Saturday, February 7, 2009

tt4t_073 Digital TV, two steps forward, one step back

It’s Saturday, February 7th, 2009 and welcome to episode 73 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. This week the US Congress delayed the implementation of the digital television switch-over that was scheduled to happen on February 17th of this month in the United States. This date has now been delayed until June 12th of this year barring any other changes by legislation.

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The biggest reason cited for the delay was that the coupon system used to subsidize the price of digital TV converter boxes was not fully funded and many Americans that requested the coupons could not get them. An external digital converter box is needed for any analog TV that cannot accept digital signals. The converter box converts the new digital signal system back into a signal that an older analog TV can use. If you have purchased a TV in the past couple of years most likely you already have a built-in digital tuner in your set, however even some new TV’s do not have built-in tuners and therefore may have to rely on cable or satellite companies boxes, or use an external digital converter box to receive the new digital signals.

In technical terms the older analog system has been known as NTSC and has been used in the United States since 1953. The new digital TV standard is referred to as ATSC. You can look in the technical specifications for your TV to determine the type of tuner you have. If you see ATSC listed as the tuner you are ready for digital TV broadcasts in the States but if not you will need to buy a digital converter box or rely upon your cable or satellite carrier. Check with your local vendors if you are not sure.

I worry most about many older Americans that do not understand the new technologies that well, if at all. A couple of months ago I helped my grandparents install their digital converter box so that they would be ready for the analog cut-off. If you have older parents, grandparents, relatives, or friends you might give them a hand to make sure they are ready for the transition to digital TV. The deadline has been extended, most likely for the last time, so please make sure your older friends and neighbors are ready for the switch to all digital TV.

I have provided links in the show notes for the government website for information about the digital TV conversion and a link to the coupon program where you can get a coupon for a digital converter box to help Americans offset the cost of this transition. Unfortunately the coupon plan is currently awaiting additional funding to be passed by Congress.

US Digital TV Transition Website

US Digital TV Converter Box Program

The irony is that these informational websites, while packed full of helpful information, often times cannot be viewed by the target audience that need the information the most. Many older Americans do not have a computer with Internet access or understand the commercials about the DTV transition that have been on TV the past several months. We often take for granted these wonderful new technologies but we sometimes forget that there is a large segment of the population that do not understand the world of hyper-change that many of us live with on a daily basis.

Just because the cut-off date has been delayed by five months does not mean that you cannot use Digital TV now. In fact millions of Americans are already are using DTV and have left the analog world behind many months ago. Digital signals are being broadcast now and are there ready for you to take advantage of them.

The downside to this delay is that broadcasters will continue to broadcast both digital and analog signals and that costs them money. It also delays progress for using parts of the frequency spectrum for other uses including the so called whitespace area that some companies like Google and Microsoft want to use in new and innovative ways.

Another development that I am beginning to see as a result of Digital TV transition is that many PC manufacturers are offering a built-in digital DTV tuner in laptops. It will be interesting seeing the potential uses of a DTV signal combined into a computing device in the coming months. So if you see any of your students glued to the laptop they may in fact be watching DTV, yet another challenge for teachers to compete with and to think of new and innovative uses to harness the technology for educational benefit.

Technology Pick of the Week

I have two new products selected as my Technology Picks of the Week this week. I had downloaded the new version of the Windows 7 operating system some time ago when the beta version was first released last month but we have been so busy around the ITC that I am just now getting a chance to install the Windows 7 beta.

My first impressions of Windows 7 are very positive and from the reviews that I have been reading from other users I am not alone. I installed the beta version on a two year old Dell desktop and the installation went smoothly, taking less than 20 minutes on a new install of the Win 7 OS and it found every device driver the first time, a completely painless install. I have provided a link to the show notes from an article in ComputerWorld that describes the new features of Windows 7 in greater detail.

Review: Windows 7 Beta 1 shows off new task bar, more UI goodies (ComputerWorld)

The most notable thing for me was the speed and snapiness of the new Windows 7 OS, even on a two year old system. Secondarily the interface is cleaner but still has the familiar aero translucent windows of Vista and most notably a new and improved task bar. The task bar is one of the biggest changes over Vista. The Win 7 task bar has been compared to the dock of OS X in some reviews but it really is a completely different approach and does much more than launch applications. The task bar offers an applications approach to a workflow including new jump menus and preview features specific to each application that can enhance user productivity.

My second Technology Pick of the Week this week is the new Google Earth 5 application recently released by Google and was the first application that I loaded on the new Windows 7 install. I did not have any problems running Google Earth 5 on Windows 7. The biggest new thing in version 5 is that Google Earth added an oceans view layer. It is now possible to view the oceans of the world. You dive under the ocean by double-clicking on an ocean surface view and see the topography of the ocean floor below! Links are available in the show notes to more information about Windows 7 beta and the new Version 5 of Google Earth.

Google Earth 5 Oceans

That wraps it up for episode 73 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

1 comment:

Donna said...

I never got Vista installed on any of my machines - I think I'll skip right to Windows 7 at this point.