Digital Conversion - Not So Simple

Memphis, TN – Remember when CD's first came out? They were supposed to be perfect and unbreakable. Well, we know that CD's and DVD's scratch, skip and even freeze up. The digital TV signal has similar issues.

Folks who use satellite or cable don't need to do a thing, but those who get their channels over the air using an outdoor antenna, an attic antenna, an amplified antenna, or rabbit ears need to purchase a digital converter in order to keep their analog sets working. Theoretically, the digital signal is perfect.

Pat Lane is WKNO's chief engineer. Besides climbing transmitter towers and keeping radio and TV up and running, he helps viewers with their television reception.

These days he's traveling throughout channel 10's viewing area to help people who already hooked up their digital converter, and found they've lost channels instead of gaining them. Gordon and June Young called Channel 10 during a digital conversion TV event to get help with their television reception.

Recently, Lane went to Friendship, Tennessee, which is near Jackson, to help with the Young's with their digital signal.

June Young says once they hooked up the converter box, they started having problems.

Unlike analog, the digital signal offers more than one program stream per channel. For instance, WKNO has channels 10, 10.1, and 10.2. Currently, channel 10 and 10.1 offer the same program stream. On February 17, channel 10 will be gone - it's the analog channel. The other two are digital.

Lane brings his spectrum analyzer and other TV gadgets of wizardry to get a good look at what's going on with the Young's signal.

The Young's have an antenna on their rooftop. It's about 15 feet above their roofline, but Lane says it needs to go up higher by another 10. Also, he recommends that they get a better grade coaxial cable that goes from the antenna to the converter box, which should improve their reception.

Friendship is in the fringe area of WKNO's television signal footprint, which accounts for part of the reception issue. However, even Memphis viewers struggle to watch their TV's digital signal. News programs may be the most frustrating because of the digital drop out. It's difficult to know what the story meant with parts missing.

Wilmington, NC was the first city to go digital. They, too, have experienced problems. In the first two weeks of going digital - like the rest of the country will do on February 17th - more than 500 people reported reception and technical problems to the Federal Communications Commission. In October, WKNO received 239 calls about digital TV issues - what to do? How do I get my coupon? Why can't I receive the same channels I usually do with analog?

There are many barriers to good reception, says Lane. Atmospheric changes, weather, airplanes, buildings like the Clarke Tower, and even leaves on Memphis' tree-lined streets are just a few that interfere with the digital signals. For WKNO News, I'm Candice Ludlow.