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Cable and the Digital Transition: Stuff I Left Out of the Column

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on August 15, 2008

In my column on the digital TV transition, space limitations forced me to shorthand what happens if you have cable, particularly if you have cable connected directly to a cable-ready TV.

If you get cable (or satellite) through a set top box, absolutely nothing will happen when the analog stations go dark next Feb. 17. You service provider will take care of all the transition issues ansd the box will continue to supply analog signals to your analog TV, typically through either a coaxial cable or a yellow-red-white composite video/audio set of cables.

If your cable is connected directly to your TV, things are slightly more complicated. Depending on the cable service and your TV, what you are getting may be either analog or digital cable service. Cable-ready analog is by far the more common. According to the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., nearly all cable operators who currently offer analog service will convert the new digital channels to analog, so your cable-ready set will continue to work.

One problem is that cable operators are pushing their own digital transition, separate from the government mandated Feb. 17 switchover for broadcast TV. Digital cable offers higher quality and more efficient use of the network, and is the only way to supply high definition signals. But digital cable can only be connected directly to TVs equipped with something called a ClearQAM turner, and these tend to be sets that also have digital tuners (also known as ATSC tuners.) If your cable service is changed to digital and you want to go on using and analog set, you're almost certainly going to need to hook up a set top box.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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