Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Mimsy Were the Technocrats: As long as we keep talking about it, it’s technology.

Who killed broadcast TV?

Jerry Stratton, April 19, 2015

Jerry Seinfeld has apparently pronounced network television dead. My recent experience is that broadcast TV is definitely dying—and I have to think that government regulations are helping kill it. Specifically, being forced to go to HDTV and being forced to use a specific HDTV technology. At the time, the switch to HDTV was presented as a no-brainer, and the broadcasters refusing to switch were presented as neanderthals unwilling to progress with the times.

I don’t actually watch a lot of television, so the transition didn’t bother me; I never even purchased a conversion box. A year ago we bought a Samsung SmartTV HDTV set. It was mainly to watch DVDs and Netflix. But since we had it, and since my girlfriend does enjoy some current programming, we figured we might as well get an HDTV antenna and see what’s in the area.

First, I just picked up a cheap HDTV antenna at Walmart. Before HDTV, that’s all you needed in any suburban area near a major urban area (we are in the Austin area): a cheap set of rabbit ears. And it worked, in the sense that we could get two out of three of the more powerful stations in our area. But the third simply wouldn’t show up; it had shown up fine in the living room when we were testing, but when we moved the set to the media room, there was no signal.

With analog signals, the picture can slowly degrade as you leave the broadcast area; with digital signals, it’s all or nothing. Leaving the area where the signal is nearly perfect means going over the digital cliff.

At this point I was beginning to understand why broadcasters preferred standard television: they could reach more viewers. But I did some research and purchased the Mohu Leaf 50 Amplified Indoor HDTV antenna. Now, with appropriate positioning of the antenna, we get all three of the major stations as well as several others. But when there’s a storm in the area, some stations still flicker out. They freeze for a second or two, and even go to the dreaded “no signal detected”.

Now, on the one hand, the HDTV picture is amazing. On the other hand, a lot fewer people can take advantage of it. In a normal market, consumers and providers come to an agreement about what features are most important by what they are willing to pay for. In this case, the experts, as usual, decided that their criteria were the only ones that mattered; they mandated not just a conversion, but the specific technology to meet the conversion. Now, some of my suppositions may be wrong: but that’s because, as far as I can figure, the experts exacerbated the problem by assuming that HDTV was so much better that they could mandate lower power. So HDTV doesn’t work as well as analog as the signal starts to fade, and the signal isn’t going to be as strong anyway. Which is the real problem? The common denominator is government experts.

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