Goodbye Analog, Hello Digital

There were, as of last August, 112.8 million TV households nationwide, according to the Nielsen Ratings. Of those households, a reported 66% have three or more TVs, while the number of TV sets averages 2.24.

Last time I checked, I watch TV in a three-bedroom house that accommodates five televisions. I can move from one room to the next and never miss a thing – overkill is an understatement. Most people I know have at least two, with most in the three or four range. Considering we each have only one set of eyes, that’s a lot of televisions.

The question is, how many of those TVs are ready for Feb. 17, 2009, the day digital-only broadcasts begin? The countdown is on, and even though the only holdouts I know are my grandparents, an overwhelming 98% of Americans have an analog TV at home, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Like my grandparents, quite a few analog users will be in for a surprise come 10 months when their TVs quit working; 60% of viewers reportedly are unaware of the changeover. They will find out soon enough, and when they do, 48% of rabbit-ear users will opt for the federally subsidized converter box. (Nearly 11 million coupons for the converters have been requested, and more than 500,000 redeemed, according to MSNBC.)

CEA says, through 2010, fewer than 15 million TVs will be removed from U.S. households that receive over-the-air broadcasts, 95% of which will be sold, donated or recycled. Although that number pales in comparison to the total number of TVs in use, that’s still a significant chunk of TVs that will need upgrading.

Surprisingly, analog TVs are still being sold. In fact, the Federal Communications Commission recently levied more than $3 million in fines against big-name sellers for not properly labeling analog TVs, with Wal-Mart hit for $992,000, Sears $1.1 million, Circuit City $712,000, and Target and Best Buy both close to $300,000.

While retailers scramble to label their dwindling inventories of analog TVs, digital units are taking their place on shelves. If you are in the group who doesn’t want to hang on to the relic in your living room (or in your garage, perhaps?) and would rather not fork over $40 for a converter, be sure when you go digital, you find a TV with an ATSC tuner. Looks can be deceiving: Read the fine print.

Either way, manufacturers are looking forward to the greater-than-normal electronics sales brought about by the looming digital shift, for even if consumers opt for converter boxes rather than new digital screens, that means 50 million or more of those new units will be sold in the next year. It will be interesting to see how the numbers stack up next spring, when analog broadcasts sign off for the last time. While it will mark the end of an era for analog, it may also signal the start of a recovery for electronics.

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