“Wilmington, North Carolina: First in flight, first in digital” read the seven-foot switch in downtown Wilmington. The large lever was just for show, but it heralded the city’s conversion to digital-only television broadcasts.
On Monday, Wilmington became the first major American city to take the plunge into DTV. Most of the US will switch signals on Feb. 17, 2009. The coming conversion will only affect about 12 percent of Americans – those who rely on over-the-air broadcast television. Cable and satellite subscribers can go about their business as usual. But some Wilmington residents turned on their antenna TVs Monday afternoon to find static on every channel.
The solution is simple enough: a $40 to $70 converter box that can translate the digital signal into something old TVs can understand (there are free $40 coupons available at dtv2009.gov). Also, most TV sets purchased in the last two years come with these boxes built in.
Congress mandated that TV stations switch to the more efficient digital signals to free up the air waves for other media (such as cellphones, wireless Internet, and emergency calls) while also allowing for more TV channels and clearer pictures.