Transcript: Live chat with Jim Puzzanghera

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Administrator: Hi folks, and welcome to the Digital TV chat!

Mike: hello

Administrator: Welcome!

Administrator: And welcome Jim Puzzanghera, our resident expert, who’s here to answer your questions about the changeover to digital.

Burt: Will Cox Comm. continue to provide analog signals in

Jim Puzzanghera: I believe that Cox will continue offering analog signals, but you should check with them. The Federal Communications Commission has mandated that all cable comapnies must continue to provide the signals they are now providing for at least three years after the transition. The only way around that is if the cable company turns its entire system all-digital. Some small cable companies may do that, but most of the large ones have too many analog customers to do that immediately.

dtv30: if you don’t have an antenna on your roof, will you be able to pick up DTV channels with the converter box?


Jim Puzzanghera: Thanks for the question dtv30 (sorry, we’ve been having a few technical difficulties here, but seem to be on track now). You can pick up digital signals with rabbit ears on your set, but you may not get the signals as well as on your roof. In my house, the rabbit ears worked find.

Leon: Digital TV has had a history of being difficult to receive. What do you recommend as an effective way to receive all the digital signals

Administrator: (Folks, if you’ve sent a question and haven’t seen it appear yet, don’t worry -- just giving Jim time to type in between questions. We’ll get to them soon!)

Jim Puzzanghera: You’re right, Leon, it can be tough to pick up some channels because of the so-called “cliff effect,” which means you either get a strong signal or nothing at all. I’ve heard that an antenna booster can help if you’re having problems. Also, a rooftop antenna works better than rabbit ears.

dtv30: what about the converter box packages that say they work with super antennas? Do you need those?

Jim Puzzanghera: I haven’t heard of those, dtv 30, but I’d be wary of retailers trying to upsell you. You may be fine with your regular antenna.

craig: If I have the digital decoder box and a computer monitor is there something else I can use besides an old tv to watch tv on the monitor?

Jim Puzzanghera: You have to have a digital tuner somewhere in the system. Some DVRs and DVD players have them and I’ve heard they can work to pick up the signals.

dtv30: i get terrible reception (free TV, not cable) and they say digital is even harder to pick up. Am i likely to pick up anything?

Jim Puzzanghera: Your signal should improve. My antenna tv got lousy reception and with a converter box it was great. But everyone’s results may vary. I receive all digital channels more clearly than the analog ones. Yet, I cannot receive digital channel 24 but analog is just fine.

Jim Puzzanghera: I had someone else email me with a problem about channel 24, Marvin. I haven’t checked, but they may not be broadcasting in digitial yet. Broadcasters have until Feb. 18, though most are already up and running. You might want to check with them.

JD: i have TIVO. how can i make it work w/dtv antenna + satelite?

Jim Puzzanghera: If you’ve got satellite, JD, you should be all set becasue it’s already all digital. Do you use use the antenna for just your local stations?

JD: yes.

Jim Puzzanghera: Then it might be tricky. You can only tune in one channel at a time on the converter box, so it makes recording difficult. You might want to check with TiVo. They probably have other people in the same boat. And they don’t want to lose customers.

simuman: A comment: UHF (above channel 13) signals don’t tend to arry as far as VHF (2-13). In L.A., all the major networks will be moving their digital signals to VHF after the transition. This should help improve reception for people like Charles Wolfe in the Sunday Times Business article.

Jim Puzzanghera: Great point simuman.

dtv30: so if you currently have bad reception with rabbit ears and hook up a converter box now, will you probably one get three channels like the guy in your article?

dtv30: anyone notice it’s hard to find good quality rabbit ears anymore? anyone know a good source so I can upgrade the internal antenna when i hook up the converter box?

Jim Puzzanghera: The reception varies depending on where you live and the quality of your antenna. The broadcasters have a site,, that helps you figure out how strong the different signals are at your address.

Leon: If I live in an area that I cannot pickup a digital signal from my favorite network station, do I have any recourse with the station? Am I just out of luck? Regular TV comes in OK, not great.

Jim Puzzanghera: I don’t know of any recourse, Leon. But if regular tv comes in ok, digital should come in better.

dtv30: Thanks simuman and jim ;-

Mike: why is the Federal government mandating this?

Jim Puzzanghera: This is being done in large part to free up some airwaves for public safety and other wireless uses. But there’s a whole, sordid backstory to the push for high-definition and digital TV. There’s a great book about it, called Defining Vision, by Joel Brinkley.

dtv30: So, even if we set up converter boxes now, we may not really want to use them until 2/2009 when we see what we’re really getting, right?

