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September 30, 2008 3:01 am

Park County TV viewers have no need to fear DTV

Written by Tribune Staff

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Towers like these atop Cedar Mountain deliver a variety of signals across the Big Horn Basin. The February 2009 deadline for broadcasters to switch to digital will not affect analog television antennas, said a Park County official. Tribune photo by Gib Mathers

Local owners of old analog televisions hooked up to antennas that rely on translator stations around Park County need not fret over losing reception — at least not for a few years, one Park County official said.

“If they're watching one of our analog sites, there is nothing that is going to change in February,” said Dave Hoffert, Park County translator station manager.

Still, it might behoove antenna users to shop around for an alternative means of reception, because county-operated translators may be doomed.

Feb. 18 is the drop-dead date for big television stations to convert to digital signals, but most already have, Hoffert said.

For the near future, folks can view programs on their televisions with antennas atop with complete aplomb, at least in these parts. Signals arriving at county translator stations already are digital, but they are converted and beamed to antennas as analogs, Hoffert said.

There are fewer than 1,000 antenna users in the Basin, Hoffert said.

“I think it is more like 400 or 500,” he said, “(but) there is no accurate way for us to know.”

The days of translator stations, poised in high places such as the McCullough Peaks and Cedar Mountain, could be numbered.

The county already is purchasing used parts for translators because new parts are no longer available for the old equipment. It could cost up to $500,000 to upgrade the translators in the future.

Because of those costs and difficulties getting parts, Park County television signal translators could be shut down in three to five years, Hoffert said, so it might be time to consider finding other television signal-receiving options.

Most folks have replaced their televisions within the last six years, because TVs today don't last like they used to, Hoffert said. So, chances are, unless it's an older model, your TV is of the digital variety anyway.

Effective May 25, 2007, the Federal Communications Commission required sellers of television equipment without digital tuners to disclose that those devices include only analog tuners and therefore will require a digital-to-analog converter box to receive over-the-air broadcast television after the transition date.

Anyone wishing to buy a converter can go to www.dtv2009.gov or call 888-DTV-2009. At the site, coupons are available to save $40 on a converter purchase.

Hoffert cautioned that not all converters are equal.

He advised people to make sure converters are equipped with analog pass-through. Otherwise, if you receive analog signals, the only thing you will see on the television is electronic snow.

“If it doesn't have pass-through,” Hoffert said, “it will block the signal.”

The Federal Communications Commission is pushing for digital conversion in February next year, but there could be bugs in the system.

According to a Sept. 22 Associated Press article, more than half of 1,828 over-the-air viewers were unable to tune in one or more channels after a recent digital test run in Wilmington, N.C.

And that test area was in a flat region unlike hilly, mountainous Wyoming.

Analog signals degrade slowly. So the viewer watching at home may get a slightly snowy picture, but they still receive a signal. A digital signal is all or nothing.

Analog signals can bounce around obstacles, such as hills or buildings, but digital signals can't, Hoffert said.