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Digital TV age will leave some in the dark

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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The digital TV age is bringing higher resolution and brighter colors to the screen, but some viewers are finding they’ve been left out of the picture. On Feb. 17, when the screen darkens permanently on analog TV, it will send some back to the radio age. Problems range from technical — difficulty mastering the technology in getting the converter box to work compatibly with the TV — to the signal — living in areas where cable isn’t available, satellite doesn’t penetrate and antennas can’t reach above the surrounding trees. For Jackie Forward, an Auburn senior, the problem is technical. After a store employee installed her converter box recently, Forward, who uses an antenna to bring in the signal, discovered that her TV and VCR didn’t work anymore. She has spent hours on the phone to local electronics stores as well as Seniors First to figure out what do to — so far without an answer. Forward cannot afford to make the switch to cable or satellite, she said. “When you’re 80 years old, you don’t understand all these technologies,” she said. “To pay the money to get these hooked up, you can’t do it on Social Security.” Forward is concerned that many other seniors will find themselves in a similar situation — faced with installation issues that require technological expertise they don’t possess. At Fowler’s TV in Downtown Auburn, owner Ken Harper is fielding dozens of calls from frustrated residents who can’t get their TVs to work once the converter box is hooked up. “On Friday and Saturday, we received 50 to 100 calls,” he said recently. His service department has found at least 10 types of converter boxes, each with slight differences in hookup and setup operation. One of the issues is the difference between analog and digital signals. “(In the past) you’ve been able to pick up a signal with rabbit ears and it might be fuzzy,” Harper said. “With digital, you either get a clear picture or none at all.” If the converter box is installed correctly, users should receive the digital signal immediately. But if the box is properly connected to the antenna and still isn’t working, it likely is a problem with the antenna rather than the TV, Harper said. “Often the antenna is not strong enough,” he explained. If they’re having a signal issue, residents don’t necessarily need to buy a new antenna — it may be enough to add a new wire or amplifier, Harper said. Another problem can be programming the new remote and converter box, Harper said. At the time of purchase, buyers should ask if the remote is programmed to run with the brand of TV they own, Harper said. If not, the information and instructions for making them compatible should be spelled out in the manufacturer’s instruction booklet. “We recommend that if they need more than one box, it is better to buy one and make sure it works before buying another,” Harper said. Sales of converter boxes are booming at Best Buy in Auburn, manager Nick Dickinson said. “We’re actually selling more converters out of this store than anywhere else in the district,” he said. Best Buy carries two types of converters. “They come with directions and with all the cables you need to get them integrated into the current system,” Dickinson said. “It is pretty easy to hook up, and the remote is programmed to run the converter box.” For those who can’t or don’t want to handle the task themselves, Best Buy’s Geek Squad charges $100 for single-component hookup. Technology is not the issue for Denise and Larry Porsch of Auburn, who are trying to figure out a way to bring in a TV signal for an elderly aunt who lives above Nevada City, at about 4,000 feet, in a densely wooded area. In the past she was able to bring in 10 analog stations on her antenna. But that changed after she purchased a digital TV. “We tried three different antennas. Now we have one of the best,” Denise Porsch said. “She has two stations and those come in and out because of digital pixels.” “The digital (signal) is line of sight,” Larry Porsch explained. “If you live in these curvy foothills, it goes in and out. If (the antenna) is not line of sight, you’re just not going to have it.” There’s no access to cable in her area. The Porsches also tried to get satellite for her, but that doesn’t work either, they said. George Ludy, manager of A Digital Advantage in Auburn and a representative for Dish Network, is well acquainted with problems bringing in a signal for residents of rural forested areas. “(Frequently) they’re getting a multi-path signal,” he said “The signal is bouncing off the trees and hitting the antenna at different times.” The solution is to install a taller antenna or cut down the trees, he said. Satellite service is available in many cases, but simply being able to look up at the stars from your porch doesn’t guarantee a picture. “The satellite looks 45 degrees up,” Ludy explained. It also varies from location to location. “You can be in one house and literally walk across the street and not get a signal for a number of reasons,” he said. There are people who won’t have TV anymore, he said. According to the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, more than 177,000 households in the Sacramento area receive TV programming via an analog signal or a rely on a rooftop antenna or “rabbit ears.” The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com