Digital Cable Switch Delayed -- Confused Yet?

JR Raphael, PC World
PC World
Friday, December 19, 2008; 12:19 AM

Feeling confused with all the digital TV transition talk? You're not alone. America's cable TV operators decided this week to delay the migration of their analog channels to digital ones. The operators say too many people were mixing that process up with the big broadcast shift to digital scheduled for next February.

It's not hard to see why, either -- the two processes sound similar, and they had been overlapping until now. Here's what's happening in both worlds, and how the two movements differ.

Cable TV operators are getting ready to reorganize their channels. They're taking channels off of the current analog system and moving them over to digital ones. If you use a cable service provider such as Comcast, this change will affect you.

Moving the cable channels to digital will give you higher quality reception and will allow the companies to offer you more broadband-oriented options. It will also free up space for the operators to create more high-definition channels and video-on-demand services. It'll end up costing you more in many cases, too, as the digital channels tend to come at higher prices.

The cable transition has been underway for some time, but it will now be delayed until March of 2009 to cut down on confusion. In a letter sent to Congress this week (PDF), cable operators also agreed to offer free adaptors to customers who have older analog equipment. Those adaptors will be made available from March until June of 2009.

The broadcast digital shift affects over-the-air signals sent out by local TV stations. Stations across the country will be discontinuing their analog broadcasts on February 17, 2009, and switching to digital only. If you do not have cable and get TV over a "rabbit ears"-style antenna, this change will affect you. You will need a converter box to be able to continue receiving channels.

Like the cable equivalent, the broadcast digital shift will allow for higher quality reception and more advanced services. It'll also open up space in the broadcast spectrum for broadband services as well as for emergency uses.

Again, the broadcast digital shift is not directly related to the cable shift -- the two just happened to be occurring at the same time until this week's decision to delay the cable move.

All right, now that we've separated the two processes, here's the final timeline for the transitions:

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