Millions still need their DTV


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About 13% of Los Angeles area households and nearly one out of 10 nationwide wouldn’t be able to watch TV if the switch to all-digital signals that the government is mandating took place today, according to a study released this morning by Nielsen. Another 25% of L.A.-area homes, and 12.6% in the United States, have at least one older TV set that won’t pick up the new signals after broadcasters switch off their old analog ones forever.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the switch to digital TV isn’t taking place today. It doesn’t happen until Feb. 18, so there’s time for you to catch up if you’re one of these technological laggards. In fact, you can see exactly how much time you have left by checking out the countdown clock on the FCC’s digital TV transition Web site. (One note on the actual D-Day for digital TV: Many sites, including the FCC’s, say the transition takes place on Feb. 17. That’s technically correct. The analog signals will go off at midnight that day, meaning that Feb. 18 is the first day of all digital broadcast TV.)


The Nielsen study, which you can download as a PDF here, shows some improvement in the percentage of households that can receive the digital signals ...

... as word spreads about the transition. In January, 10.2% of U.S. homes had no TV capable of viewing digital signals, meaning those households rely on antennas to watch television and either have an older set without a digital tuner or have yet to buy a converter box to translate the new digital signals into analog. The figure was down to 9.4% last month.

Most TVs hooked up to pay TV service from a cable, satellite or telecommunications company will work fine even if they don’t have a digital tuner or converter box. But Nielsen found that 22% of households have at least one old analog TV set. The federal government, which foisted this change on consumers to free up more airwaves for public safety and new wireless services, is trying to help. It is offering U.S. households two $40 coupons to buy no-frills converter boxes, which range in price from $40 to $60.

Of course, you can always just buy a new digital TV. But be careful: the FCC has fined some retailers for not properly labeling old analog TVs, as we wrote last month.

Los Angeles has one of the highest percentage of over-the-air viewers in the country. But its 13.3% of households that would be in the dark if the transition took place today doesn’t rank in the top 10 of unprepared markets, according to the Nielsen study. Leading that list was Milwaukee, with 18.3%. Still, Green Bay Packers fans there can take heart -- federal officials intentionally set the transition date after the 2009 Super Bowl, which takes place Feb. 1.

-- Jim Puzzanghera

Puzzanghera, a Times staff writer, covers tech and media policy from Washington, D.C.