Jim Puzzanghera: Most stations are broadcasting in digital now, but the full transition won’t take place until Feb. 18, 2009.

Administrator: So Jim, why is the transition happening right *now*? Is there a particular timeliness or has this been in the works for a long time and is just now coming to fruition?

Jim Puzzanghera: The DTV transition has been in the works for years, and has been delayed a couple of times. Congress a few years ago finally decided they needed to set a hard date or station’s would not convert. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the response to Hurricane Katrina, when public safety first responders had great difficulty sharing information over their networks, helped push the hard date. Congress also was eager to auction off the extra airwaves, which it did earlier this year, to get money for the federal treasury. That auction made $19 billion.

dtv30: is the sordid backstory based on increasing cable/satellite subscriber sales and implementing higher costs for TVs?

Administrator: $19 billion?! Wow!

Jim Puzzanghera: No, it acutally was, ironically, a way for broadcasters to avoid giving up some of their airwaves. It didn’t quite work out that way because advances of technology allowed high-def signals to be compressed digitally.

Administrator: Do you hear from a lot of conspiracy theorists about this? Government using the required boxes as a way to spy and stuff?

dtv30: public safety is gov’t and obviously the gov didn’t pay itself 19 billion. Who else bid on those airwaves?

Jim Puzzanghera: I haven’t heard that one yet, but I’ve heard two things. Some people are annoyed the government is forcing this change on everybody, and others are annoyed the government is paying for converter boxes for people who haven’t upgraded on their own.

Jim Puzzanghera: You’re right, dtv 30, public safety got their airwaves for free. The big wireless companies, like Verizon, and small regional ones, bought the leases for most of the airwaves. So the incentives for the government were twofold: helping public safety and bringing in a lot of cash to ease the budget deficit.

dtv30: does the brand matter much on convertor boxes? should i pay attention to the brand?

Jim Puzzanghera: I don’t think the brands are that significant. They all had to be built to the same specs to qualify for the government program. The brands may help, though, when it comes to the quality of customer service if you have a problem.

Administrator: So do you think we can really expect a marked improvement in public safety -- response times and stuff -- in governmental responses to emergencies like Katrina?

Administrator: As a result of airwaves being freed up, I mean?

Jim Puzzanghera: It’s not so much response time as in the ability of first responders to share information. But the federal government is still struggling with finding ways to help public safety take advantage of those airwaves, so it may not help for a while.

dtv30: so, jim, for the few of us still on “free” tv, any words of advice?

Jim Puzzanghera: There’s more of you than you think. I’d get the coupons, get a box and see how it works. If you’re having trouble receiving stations, you may have to upgrade the antenna, the set or move to cable or satellite to keep watching.

dtv30: sorry, another question. you said DTV can only pick up one channel at a time. Will i still be able to use my VCR (taping one channel and watching another)???

Jim Puzzanghera: The VCR will work, but only if the box is tuned to the station you want to tape. So you can’t watch one station and tape another, or program the vcr to tape shows on more than one station.

Administrator: Jim, do you think the transition to digital will be beneficial enough to consumers in the long run to justify the short-term headaches?

Administrator: Or will we always be annoyed by this? :)

Jim Puzzanghera: That’s a good question. It’s hard to tell. If there are a lot of problems, then it may not be worth it. There’s a lot of free tv watchers out there, some estimates are 20%.

dtv30: that’s insane! so, basically, most of the benefits of a VCR are lost!

Jim Puzzanghera: Your’e right, dtv30.

Jim Puzzanghera: I should add that many dvrs have built in digital tuners and they apparently will work the same. But that’s another expensive upgrade for a lot of people.

dtv30: so, what in leiu of the VCR what do you recommend for watching one thing and taping another?

Jim Puzzanghera: I think we’re going to wrap now. We’ve just launched a new section on our website,, that includes a lot of our stories about the transition, some graphics and links to useful sites. So keep an eye out there for future stories. One thing happening in September that I’ll be covering is a test of the conversion in Wilimington, N.C. The broadcasters there volunteered to have their analog signals shut off early. The FCC is going to monitor it and try to figure out what works and what doesn’t a few months before the country transitions in February.

Administrator: Folks, thanks so much for coming to today’s chat (and sorry for our tech problems early on!). If you missed any of it, a transcript will be available later this afternoon at

Administrator: Thank you Jim!

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