On February 17, 2009, broadcasts of analog television signals in the U.S. will stop. That date is easy for me to remember; itâ''s my birthday. And Iâ''m paying attention to the upcoming event for another reason: Iâ''m one of the minority of U.S. TV viewers who is completely dependent on over-the-air broadcast. I donâ''t have cable, I donâ''t have satellite. I do have an antenna on my roof, a very old antenna that was already installed when I moved into this house. It works really well, I get all the network and a few indy VHF stations, and a selection of UHF stations in various languages.
As a result, Iâ''ve been thinking about the upcoming â''end of analogâ'' day. Iâ''ve also been thinking about winners and losers lately, as the Spectrum staff prepares its annual Winners and Losers issue. So I came up with my own list of who wins and who loses when analog TV goes dark.
Who wins: The consumer electronics manufacturers. My family will have to finally buy a new TV set to replace our 19-year-old 26-inch Mitsubishi CRT (yeah, Mitsubishi used to make direct view TVs), which is working just fine. I know, I could get a converter, but I have enough wires and boxes in a pile already, and somehow, buying a converter for what will then be a 20 year old TV seems silly. We canâ''t be the only ones that are waiting to buy a new TV until we absolutely have to. Kaching go the cash registers.
Who else wins: My husband. No struggling to figure out what to buy me for my birthday in 2009, see above.
Who loses: Me. I can think of a lot of things Iâ''d rather get for my birthday than a new TV.
Who else loses: My mom. Her TV was maybe 30 years old when it finally died last year and the local electronics store sold her an analog TV that she thought would last the rest of her life. They neglected to mention the upcoming 2009 event. I guess the good news is that sheâ''ll get a visit from me (cross-country) to hook up her converter.
Who wins: Recycling centers. Besides the Mitsubishi, Iâ''ve got two smaller CRT TVs that Iâ''ll have to cart over to the local recycling center. Fortunately, in California, where I live, the recycling fee comes out of funds collected when new TVs are purchased, so though I will be paying for disposal indirectly, it wonâ''t have to pull out the wallet when I bring in the TVs.
Who loses: The environment. Not everyone is going to cart their old TVs to a recycling center. Some will be dumpedâ''uh, disposed of improperly.
Who else loses: The folks (and there are lots of them) that collect, repair, and use vintage TV setsâ''see the video that opens this postâ''are going to have to find a new hobby. Well, theyâ''ll be able to collect the sets, they just wonâ''t have anything to watch off the air. (Purists believe that classic TV shows only should be viewed on classic TVs, which used different materials for phosphors than todayâ''s TVs so displayed different shades of color.)
Who else loses: Other antenna-users who have come to love distant stations, and donâ''t mind a little snow on the screen; thatâ''s not enough signal in a digital world, those channels will be completely out of reach.
Who wins: Pirate TV stations, because viewers who try to turn on their analog TV post-2-17-09 will find these the only game in town. Though the pirates' heyday may be brief, because the spectrum vacated by broadcasters will quickly be returned to the FCC, resold, and repurposed, it could be a lot of fun.
For more tales from the digital television transition, as well as links to in depth coverage about digital television technology, see IEEE Spectrum's Special Report: THE DAY ANALOG TV DIES.