Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Digital Tyranny

Is a Segment of the Population Being Forced out of Broadcast Television?

Who voted for HDTV digital broadcasting?

Oh that's right. No one did. It was an arbitrary decision, made presumably for the public good. A digital signal is clearer, brighter and sharper. You'll get no argument from me there.
But the thing is, digital is binary 1-0, yes-no technology, like a computer. There is no middle ground. Either you have a signal or you don't, not like analog television, which sometimes was snowy or visited by ghosts, but always tried to reach a signal, however faint.
I learned this arbitrary lesson over the weekend when I wrangled with installing an analog-to-digital converter box to my 1999 vintage Sony television.
I had been without TV since mid-June, when analog broadcasting was banished from USA airwaves. I can't say I missed it, but every once in a while there is something on broadcast television worthy of a watch.
I was told installing the box was quite simple. True, it wasn't so bad, but then comes the hard part: getting a signal.
I used to have a big outside antenna on the roof of our house, which is a dizzying 27-foot above sea level. I could get virtually every television in South Florida, plus even Ft. Myers on a good day.
Hurricane Wilma took out the antennae, so I bought an inside antenna, a kind of improved rabbit ears, with dial and swivels. I could still get 8-10 stations in the Miami-WPB markets.
After much finagling with said rabbit ears, I finally got a signal: WPBT, Channel 12 in West Palm Beach, the CBS affiliate.
I went to my friendly local Radio Shack and asked what I should do to get more stations.
"You need an enhanced antenna," I was told. The cheaper one was $35, the better one $50.
Hmm. One of the reasons I don't have cable or satellite TV is that I just don't think it's cost-effective. I went home and messed further with the antenna. Bingo! Up popped WPTV Channel 5, the NBC affiliate in West Palm Beach.
WPLG Channel 10, the ABC affiliate in Miami, used to be one of my best signals, but for whatever reason it eludes me: digital technology.
I still shoot photos with 35 mm film. I like the warm, forgiving flesh tones of film, but as the world goes digital, film becomes increasingly expensive, and ultimately I'll be priced out. At least for now I still have a choice (and yes, I do have a digital camera).
But think of the poor folks in East Nowhere, South Dakota or Dying Moose, Montana or
wherever else cable TV never reached.
People can spring for satellite television or pray to the computer gods somehow they can get their converter box to find a signal.
Good luck.

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