F. Birchman / MSNBC.com
By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 11/30/2006 11:05:30 AM ET 2006-11-30T16:05:30

Television technology has pretty much remained the same since the 1940's.  Yes, there was the introduction of color in the 50's — cable and satellite over the past 40 years or so - and an almost constant improvements in technologies.

But very recently — television has begun its ascent into the 21st Century. 

New-fangled, flat-screen plasma and LCD TVs are all the rage these days - but not everyone will rush out to buy a high-definition receiver in time for the great switchover to all-digital broadcasts in the United States.

According to the FCC, the government agency that handles such matters, here is the current timetable for the switchover to digital television:

  • July 1, 2006: All new sets, 25 inches or larger, must have DTV tuners or be DTV-ready
  • March 1, 2007: All new sets, 13 inches or larger, must have DTV tuners or be DTV-ready
  • February 17, 2009: Proposed shutoff date for over-the-air analog broadcasts

Here's what you need to know: HDTV receivers have built-in digital tuners. That means that if your local station is broadcasting in high definition then you can attach an indoor or outdoor antenna to an HDTV set and watch in high definition.

An HDTV-ready set does not have a built-in tuner.  HDTV-ready sets usually have analog tuners, so you can still watch current analog TV broadcasts. They can, however accept an HDTV input.

So, with an HDTV-ready set you’ll need an external digital tuner to watch HDTV programming. However, if you have high-definition cable or satellite service you can watch those HDTV stations right now on your HDTV-ready set, no extra tuner needed.

Most of the TV sets being sold today — especially those nifty flat-screen models — are at a minimum — HDTV-ready. 

Remember, if you don't want to run out and buy a new TV you will still be able to use your trusty picture-tube receiver after the official switchover to all digital broadcasts.   There should be a flood of new digital tuner boxes to hit the market as we get closer to that proposed February, 2009 shutoff date.  

You'll be able to buy and install a new all-digital tuner to your old TV and watch your current favorite channels — as well as the new all-digital channels that will be available.  You may also need a new antenna (indoor or outdoor) to receive these digital signals. 

Don't forget you be watching these new digital channels on your older analog TV.  Those new high-def stations (as many as 1080 lines) will be viewed on a standard-definition (less than 525 lines) receiver.  Don't expect miracles.  Do expect fewer ghosts and static on your screen.  Digital television signals either look terrific - or can't be received at all.

If you get your television via Cable or satellite — your service provider will be able to provide you with the proper equipment.

The government plans to auction our currently much-beloved TV channels at some point after the official switchover date.

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