All you have to do is have an HDTV.
Q.What if I presently receive a station over a translator?
A.For now, the translators in this region will continue analog broadcasts. Eventually they will switch to digital signals and you’ll then need a converter box to watch TV from those translators.
If you get some stations via translators and others without translators, you should get a converter box that has “analog pass-through,” which allows you to switch back and forth from analog signals to digital signals without disconnecting the converter box.
It might take years to convert all of the area’s far-flung translators to digital. There are a lot of translators out there: For instance, KHQ is seen on 52 translators and KSPS is seen on at least 30.
Q.Comcast is telling people they need an extra cable box. Why is that, since you’ve said cable subscribers don’t need to worry?
A.For now all cable subscribers are good to go when the over-the-air signals are switched. But Comcast is also telling some of its TV subscribers they will need a new box later this year, because Comcast is going through a separate conversion that has nothing to do with the one occurring this week.
Comcast will provide those boxes, to roughly 10,000 homes in Spokane County, at no cost. The time for that switch is not certain but won’t start in this market until May or June at the earliest.
Q.What if I’ve done everything and still can’t get decent digital TV reception?
A.Call the local DTV hot line (see accompanying box) for assistance. If all else fails, you might have to sign up for satellite or cable. A “limited cable” package can be had for under $20 a month.