Archive for June 13, 2009

Readers Tips- VIDEO – TIVO Campaigns For Free HDTV

A reader of the DTV Brief sent a comment with tips about TIVOs New campaign about free HDTV programming. Apparently TIVO is pushing the message about OTA – Over The Air. I have written about it before (check links below) that it is possible to use TIVO as your converterbox to make a seamless migration to DTV. TIVO does the job for you. It converts the signal to analog and your TV-set continues to work as usual. However, if you have more than one set and they are not connected to the TIVO, you need converter boxes for those.

If you are using a TIVO today or thinking about getting one, make sure to get the model do convert signals to analog TV.

Check list of TIVO HDTV models here and to check if your TIVO converts the DTV signals- use the service here.


Enjoy the TIVO campaign on YouTube and find your way to cross the chasm to DTV.

Tagged: campaign, converter, converterbox, DTV, free, HDTV, switch, tips, Tivo, Video, YouTube

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Commentary: Goodbye, my old friend – Analog TV

dtv transition digital tv analog TV signals end remembering old TV memorial eulogy

The switch over from analog to digital TV signals on June 12, 2009 marks a definite end to the familiar, decades-old way television programs arrive into millions of American homes.
[ stock photo courtesy of: Kenn Kiser ]

June 12, 2009. The day analog television died. We all knew this day was coming, but that doesn't lessen the pain. Allow me to offer a eulogy for my dear old friend.

Given that I'm a Gen-Xer and a native son of New York City (media capital of the world), it's no surprise that TV was a big part of my life growing up. I spent a lot of time (maybe too much) in front of that glowing screen. Ask me my favorite happy childhood memories and I can immediately list: The Sesame Street gang teaching me my A-B-Cs (PBS, Channel 13); watching School House Rock on ABC Saturday mornings. (Who knew that catchy ad-like jingles could teach you stuff and be fun? "Conjunction Junction, what's your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses…"); and watching movies at 4:30 weekday afternoons instead of doing homework. (Thanks, WABC Channel 7—especially for the many “Godzilla” weeks!)

Maybe I had a sheltered childhood, but over-the-air TV opened up a wonderful world of entertainment (and learning)—all for free… using just a simple antenna. It captivated millions of others, including the nearly 106 million Americans who watched the finale of M*A*S*H, the more than 90 million who discovered first-hand, who shot "J.R." on Dallas, and the nearly 53 million who watched Friends go for that one last cup of coffee at "Central Perk." Truly free TV was indeed powerful in its day.

But analog TV technology gave us many moments of grief along with the joy. Those snowy, ghost-filled video images… the poor sound… the limited number of channels… In fact, the successor to the old and now-dead dog could breathe new life into free, over-the-air TV. Just look at some of DTV's cable-like enhancements: crystal-clear, colorful video—and in high-definition, if you have an HDTV; improved stereo audio—multi-channel surround sound (again, for HDTV); and more channels—up to four additional "sub-channels" per broadcaster for alternate programming. How can I not like sub-channels 7-2 and 4-2 which focus exclusively on local weather and news 24/7?

All that now-available electronic "space" can be used for other things—better communications for emergency first responders or more wireless Web connections, for examples. What's more, the government auction of those electronic remnants of analog TV could generate billions of dollars for the U.S.

Still, the passing of analog TV technology has had some unexpected consequences for me and millions of others.

For example:

  • My VCRs, digital video recorders (DVRs), and DVD recorders are all useless without a DTV converter box—one with a VCR timer feature so I'm not limited to recording only one digital channel when I'm not around.
  • Though I've gained some channels, I've lost others. My HDTV and DTV boxes can't find WCBS even though its transmitters are located on the Empire State Building alongside those of the other major networks that I can view with no problem.
  • During periods of heavy rain or other atmospheric conditions, even the stations I do receive might "drop out." In other words, I can no longer depend on over-the-air broadcasts.

I and countless other Americans will undoubtedly find ways to cope—whether by subscribing to pay-TV services or turning to other substitutes such as streaming videos and TV shows from the Net or even (gasp!) stop watching TV altogether! But for now, I choose to honor and remember analog TV for all it has done—and done well—for so many years of my life. —Paul Eng

P.S. What do you think? Share your grief or glee in the comments section. But please remember: We are a "family-friendly" site, so keep it clean, respectful, and on-topic!

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What a Day!

In Engineering terms, this was just another week, but of all the things that can go wrong in one week, why did it pick this one? Having the studio zapped by lightning is bad enough. It took Wayne, Steve, Joe and I a day and a half to knock out every issue one at a time.

As I lay down for bed last night, I got alerts that we had a power glitch at the transmitter site on my cell phone. After talking with Central Broadcasting Operations, we determined everything came back online just fine. Well, almost everything.

I had the new digital 17 transmitters cooking offline into the dummy load ready for the big switch today, and when I checked this morning, one of them was dead. I headed out and got it back running after a few minutes, and it seemed stable. I setup my cameras, and tested the wireless network card for signal inside the transmitter room. The building is very well shielded from the outside, and cellphones do not work inside, but my EVDO card had a strong signal.

