DVB Or ATSC The Digital TV Changeover Facts And Fiction

Author xlxmarketing 1.1.2009. | 16:18

It’s the biggest thing to happen to television since Lee Harvey Oswald got shot, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon or the 1954 Tournament of the Roses Parade (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_television).

Transmissions to TV sets all over the world are going, or will be, digital.

But not everybody is going to be ready for DTV in time.

Hell, not everybody understands exactly what digital TV is. How DVB is different to ATSC, what is needed to make the change and can digital TV receivers exist outside of the home and away from the living room are up for debate as well.

So what exactly is digital TV, what do you need to know and what is best left discarded as bad science fiction?

The analog digital TV changeover is the gradual shift by broadcasters (that’s companies like NBC in the US and BBC in the UK) from analog signals to digital signals.

It’s a change that is similar to the switch from 1G cell phones to 2G phones in 1993. Cell phones before that time could only make and receive calls.

After the GSM network and CDMAOne came along people could receive text messages and pictures, get stronger signals. And, with GSM phones, take their phones to different providers and countries without a problem.

The first 2G phone, the Nokia 1011 (to the right) provided people a lot more contact opportunites than the first 1G phone, the Motarolla DynaTAC 800x (on the left).

The digital television changeover is something of a similar nature.

The picture and sound is better with DTV and it is one step closer to more interactive television experiences.

The digital transition is a gradual process, and is happening different times in different places.

DTV is already old news to anybody in the Netherlands and Finland. They went through the digital switchover in 2006.

The US is treating the DTV change like a bandage. Analog signals are being ripped off the air in February 2009.

Canada and the UK have the digital broadcast signals available now but are transmitting the analog signals until 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Not everybody is covered for the DTV change though. Some of the older sets and a lot of the smaller devices with TV functionality (see cell phones, portable TVs car DVDs) are going to be left with static.

There will be digital TV converters for people who don’t want to splurge on a new television but before you race out and get one you need to make sure you get one for the right type of digital signal.

You read correctly. Not all digital TV signals are alike.

The digital TV transition is going to follow what is the now-accepted route in electronics. The US and a few friends uses ATSC, most of the world has chosen the digital TV is. How DVB signal and a couple of countries have chosen ISDB

The general rule of thumb people could follow is put ATSC with NTSC and DVB with PAL on the world map. Although there are exceptions.

A world map showing the current spread of Digital TV signals and where different DTV standards are used

The notable difference is the freckly red-haired kid, ISDB. It has… at this stage… only been picked by Japan and Brazil according to Wikipedia (citation needed). But other South American countries and the Philippines are tried it on for size.

The result: If someone from the US or Canada tries to use a digital television device which receives DVB then they’re just going to see snow, or a black screen.

Anybody trying to use ATSC digital TV receivers in Europe, Australasia, Asia… will probably see the same thing.

There are further divisions between those types of signals as well. DVB-T and DVB-S are the most commonly used DVB signals but there are others.

So what do you need to make the digital TV transition?

This is the area of digital television that has perhaps created the largest amount of confusion, controversy, misinformation and gnashing of teeth. So much so that the US government has focused much of its public information efforts on this area.

The general consensus of people who actually know things is you don’t need to go out and buy a new TV with a digital tuner or spiffy new home theater equipment just because of the digital switchover.

People who didn’t get cable or satellite TV before also don’t have to sign up to a service they don’t need just because they want to be kept up to date on the nightly news.

There are these wonderful things called analog digital TV converters. The US government has even put together a digital TV converter voucher program to help people with older TV sets prepare for the digital TV transition

It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with one of the variations of the theme that is DVB like DVB-T or DVB-S or ATSC there will be a digital TV converter for it. This is a handy little box that you plug into the top of your TV and transfer the signals from digital to analog.

So yes there is an ATSC digital TV tuner, DVB-S and DVB-T tuner out there.

Digital TV tuners won’t cost you the earth, don’t take an engineering genius to work out how to set up and will have you getting digital TV channels at exactly the same quality as the analog TV channels you got before.

You’re not seeing the show at its full potential… but how important is that if you’re just looking to unwind.

If you’re in a country that gets ATSC broadcasts you might also want to check your antenna (broadcastengineering.com/newsrooms/viewer-antenna-woes-wilmington-0912/) if you have difficulties receiving a signal too as there have been some reports of older antennas not being strong enough or high enough for the digital signals.

The other question on people’s minds must be the peripheral gadgets that TV has showed up on… computers, car DVD players, cell phones, portable TVs and picture frames. What is going to happen to them?

Computers appear to have stepped up to the plate with the analog digital TV changeover with devices like the DVB-T stick, DVB T USB, USB TV tuner and laptop TV tuner ensuring you can get digital TV on the PC without too much trouble.

The ease of which computers have handled the digital terrestrial changeover has fuelled speculation that the television will be replaced by the computer in the living room sooner than expected.

But where else the digital TV tuner and digital TV converter can hide depends on what country and what digital broadcast you’re working with.

If you’re talking DVB then you’re going to be fine. There’s already a whole host of phones, portable TVs and even digital frames that will act as digital TV receivers showing you all the digital broadcasting you desire. Or at least all the TV the battery will handle.

In fact, if you’re in a country that has its digital broadcast sent out in DVB then you don’t even need to rip out your old car DVD player and install another to get digital DTV. You just need to put in a car TV tuner (just make sure it is a car digital TV tuner.

If you’re in a country that gets ATSC then you’re not so lucky. Gadget lovers and online electronics shops have cast their net wide looking for a car DVD, mobile phone or portable TV that will give them some ATSC TV without luck.

This is because there has been major problems with ATSC stations getting mobile reception (Visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ATSC#Mobile_TV for more details on this) and no agreement on how to solve the problem (according to Wikipedia again, citation needed) in fact a work around hadn’t come out until October this year according to news site broadcasting cable.com (broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6620365.html).

So, ATSC TV on your unlocked cell phone, car DVD player or portable TV? You might need to wait a while before enjoying the DTV goodness.

So, digital TV in all its chaotic goodness.

It might be the biggest development in the realm of television since things started showing in color but the organizers behind DTV look to be about as organized now as they were back when color came out.


Want to learn more about analog and digital broadcasting? Check out these great articles:

wifi modems

Author xlxmarketing 1.1.2009. | 16:18
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  1. Lee January 20, 21:46

    thank you for posting this helpful informantion.
    unfortunatly I found it after buying a usb dongle on ebay listed as just digitial tv tuner. Because of the difference in formatting, which I like many were un aware of. I bought a dvb-t dongle and live in the USA where atsc is the format. Unfortunatly this differnce is not as well advertised as it should be and looking at ebay adds I see where some still take advantage of this difference in dongles and other pc convertors. I am seeing software that maybe helpful for converting one to the other, but none for mune as of yet. So buyer beware ans informed befor buying. and again thank you for this information.

  2. ugg June 7, 15:12

    thanks for posting this helpful informantion.

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