The fast-approaching end of analog broadcasting has local TV stations concerned that many viewers may be unprepared. In an unprecedented effort, six stations in Vermont and New York will team up to broadcast a brief "Test Your TV" event Tuesday, Dec. 16 at 7:58 p.m.
Viewers watching the main digital channel of WCAX, WFFF, WPTZ, WVNY, Mountain Lake PBS and Vermont Public Television will see a message telling them they are all set. Viewers watching the stations' analog signals will see a message advising them that if they are not watching via cable or satellite, they will need to connect a digital converter box before the end of analog broadcasting Feb. 17, 2009.
To receive digital television (DTV) over the air, viewers need either a digital TV set or an analog TV set equipped with a converter box and suitable antenna. Subscribers to cable or satellite will receive local full-power TV stations' digital signals without the need for additional equipment.
During the Dec. 16 test, staff from the local stations will answer viewers' questions about DTV at a special toll-free number.
A recent A.C. Nielsen report indicates that 7.4 percent of U.S. households are not yet prepared. Viewers in Canada, where analog broadcasting continues until 2011, are less likely to be ready to keep watching stations from Vermont and New York.
"Most viewers who have digital TV sets or have their digital converter boxes connected are already enjoying clear reception and multiple digital channels from local stations," said Jim Condon, executive director of the Vermont Association of Broadcasters (VAB).
"But digital reception can be tricky for some viewers, especially if they use rabbit ears," he added. "In a mountainous region like ours, some people need to install a better indoor or outdoor antenna to continue getting free over-the-air TV. We're urging them to connect their boxes and test their antennas now."
"This is a great joint effort among the network affiliates and public broadcasters," said Joe Reilly, president of the New York State Broadcasters Association. "We'll have people from the stations in both New York and Vermont ready to help viewers that night."
The government-mandated change to digital technology allows local TV stations to offer high definition (HD) and multiple program streams at the same time.
Digital converter boxes are available in retail stores and online for about $60. The U.S. government coupon program defrays $40 of the cost of a box.
Information and help with the DTV transition are available to viewers from the local stations online or by phone: Vermont Public Television, 1-800-639-7811, www.vpt.org; Mountain Lake PBS, 1-800-863-5700, www.mountainlake.org; WCAX, (802) 652-6300, www.wcax.com; WFFF (802) 660-9333, www.FOX44.net; WPTZ, (518) 561-5555 (NY) or (802) 655-5455 (VT), www.wptz.com; and WVNY (802) 660-9333, www.abc22.com