May 28, 2009

Coming June 12th: digital-only TV

Reposted 5/28/09:

If you only receive TV over the old-fashioned airwaves (no cable or satellite), and you haven't been paying attention, you may get a nasty shock after June 12th. After that date the TV towers in town will ONLY broadcast digital signals, and you'll need a converter box to turn those signals into something your old steam-powered TV can digest.

I sent for my two $40 off certificates, took them to Best Buy, and came home with two of their converter boxes: rated better but not best by Consumer Reports.

It all seems to work fairly well, with one (geeky) caveat. Most of our existing (non-digital) stations transmit in the VHF band: you use the long telescoping antenna on top of your TV. All of our digital TV signals (except KCTS, channel 9) are UHF channels, which you receive with the little circular or bow-tie shaped antenna on top of your TV. UHF signals travel "line of sight", so you may have problems with set-top antennas and the Queen Anne transmitters (channels 4, 5 and 7). I find I can get some of those stations only upstairs in my house.

Digital TV is essentially "all or nothing": no weak, snowy picture - you either get a great picture or a blank screen (or a picture that freezes and breaks up into lots of little boxes). I've noted that planes flying over can cause that latter sort of interference. The digital bonus feature is that several of the stations actually broadcast multiple digital signals.

Conclusion: it works, it's easy and (if you don't have cable) you'll really have no choice after June 12th, 2009. You might need to spring for an external antenna for channels 4, 5 and 7.

[Update, 9/18/08] See comments for updates (from KCTS) about which stations will switch back to VHF after the transition. See this KING-TV article (and links) for much more info.


Daphne said...

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for the great post on DTV. One correction, though--and this is a little odd--KCTS 9 is on UHF right now, but we'll switch to VHF on Feb. 17, '09, as will two other Seattle stations. If you want to know the geeky details, the FCC assigned us our additional channel for DTV, UHF 41, but gave us the option to choose if we wanted to stay on UHF or return to VHF 9 next year. We chose VHF 9 for a couple of reasons--one being that VHF should allow more viewers to get our signal, another being it uses less power. We're recommending an all-band antenna for this reason--sounds like you've already got one.

I'm not an engineer but I can put you in touch with one at the station if you want to get seriously geeky. :)

Thanks again for your informative post!

Daphne Adair
dadair at

Andrew Taylor said...

The chart has the channel allotments as of February 18, 2009. KCTS-9 is currently digital ch-41 and will be digital ch-9 on 2/18/2009; KSTW-11 currently digital 36 will become digital ch-11; and KCPQ currently digital ch-18 will become digital ch-13.

We applied for and received authorization to increase digital ch-9 to 21.7kW; a substantial increase over the 7+kW indicated in the chart.

Clifford Anderson, CPBE | Executive Director of Engineering & Technical Planning | 206.443.4813 TEL | 866.741.1304 FAX |

Mary G. said...

Thanks for the reminder on the DTV switch, Andrew. These posts are most helpful ... for slackers like me. I went to Best Buy today, and will return to the blog if something doesn't work. :-)


Ben said...

I'm interested to learn if you get "Q13" Fox? I can receive others adequately but had to move the antenna a bit depending on whether I wanted to watch KING, KOMO or KIRO. However, I cannot get "13" which I couldn't before on analog anyway. (Madison Valley resident)

Andrew Taylor said...

I never could receive Channel 13, and still can't: the transmitter is over on the Kitsap Peninsula, and I presume the hills are in the way.