I don’t really believe that the FCC, by killing off analog television over the air, is trying to force us into buying cable or satellite service, but this report by Doc Searls doesn’t reassure me:
For a variety of arcane technical reasons, many (perhaps most) digital signals are directional. That is, they operate at their full licensed power in only a few (or perhaps only one) direction, and have big dents or “nulls” in other directions. In the old analog days directionality was the exception rather than the rule, and was usually intentional, to protect other signals on the same or adjacent frequencies, or to pull back on the signal in the direction of a mountain that might cause unwanted reflections or places (such as the sea) where nobody lived anyway. Not the case with DTV. Lots of new DTV signals are directional just anyway.
How does this work out in real life? Not so great from Doc’s place in Santa Barbara:
On my old roof antenna and its rotator, I got just about every analog TV station between Santa Barbara and San Diego. That included both VHF and UHF signals. With that antenna (the top one from Radio Shack) I even got little K35DG, a low-power UHF station at UC San Diego with a signal that puts a deep null in our direction (west-northwest, nearly 200 miles across the Pacific Ocean). I sent them emails reporting reception and they were amazed.
In our new house (next door to the old one with the big roof antenna) I anticipated the digital switchover and installed a very high-gain Winegard HD-9032 UHF antenna. (Here’s a pdf.) It’s an outstanding device that’s even better on UHF than the old all-channel one. For analog reception it got every UHF in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego/Tijuana. In nearly all weather, at nearly all times of year. But that’s analog. What about digital?
For DTV, the Winegard does the best it can, but it’s not enough. The slight terrain shadowing between here and Broadcast Peak (where out local TV stations come from) makes them almost impossible to receive. KEYT on Channel 3 was (and for now still is) a powerhouse that we could get with rabbit ears. KEYT’s digital signal on Channel 27 is barely there. In fact it’s so bad that the one time I got it the signal didn’t stay visible long enough for me to shoot a picture of it. Meanwhile we get nothing from anywhere but the only place that provides a fairly clear signal path, even if it’s across the curved ocean. That’s San Diego/Tijuana. All our HD viewing of over-the-air TV is from there. At one time or another we’ve been able to get all the HD signals from there, and add them into the memory of our Dish Network box, which also has an HD receiver. As you see here and here, the reception is either perfect or screwed. It’s the latter most of the time. Fact is, we’re lucky to get anything at all. Such is the nature of the new system.
As a cable subscriber, I presumably will be spared this particular brand of agony. But I worry: if Searls, an experienced broadcast engineer, can’t do much of anything to bring in local television channels, what’s going to happen to John and Mary and their not-so-free DTV converter box and their ten-dollar rabbit ears?