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Wilmington debuts DTV transition

Posted September 8, 2008
Updated October 17, 2008

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— The digital TV era is officially under way in America, and it started in Wilington.

At noon Monday, Wilmington became the first city in the United States to switch completely to digital broadcast signals.

Media from across the region and beyond gathered at Thalian Hall to cover the start of a new era, called “The Big Switch.”

Kevin Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and a Waxhaw native, was on hand for the occasion. He said Wilmington was chosen as the test market for the nation because all local stations were digital-ready.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo also made remarks, thanking the five commercial TV stations in the region for volunteering to be a digital test market for the nation.

Monday’s change affected only those who still rely on an over-the-air signal for their television sets. Officials say that's about 7 percent of TV viewers in the Wilmington market.

They're the ones who need converter boxes, unless they already have digital TV sets. Everyone else is a cable or satellite TV subscriber, and for them the switchover will be seamless.

Constance Knox, general manager of WILM-TV said the stations prepared for the switch with an extensive public education campaign. They even tested the switch on Saturday night. Knox said all local stations turned off their analog signals for one minute during prime time Saturday so viewers could see whether they’re prepared. 

“We basically blocked out all other viewing opportunities, at least on local channels, in order to have that message hammered home,” Knox said.

WILM is owned by Capitol Broadcasting Co., the parent company of WRAL.com and WRAL-TV.

Analog signals will no longer show regular programming in Wilmington. However, an analog signal will broadcast a message telling people how to get their converter boxes. Officials expect the message to be up for about a month.

FCC staffers have been in the market since May, helping to spread the word. Public service announcements and news stories have aired on local stations.

The transition is being compared to the change from black-and-white television to color TV in the 1950s. TV stations have relied on analog signals for 65 years; digital TV provides a much sharper picture and better sound.

The FCC hopes to work out any kinks in Wilmington before the entire country switches over on Feb. 17.

To find out more about the DTV transition, click here.


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  • dcatz Sep 11, 2008

    Just as an FYI

    You don't need an antenna to get the local channels digitally if you have standard cable. The ATSC signals for the local stations are broadcast over the cable line just like the NTSC signals. All you have to do is connect your television to the cable outlet and tune using ATSC and you'll be able to watch all of the local channels in HD without any set-top boxes, expensive digital cable service or fussy antennas.

  • sggoodri Sep 9, 2008

    I too prefer DVB-T (I've been working with MPEG-2 since the mid 1990s) but I can deal with ATSC, warts and all. And yes, PAL is better than NTSC. Watching the standardization process is worse than watching legislation happen....

    Despite the multipath problems, I get more watchable (in my subjective opinion) digital ATSC channels in Cary than analog NTSC channels. ATSC has me watching terrestrial broadcast TV for the first time in years, including recording broadcasts to my DVR through one of the coupon-discounted converter boxes. I think the signal looks better than analog cable, which I don't watch anymore.

  • dcatz Sep 8, 2008

    The difference is, NTSC (which I might add is vastly inferior to PAL; beginning to see a pattern here?) will work during a hurricane. Analog signals are much more tolerant of adverse conditions.

    Good luck trying to find out the latest on the hurricane or other inclement weather with ATSC. You might as well use two cans and a string.

    On the other hand, DVB has a number of safeguards that ATSC lacks to ensure a better reception. DVB-T has hierarchical modulation which means that if you have a low signal strength, you can downgrade the signal to regular SD resolutions (and lower the bitrate) rather than HD increasing your chances of getting a picture. It also has more error correction choices and the option to have more redundant data (at the cost of bandwidth).

    DVB-T has been in use in the UK for 10 years now, long before the US had over-the-air digital stations. The only reason the ATSC standard was created is because patents make it more profitable for US companies.

  • sggoodri Sep 8, 2008

    I'd certainly love to have a DVB-T2 broadcast TV environment to tune into, but the H.264 standard is only 5 years old; US broadcasters started transmitting ATSC with MPEG-2 long before H.264 existed. What is happening now is not the beginning of digital TV in the US, it is the end of analog broadcast. We may lament that MPEG-2 isn't is as fresh a technology for the standard-based broadcast system as the proprietary digital satellite companies can use (since they upgrade their users' hardware), but think how stale analog NTSC or RS170 are!

  • dcatz Sep 8, 2008

    Which is again why DVB-T is better.

    ATSC only supports 8VSB OTA. 8VSB is ok when you don't have any obstructions but in mountainous areas and urban areas, you'll have problems.

    DVB-T supports multiple modulation techniques including QPSK, 16QAM and 64QAM and all DVB-T tuners have to support them. So a station can decide which modulation to use based on it's viewing area.

    In addition, DVB-T2 (an extension to DVB-T) uses MPEG4 Part 10 (H.264/AVC) compression instead of the antiquated MPEG2 algorithm. This means higher video quality using less bandwidth which means more room for multiplexed channels without quality degradation (think the WRAL Weather and News Channels.)

  • sggoodri Sep 8, 2008

    The ATSC standard is optimized for long-range reception for rural residents, at the cost of inferior reception by urban residents where multipath (signal reflection off buildings) is a problem. The European standard is better for dealing with multipath.

    The reasoning behind this was that a larger percentage of terrestrial broadcast viewers in the USA live in rural areas, where cable is unavailable. ATSC would enable a greater percentage of these viewers to get local programming.

    I have two large antennas - a rooftop yagi on a rotor, and a CM4228 8-channel bowtie array in the attic. Trees and other obstructions cause me problems from multipath on windy days, with signal dropouts even from close stations. But my new ATSC converter box does better than my older digital TV's ATSC tuner, and I find that I get many more watchable programs with the ATSC than with analog. I don't watch basic analog cable service anymore.

  • NCPictures Sep 8, 2008

    Dar Imtiredofit... WRAL and other stations are trying out MobileTV which allows a low bandwidth TV signal to be transmitted to small hand held units (such as special cell phones). I had the chance to try it out and it worked great. Even indoors.

    Also I have a 7" LCD DTV receiver, so they are out there.

    ATSC is not very good at moving receivers, but they are also working on error correction that will help to alleviate this problem.

  • Just the facts mam Sep 8, 2008

    I hate digital cable TV with a passion!!! I bought the converter box several months ago and cannot often pick up local channels anymore (I live in Cary). I solved the problem by not turning on the TV, and using the internet more - works great! I will feel sorry for elderly people who with limited incomes will no longer be able to pick up TV stations - thank the government for that bone-headed decision!

  • mmania Sep 8, 2008

    One thing I did notice is, when the weather is a little iffy the signal can come and go.

  • mmania Sep 8, 2008

    I finally got both my Tv's squared away with the convertor boxes and I get 21 channels. Of course that's 5 PBD stations 5,11,17,22,28 50. Now Fox 50 has a good station that runs only re-run shows like the oldies Rockford, Magnum etc. Last night PBS was having their Sept. festival so I was afraid I would miss Masterpeice Theater, but it was on one of their other channels. That's one thing I truely look forward to Sun. nights. Overall I'm happy with the coverage I get.