Analog Electronics Digital Electronics Life Politics

The Digital Switchover and Why It’s About People

The Digital Switchover.

Not me. I almost did that a while back, but no. Not me.


Normally I wouldn’t write about it. A digital television standard is long overdue and in the end this will be a good thing. When you compare Analog vs Digital, there are many more benefits on the digital side of things: lower power for transmission, better bandwidth of signal, more bandwidth usage over the spectrum. All of these are good things. I can even talk about how those digital signals still have lots of analog components as they’re transmitted over the airwaves: multipath, signal loss, power calculation, reception problems, etc.

But no. I’d rather point something else out:

Technology adoption is driven by human nature. It must be adopted before it can help people.

Sure, the digital signals will be great. High Definition pictures and you don’t have to give a dime to those lovely cable companies. Lower power generation required to transmit the signals will help save the environment by lowering the carbon footprint. But until the switch actually happens (today…maybe), no one gets the benefits. The switchover has been delayed to now from this past February. Lawmakers deemed the country unready to make the switchover at that time. I mean, if people can’t watch TV, how will the politicians get their message out to the masses?

No matter how many new devices are introduced into the marketplace and no matter how available they make DTV switcher boxes, people still will not change until pushed. They will not go out and get the digital box or call their local politician until one day they turn on their television and the signal is not there. That is what will drive the final changeover. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a little bit more leeway from politicians before stations are officially told to shut off the analog transmitters.

This problem isn’t exclusive to television. This has happened for the past 30 years in conservation and renewable energy.  Regardless of how many times climate change experts point out we’re killing the planet, nothing moves until there is a scare that oil is running out (it is) or natural gas won’t always be available (it won’t) or coal is filthy (it is) or the power just goes out. Then people change their tune; they change gears and start thinking about buying that solar array or that home wind turbine. They start recycling again because they think it will start to help (it will, but what about the past 10 years of bottles you put in the landfill?). But the thing is, you need to think about buying the solar cells now, when there isn’t a 6 month backlog of installation requests and prices are jacked up due to demand. And Solar might even already be an affordable option for you.

I’m sure people will say there’s an economic aspect of it for DTV and that the people that use analog signals the most can’t afford the converter boxes. Perhaps that has some truth to it. But the point remains that no matter the technology, until that last group resistant or indifferent to change decides to go out and do something about it, those people can’t be helped.

What about you? Have you made the switchover yet? If not, why? Leave a note in the comments.

By Chris Gammell

Chris Gammell is an engineer who talks more than most other engineers. He also writes, makes videos and a couple podcasts. While analog electronics happen to be his primary interests, he also dablles in FPGAs and system level design.

9 replies on “The Digital Switchover and Why It’s About People”

I’ve been interested in doing a study of how crime rates, park attendance, library checkout volume, etc. compare this weekend to weekends in the middle of June in previous years. There are undoubtedly going to be millions of people who haven’t gotten a converter box yet; this could be the best opportunity in decades to study just how much TV sedates the masses.

That’s an awesome point Bill. If I were more sociologist and less engineer, I might join you. Instead, I’ll just watch TV on like usual.

Unfortunately pushing is not enough. Humans have tend to not be concerned about the future because they genuinely believe that technology will fix it. That being said, I fear that when humans finally realize they all need to pitch in and help, it will be to late. It seems as though we are in a mission to our own extinction.
I am curious to see if poor communities will opt not to buy converter boxes and if by doing so will they seek other forms of (true) media. I hope that happens we would potentially have an informed populace. And then, perhaps only then will people come out and try to make a difference. But we know that corporations and politicians if one can separate the two want an uneducated/uninformed majority.

Back in Feb, I wrote a blog post about the switchover, then realized it got postponed yet again. Mine was more on the technical side of things.

I’m certainly not going to make the switchover. First, I watch cable, so it doesn’t really matter. Second, I still use the VCR with a CRT. And I drive a GM car. So it’s not exactly like I’m the type of guy who adopts the best technology out there. Finally, I’m cheap. I think that says it all.

i’ve heard there are a few detriments to digital TV, such as when the signal is weakened by physical obstructions, but overall it’s still a vast improvement

I live in the UK and we are going through the same scenario, our switchover should have been taking place around now, but it’s been put back to 2012. I don’t know how the whole TV/cable setup is over there, but the set top boxes are pretty cheap for us costing about £20. If the governments really want us to change they could offer incentive or help, such as offering a discount to convert to digital. for example, As the financial climate is tough around the world and the motor industry is suffering, the government here are offering £2000 to trade in your old car for a new one to put life back into the motor industry. Is it possible that a similar scheme could be put in place to hurry up the analogue to digital switchover?

Hi Dave,

I know they offered incentives over here for a while and even gave a bunch of boxes away but the people that needed them most were still too lazy to go get the boxes. In other cases people were too confused to know if they would need the boxes. And I’m guessing a good percentage of the population was completely oblivious. Your idea was valid though, giving discounts and giing some away would help for sure.

In other news, I read that the FCC received over 300,000 calls once they turned the analog signals off. That’s exactly what I would have expected and I love how incised people are now. My favorite response, “My television has gone blank. What are they doing to me?”. Yes, not only was the government trying to tell you to prepare for this for months, they also are now punishing you for not doing anything 🙂


I haven’t made the ‘switch’ – I watch, in the average month, zero hours of TV, and man, does it sedate the masses. It’s worse than cigarettes and alcohol put together, if you ask me – at least you can do something else while indulging in THOSE addictions.
By definition, of course, this makes it about 10 times worse (at least) than all illegal drugs (at least in terms of numbers of addicts/victims) put together… not that I’m a crack user trying to justify his addiction, of course. No, no, no.
All I’m saying is: turn off my cable (I will thank you forever, although my wife and kids may not, at least not right now :)!), but PLEEEEASE don’t turn off my internet. Cos that’s not a drug, right? At least not a passive one.
Still, at the end of the day, my work (PCB layouting; housing, packaging and product development) is largely driven by this addict mentality, so I guess I should either shut up or ‘put up’ (as in, lay down my ‘tools’ and strike on behalf of the good of humanity), but hypocrite that I am, I don’t do this. I mean, I have to pay those damn cable/TV bills SOMEHOW, don’t I?!?!?
Anyway, at the end of the day, I have to agree with Chris, in essence… actually, it only surprises me that a mere 300,000 calls were received – on the surface, a large number, but that must be a pretty small percentage of the overall TV watchers, right? Or maybe the other 2-3 million are just still glued to the box in front of the ‘snow’, either hoping a) that the lost-and-never-found remote is going to jump into their hands to enable them to finally change channel, or b) that it is just a ‘temporary’ (this definition extends up to as long as it takes one to keel over once the TV dinners and beer are gone) ‘brownout’ of TV signals.

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