From The Editor
When the ten-year transition to digital TV ended, over a decade ago, you needed either a digital converter box for your old TV, or a brand new digital TV, if you were to receive the many new local stations – but first, you had to "rescan" the tuner, in the TV's menu, to get them. Suddenly you had a lot more local TV stations than you ever had before, many in high definition, and all with perfect pictures. Fine and dandy.
But as new channels came on the air, you had to rescan again to get those. And, over the last couple of years, you had to repeatedly rescan your tuner to keep receiving many local stations as they changed the frequencies they transmitted on – so the U.S. Government could sell more and more of the former 82-channel TV band to the wireless companies. Now the TV band runs from Channel 2 to channel 36, and that's it. However, TV stations can continue to name themselves by their old channel numbers to help you find them, and the channels they say they are on are used to help your TV to keep them in the same position on your TV tuner as they always were, no matter what channels they actually transmit on now.All these previous frequency changes were mostly mandated by the government, and the stations were forced to make these changes – but for their trouble, the costs of doing so were often reimbursed to the stations by the government, from the pot of money they made selling the parts of the TV band that these stations had been using.Finally, last fall, it seemed to be all over – but wait! There's more! And you already may know about it, since the latest frequency shuffle took place at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, July 28. And this time, the stations themselves are responsible for the change – which required you to rescan your digital TV's tuner to keep receiving some of the stations you were getting free from an antenna.You see, it's been over ten years since the "ATSC-1" digital format introduced you to the extra channels being broadcast in Portland, and the splendid pictures that went with them. Now, the broadcasters want to upgrade to a newly-authorized advanced digital TV format called "ATSC-3".
This "next generation" of digital TV can support even higher definition – although if you don't have a really huge screen TV, you may not notice the difference. The new format is supposed to work better in cars – but it would have to be for back-seat-use-only to be legal. And more importantly for the broadcasters, it is supposed to help the TV stations better market products and services to you – often tailored specifically for you, by mixing the broadcast with additional data your TV is supposed to get keyed specifically to you, over the Internet. You may or may not want that extra level of tailoring, which requires that broadcasters know ever more about you and your tastes.Most importantly for you, the new ATSC-3 format is – alas – incompatible with ATSC-1. So, unless you have a very new TV with the capability of also receiving ATSC-3 signals, you'll only see the ATSC-1 broadcasts you've gotten used to. To get more, you would have to buy a brand new digital converter box (there are very few available yet), or else buy yet another new TV with the new type of tuner in it.Alas, you may not have very many years to get that converter box, or that new TV, before the ATSC-1 broadcasts start disappearing. There will be no ten-year transition with both formats on the air this time, because this is not a government mandate but just a TV station project.In Portland, the first step was taken on July 28. A consortium of major local TV broadcasters quite legally got together to figure out how to transmit both formats without any extra stations to broadcast them on, which they had last time.
They agreed on switching two existing full-power TV channels – KRCW, channel 32, and KPDX, channel 49 – and both stations are now broadcasting entirely in the new ATSC-3 format, for the participating stations to share. All four of KRCW's former channels, and all four of KPDX's former channels, have now moved to several different transmitters -- but are still to be found under their familiar channel numbers after you rescan your TV. That's what happened on July 28.If you watch local TV from cable or satellite, those providers took care of this switch for you, and you should still be getting what you got before, without having to do anything.
There's still good reason to use an antenna to receive all four dozen local TV broadcasts – it's free, you get the best available picture on each, and get some channels you might not receive through a cable or satellite service. But if you DO watch the fifty digital Portland TV channels free from an antenna, and if you haven't rescanned your TV recently, you'd better do it now – to get back those channels that in late July seemed to vanish.
Not many local media, including the TV stations themselves, tell you the whole story behind these frequent changes we've seen lately in local live TV broadcasts, as received free from an antenna. So THE BEE keeps up with all this stuff for you, so you don't have to.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.