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Is your TV digital ready?
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Customers walk past a wall of televisions at Best Buy on Dawsonville Highway. You will need to take action before Feb. 17 if you currently watch TV on an analog TV set that is not connected to cable, satellite or other pay TV service. If you own a television with a digital tuner or subscribe to a pay TV service, you will likely continue to receive TV programming as usual after the transition. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Digital TV switch

What: All television signals will change from analog to digital, as mandated by the U.S. government.

When: Feb. 17

What it means: If you receive TV signals on an analog set via an antenna, you’ll need to connect to digital cable or buy a converter box. If you already receive signals from cable or satellite, or have a TV with a digital tuner, you’re ready.

Coupon program: The federal government offers households up to two coupons for $40 off the price of a DTV converter box. To sign up, visit www.dtv2009.gov.

The countdown to the digital television transition is on, and area stations have spent the month of December providing tests to make sure local television sets are ready for the switch.

"We all decided to do what we call a ‘DTV roadblock,’" said Gary Alexander, director of engineering for WSB in Atlanta. "We ran a commercial at the exact same time on all the broadcast stations, so if you were watching TV over the air, you saw them."

The tests were conducted over four days at different times — 7 a.m. Dec. 8, noon Dec. 10, 7 p.m. Dec. 12 and 10 a.m. Dec. 13, according to Bob Walker, president and general manager of WXIA and WATL in Atlanta.

"The test during the week of the eighth was a locally coordinated test done by all the local broadcasters in the Atlanta metro area," Walker said.

Local viewers likely saw afterward that their televisions either passed or failed.

The tests ran signals on both digital and analog transmitters. Those who were able to receive the digital signal passed, while those who only received the analog signal failed.

"If someone was getting a signal on the analog transmitter, then they knew they weren’t quite ready for the transition," Alexander said.

Walker said failing the test could mean two different things. Viewers who receive a free broadcast over the air need to get a digital converter box to continue receiving a signal after Feb. 17.

Coupons for $40 off the boxes, provided by the federal government, are available at www.dtv2009.gov. Most boxes cost in the $50 to $75 range.

Some who subscribe to Charter Communications cable also may have failed.

"What we found in the first test is Charter had not made that change," Walker said. "If they’re hooked up to a cable provider, they need to call their cable provider and tell their cable provider you need to switch to the digital signal not the analog signal."

But Anita Lamont, a spokeswoman for Charter, said customers need not worry.

"Our engineers will have everything ready well in advance of Feb. 17," Lamont said.

Lamont said Charter Communications is still working on installing equipment in some locations.

"Nobody should be alarmed," Lamont said.

Walker said more tests will likely be scheduled for the future to remind people to prepare for the digital switch in February.

"The value of the test is it signals that to people and makes them take action now rather than after they’ve lost the signal on Feb. 17," Walker said.

On Feb. 17, all analog television airwaves will cease and broadcasting will become completely digital.

Those who subscribe to cable or satellite TV services will not be affected. But those with analog sets who have relied on an antenna to receive basic channels will need to buy a converter box in order to continue receiving a television signal.

"Atlanta, as a market, is very ready for the transition in February," Alexander said.

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