Posted by: David Stewart | January 10, 2009

The Digital TV Disaster – brought to you by Economic Paranoia

In the midst of a massive recession, war in the middle east and a presidential transition, the airwaves have been saturated with the warning that traditional TV stations will all shut off their signal in February, 2009.  It’s coming, are you ready?

How ironic – it’s all because of the Japanese! Read on to see why.

The US Congress tried hard to make the transition easy for people – create commercials, a web site, coupons to make the transition nearly cost-free. Appliance stores, cable companies and networks have been trying to cash in on the transition, because frankly, it’s just really confusing.

Back in April of 2006, I wrote a blog post about how digital TV really was not ready for prime time, in part because of the confusion factor. In spite of this, the train keeps rolling, and procrastinators are getting nervous.

People like my sister – she is a very successful attorney who isn’t particularly technical, doesn’t subscribe to cable TV, and still has a couple of analog TVs in her house. She knows that she will need converter boxes, and has waited until now to request one of the Federal coupons.

The problem is that the coupon program has run out of money.  This is likely because many consumers requested coupons early and never used them, opting instead for a different direction like subscribing to cable TV. Or, there are others which were likely requested by people who don’t even need them but who got confused by the transition.

This whole February 17 deadline disaster was originally caused by national paranoia.

Remember if you can back in the 1980s when US national leadership feared all of our key industries had been taken over by the Japanese. With the rise of digital music in the form of CD’s, there was a good expectation that all entertainment would go digital, including TV. Back then, it was believed that any digital TV format would require a lot of compute power in the home to decode the signal.  At least, a lot by 1980’s standards!

We had already seen the American TV industry disappear over the Pacific Ocean. If we let Japan dominate the digital TV transition, we would lose the edge in computing as well, it was feared.

As far as I can tell, the only US company to appear with the rise of digital TV is Vizio. (Which has a darn good product, by the way. I own one).

And the compute power needed for digital TV is not very significant in 2008 terms. Didn’t anyone tell these guys about Moore’s Law?  And the whole confusion around digital TV versus HDTV is a result of engineers over-thinking and over-designing the HDTV standard. And the result of course is a clunky and confusing mess of a consumer experience.

The final problem of course is greed. Since the very first days of radio, every improvement in quality has been painless – AM Radio is still around, and has a use, even with the superior quality of FM radio.

See a trend?

With TV, we went from black and white to color, mono sound to stereo sound, all remaining compatible.

But now the paranoia turned as it often does to greed. If we can release that TV air spectrum, we can get a lot of money by selling it off for other uses.

So national paranoia, greed and technical shortsightedness have led to this train wreck of a transition.



  1. But, mainly, digital TV just plain SUCKS compared to the analog tv it’s replacing. It’s not an improvement at all. It really, really, really sucks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: