Digital technology expected to revolutionize television |

Digital technology expected to revolutionize television

Television viewing is on the verge of a revolution comparable to the switch from black and white to color, according to a TCI Cablevision representative.

The modern revolution will see the switch from analog, the traditional mode of television broadcast technology, to digital. Ultimately, computers, telephones and television, especially high-definition television, will merge.

“The next generation of boxes (that decode the cable signal) bring the convergence one step closer,” said Andrew C. Johnson, director of communications for TCI of California. “The (Federal Communication Commission) is requiring that digital signals be broadcast over the entire country in 10 to 12 years.”

Cost for the digital upgrade is slightly more than an additional $13 per month, which includes a rental fee for a digital compression terminal. There also is an installation fee.

Digital compression allows 12 digital channels to use the same cable space as one analog channel, freeing up more space for more information to be passed along the same line.

TCI recently introduced digital television to overlap the analog packages already offered.

With the installation of a digital compression terminal and telephone connection, TCI customers can receive up to 36 additional television channels, 10 audio channels, and on-screen selection services similar to a computer.

Some channels are tied to current analog service. For instance, the digital program offers HBO 2 and 3 but only to customers with HBO.

A menu, or navigator screen, directs viewers to a variety of options. Those include program schedules; preferred channel subsets for browsing just favorite stations; special interest-channels; reminders that favorite programs are about to start; digital music express stations (connected to the television or stereo); and pay-per-view programs selected from the menu without a separate phone call.

Special options include a message center for such things as warnings from the cable company about program interruptions for maintenance.

The digital terminal also provides parental controls that lock out undesirable programming by title, channel or rating. A password chosen by the parent allows adult access.

The system’s special features require a telephone connection as well as cable, but, according to Johnson, TCI provides various options to fit the room, including wireless jacks so the phone does not have to be next to the television.

The digital terminal “acts as data transfer and collection” and can be used in diagnostics to track down problems and speed maintenance.

“Is the problem on your side of the wall, or is it on our side of the wall, or is it down the street?” Johnson said.

Just as it took time for color television to displace black and white, analog and digital will coexist for awhile.

“Eventually, analog channels will go away (and the FCC will dedicate those channels for other uses),” Johnson said.

Currently, TCI’s digital system is added on to existing analog programming for an installation fee, an additional monthly fee plus a monthly charge for the digital compression terminal, which replaces the box now used for pay-per-view services.

One digital box works for only one television set.

“What we’re seeing is that most people install the digital system in the main viewing room and, say the bedroom, has the existing TCI service there (although additional terminals can be installed on all televisions),” Johnson said.

The digital signal is broadcast over the same lines as the analog signal and subject to the same types of interruptions due to weather or other problems that knock out power.

“We haven’t quite figured out how to get (the signal into homes) without power yet,” Johnson said.

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