June 18, 2009

Reception Problems Reported With DTV Transition

Although last Friday's transition from analog to digital television went fairly smooth, some viewers are nevertheless having problems receiving the stations they want.

Even some tech-savvy viewers, such as Wally Grotophorst of Hamilton, VA, are having issues with the transition, according to the Associated Press. After getting a digital antenna for his digital TV last year, he lost the Washington-based ABC and CBS stations last Friday, despite being able to receive both stations digitally before the transition.

The reason is that those stations, like many others, switched their digital signals from the UHF to the VHF frequency band last Friday as they shut off their analog signals.

But Grotophorst's antenna, like many others digital antennas sold in recent years, receives only UHF stations. Indeed, until Friday nearly all stations used UHF for digital broadcasts.

"This moving down to the VHF spectrum was news. The stations didn't advertise the fact," Grotophorst told the Associated Press, adding that he now regrets recycling his old rooftop VHF antenna.

"The station did warn viewers about this change but not everyone got the word," ABC7 news vice president Bill Lord told the AP.

"The station has made the switch and there is no going back."

Some antennas can receive both UHF and VHF bands.   The indoor versions have long extendable poles, or "rabbit ears", for VHF reception and a loop for UHF.

Philadelphia-based technology consultant Brett Whitten lost the ABC-affiliated Channel 6 for the same reason as Grotophorst did, and wasn't able to improvise a VHF antenna out of wire despite instructions he found online.

On its Monday evening newscast, that station said it was in discussions with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about increasing its output power, which could help those with VHF antennas get better reception.

The FCC said it is also looking into reports of signal loss by some viewers in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.

More than 20 percent of the 317,450 callers to the FCC help line on Friday reported problems receiving at least one station, the commission said.  It was the most frequently reported problem after requests for converter-box coupons and converter-box setup questions.

The converter boxes allowed analog sets to view digital signals after Friday's transition. 

Since digital signals are more efficient, the transition frees up the airwaves for cell phones, public services and other uses.

Viewers who find a station is missing after Friday's transition are advised to force the converter box or digital TV to "rescan" for channels that moved to new frequencies.

If that doesn't resolve the problem, the FCC advised viewers on Monday to "double rescan" by disconnecting the antenna, rescanning, turning off the TV or converter box, turning it back on, connecting the antenna and scanning again.  The FCC said the process will clear the memory of saved channel information that is now incorrect.

As of last Friday all full-power stations have now shut down their analog signals.  However, some low-power stations and rural relay "translators" are still using analog broadcasts.


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