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TVs Prepare for Transition to Digital Signals

All new televisions made in America will have to be able to receive digital signals starting Thursday, as part of a campaign to transition the country to digital TV broadcasting by Congress' Feb. 17, 2009, deadline. A technology journalist explains the switch.

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    TV, as we knew it, is fading to black. After more than seven decades, analog broadcasting will go the way of the vacuum tube in 2009.

    This old method of transmitting TV programming will be replaced by digitally encoded radio waves. In fact, today is the day when every new television set shipped for sale in the U.S. must have a digital tuner.

    Even with two years until that deadline, many people are already preparing for the digital switch by purchasing new televisions: 11.4 million digital TVs were sold in the U.S. in 2005, and about 19.7 million digital sets were sold in 2006.

    Many of these purchases are for high-definition TV sets, just one form of digital TV. HDTV offers a widescreen picture with far more detail and clarity than analog TV sets can provide.

    Congress has prodded the country to move toward the new digital TV standard. Right now, many stations broadcast both signals, so people can watch with whatever set they have.

    Broadcasters have a deadline, in early 2009, by which they must convert to digital broadcasting. And on that day, all the analog TV sets in America will go dark, unless you hook up a digital converter box, which will change the new signal back into the old standard.

    Congress has even promised subsidies to help people buy those boxes and keep their old TV working.

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