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The Clock Is Counting Down to a Digital TV World

Two years from now, the TV you watch may not be able to receive anything because a major change mandated by federal law will eliminate all but digital television.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Television as we know it is about to be history, a useless relic from the past.

Two years from now, the TV you watch may not be able to receive anything because of a major change in technology mandated by federal law.

The head of the Federal Communications Commission, which is overseeing the changes, was in Chapel Hill on Monday, and one of the hot topics he discussed was the nation's conversion to digital TV.

The bottom line for viewers is that there are two types of television: analog and digital. Digital TV has a better picture and better sound. Analog is what almost everyone has been watching since TV was invented.

About two years from now, on Feb. 17, 2009, the nation will totally switch from analog to digital TV. That means the guy with an old TV in his garage, for example, won't be able to watch anymore. He's either got to buy a converter box for his analog set or buy a digital TV.

The thing is, more than 20 million people have analog sets. When the plug is pulled on analog, as many as 70 million TVs will go dark.

“On Feb. 18 (2009), those TV sets will not be able to receive a TV picture of any kind,” media attorney Wade Hargrove said.

“Congress has set a hard date, and I think this is going to be a significant challenge,” FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said. Martin is a UNC grad and was back in Chapel Hill for a visit and a speech.

Many people who don't have digital TV live in rural areas or are poor or elderly. They may be eligible for government vouchers they can use to buy converter boxes for their analog sets. The box will turn a digital signal into an analog one their TVs can understand.

“There's a lot of concern about it. I think the key to it is making sure the public is informed well in advance,” Hargrove said.


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