Behind the Switch: The Ups and Downs of Digital TV

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online_video_small.jpgADOTAS — As we all know by now, June 12, 2009 was the last day any full power television station used analog. Congress had mandated a shift to digital broadcasting that was meant to benefit both consumers and providers – and the question is whether it has succeeded.

Along with better picture and sound quality, the shift to digital was supposed to free up more of the broadcasting spectrum for Internet and emergency services. It also opened the door to before unheard-of new possibilities in the way Americans view television.

A new home theater experience for consumers

To begin with, consumers are now able to have a movie-quality experience in their own homes. Having a home theater was previously only an expense that the very wealthy could afford, since it included investing in thousands of dollars in new equipment and acquiring digital sound and quality from it.

Now, as a result of the investments in digital broadcasting, features such as crystal-clear images, color and sound are taken care of by federal mandate, so some consumers are using the saved money to take their home system to the next level.

An investment in a home sound system can actually replicate the experience of a movie theater. Sounds are so much more intense in the movie theater because speakers are located throughout the space, and the system itself allows certain sounds to be heard only from each speaker. So you might only hear bullet shots from the left side of the theater, and a cheering crowd from all around.

With digital TV, consumers can actually create a similar sound experience in their own homes. With the lower cost of add-on surround systems that come with DVD players, more are choosing to make the investment. After all, why spend money on a movie ticket when you can experience the same thing, night after night, without spending money on a heftily-priced bucket of popcorn?

The other cost-saving benefit to digital TV is that LCD and plasma screens now get a nearly unbelievable picture quality – but plasma screens are dropping in price faster than are LCDs. The difference between LCD and plasma screens is fairly negligible if you’re talking about pure picture quality. LCDs have a slightly less natural “film” quality, but they weigh less and use less energy, whereas high quality plasmas have excellent quality, but can reflect room lights. Plasma is still a great choice, and with the lower prices on plasmas, they could complete that home viewing experience.

Killing two media birds with one stone

Along with the benefits in visual and audio, digital TV has opened the door for combining two of its consumers’ favorite activities: Watching TV and using social media. Verizon’s digital TV service, FiOS, offers a TV Widget Bazaar designed to help them do just that. Currently, a few wisely-chosen applications are available; among them is the uber-popular Twitter application.

By using the Twitter widget on Verizon’s digital service, users can tune in to a Twitter channel that corresponds with the show they’re currently watching. Other Twitter users will “tweet” about the show as they’re watching it, essentially creating a chat community that’s only discussing what’s currently being shown on on-screen.

Though there’s much to celebrate in digital TV and the innovations that are sure to follow and develop from it, some users are having trouble using it in the first place. Northern California is still having widespread problems with the switch to digital TV, and 1.7 million households nationwide are still unable to use theirs.

Though those 1.7 million households are less than 2% of the total population of the United States, they’re understandably not pleased with the problem and are often having trouble getting anyone to fix it. The consumers in Northern California who haven’t been able to hook up to their digital TV connections, for instance, are often told there’s a problem with either their antenna or their TV, both of which would require them to spend money in order to get their regular TV channels.

Digital TV is definitely here to stay, and with it a great many new innovations and advantages. It’ll be all the better once those left-behind consumers are able to get on board.

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