I had a little time, so I decided to run down the street and get lunch and talk to the Geek Squad at the Best Buy in Garner. They did one better, and I got to talk to Danny, the store Manager. We went over to the stacks of converter boxes and antenna selection they had. This store is ready for all your needs. I’m sure other Best Buy stores have a similar display, but they actually have a converter box you can see first hand how it’s connected on an indoor antenna. (And it was tuned to my digital signal!) I highly recommend anyone having trouble with their converter box hook ups, to go by and ask for a hands on demonstration. Danny said everyone in the store has been trained, and is ready to help answer your questions.

I headed back to the transmitter with one of their cards in hand. They also offer in-home service for a fee by calling 1-800-GEEK SQUAD, but advice in the store is absolutely free.

After testing the Skype connection with the station, I setup for the switch. I was lugging my laptop, webcam, and a cordless phone around. We had a little audio issue, but the switch got pulled, and 17 digital came to life. I walked abound the cabinets and shut off the temporary channel 55 transmitter, and turned off the power to it. If you need a good slightly used transmitter, the number to call is….

After shutting off the numerous alarms, I headed back to the studio to answer emails and take calls from viewers. The volume of calls was slowing down a little, but the anger factor of the callers was off the charts in some cases. Most problems were easily resolved walking through the menus, so we certainly helped more folks than not. The number of reception issues was very low, except for those who needed new antennas and wasn’t getting anything. Most just forgot we have been telling them to re-scan for channels.

It’s been a long day, and I have tons of video to wade through this weekend, as well as phone calls to catch. I hope everyone has survived the switch to digital, and I urge you to help your neighbors.

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The Amazon Kindle DX: A video review

The new Amazon Kindle DX is a worthy addition to the Kindle family of e-book readers, as I thought when I used it briefly a few weeks ago. But having used the DX a little more (see the video at right), I've concluded that its heavier weight, higher price, and ergonomic shortcomings make the smaller Kindle 2 the better choice for most people.

But here's who might consider newest and biggest of Kindles, which began shipping on Wednesday at a price of $489 (compared with $359 for the Kindle 2). I've included some
caveats:

Students. The DX's 9.7-inch screen, measured diagonally, allows more content to be shown at a time than on the Kindle 2, with its 6-inch screen. Textbook pages are among the reading fare that can most benefit from the extra real estate; charts, diagrams, and their associated explanations will be less likely to be broken among multiple pages. Amazon says it will soon have many more textbooks available for Kindle later this year.
Caveat: For now, though, you can by no means rely on getting any textbook for the device; check availability at the Kindle Store.

Newspaper and magazine readers. Amazon hopes to use the DX to sell more Kindle subscriptions to newspapers (for $5.99 to $14.99 a month) or magazines ($1.25 to $8.99 a month). And you certainly can see more of a story from these periodicals on the DX's supersized screen.
Caveat: Despite the larger size of the DX, Kindle editions of these periodicals still don't generally appear in the same layout and presentation as on paper—for example, you can't see and scan the entire front page of a newspaper as it is laid out in print.

The visually-impaired. The bigger screen of the DX makes its largest type size notably larger than the biggest type on the Kindle DX; the DX sizing is more like that found in the big-print editions of books or newspapers. You can also vary the length of each line of text, which might also help those with vision problems.

I could not find any caveats for a visually-impaired person who was considering buying a DX. However, I haven't been able to have such a reader use the device—and would love to hear comments from any who have.

A final consideration might be the relative availability of these models. A DX ordered today would ship next Wednesday, according to Amazon. The Kindle 2 is available for immediate shipment. —Paul Reynolds.

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Loud TV ads: Consumers Union supports curbing the volume

screaming

Consumers Union supports the CALM act, which would limit the volume on television commercials.

You’re serenely watching your favorite TV show when it abruptly cuts to a commercial for a local car dealership loudly
hawking a sale. The sudden change in volume – markedly higher than on the show you’ve been watching – gives you heart palpitations.

It’s a consumer complaint that dates back 45 years, and Consumers Union (our
nonprofit publisher) has taken up the banner of keeping the ad noise down.
Joel Kelsey, an advocate and policy analyst in CU's D.C. office,
testified [link] before the House Energy and Commerce committee in support of the
Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM act. (Don't you
just love government acronyms?)

The FCC's current broadcasting guidelines [link] have no volume restrictions. The agency claims that “perceived loudness" of TV broadcasts is "a subjective judgment" that varies with the type of ad. It also says it has found no evidence that volume is deliberately raised for commercials.

However, under CALM, introduced by Rep. Anna Eschoo [CA-14], ads cannot
exceed the sound level of the loudest portion of the particular TV show
in which they're placed. And that loudest allowable volume can't be sustained for the entire length of the commercial.

So, let's say you're watching a cop show which has moments of quiet dialog, and then one or two wild car-chase scenes with loud gunfire and
tires squealing. Any commercial spot shown in that hour-long drama can't be louder than those gunshots, and it can equal that volume only in small doses: the entire 30- or 60-second pitch can’t be as annoyingly loud as those squealing tires.

“We believe this widespread consumer issue is a result of more than just the arbitrary, or subjective, perception of consumers. Rather, it is a real consumer grievance that deserves a new approach in the new era of digital communications,” said Kelsey.

In addition to our headquarters and testing center in Yonkers, NY, Consumers Union has three branch offices in Washington D.C.,
Houston, and San Francisco dedicated to consumer advocacy on a range of issues, from communications to health care to food and product safety. To
see what our advocates are up, check out the Consumers Union Web site and, for telecommunications matters, hearusnow.org. —Nick Kolman-Mandle and Will Dilella.

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