Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Basics

Much has been published or broadcast on the television industry’s transition to digital and the shutoff of analog broadcasts in February of 2009. Here are the main points you need to know as it relates to Watertown, NY and the broadcasts of WWNY & WNYF.

  • On 2/17/2009 all full-power analog broadcasts from stations in the United States will end. Analog broadcasts from Canada and our low-powered stations WNYF-CA, Watertown & WNYF-LP, Massena will continue. Eventually these stations will be converted to digital as well.

  • If you are a cable subscriber, you will not be affected by the analog shutoff in February 2009. The cable companies will convert WWNY’s & WNYF’s DTV signal for display on your older analog TV. If you subscribe to Time Warner Cable systems and utilize an HDTV you can also receive WWNY & WNYF’s HDTV broadcasts.

  • If you view our televisions stations via an antenna you will need a newer television with a built-in DTV tuner or a DTV converter box. The converter box will convert our DTV broadcasts to an analog format for your older television set to display. The newer set does not have to be an HDTV to receive the digital signals, including our HDTV broadcasts, but you must utilize an HDTV to enjoy the full resolution 16:9 widscreen pictures of those HDTV broadcasts.

  • If you subscribe to a satellite service, but utilize an antenna to receive the local stations for your Network programming, you will need a newer television with a built-in tuner or a DTV convert box. Currently none of the satellite providers transmit Watertown local stations on their system. (In some circumstances you may qualify for distant market Network feeds, and the satellite company will make the conversion for an older analog TV.)

  • WWNY currently is broadcasting digitally (WWNY-DT) and provides the programming of WNYF FOX-28 on a secondary DTV channel. This service will continue after 2/17/2009. This “multi-cast” channel of WWNY-DT is in standard definition 4:3 ration pictures, while WWNY-DT’s primary DTV channel of WWNY’s CBS programming is in 16:9 widescreen HDTV. When programs are not originated in 16:9 HDTV, 4:3 programs are upconverted and have black or colored bars on the sides to fill the 16:9 screen. This is called pillar boxed.

  • Current DTV broadcasts are on the UHF frequency of channel 35. After 2/17/2009 all of WWNY’s DTV broadcasts will be on VHF channel 7. This move is being made to improve the reception for viewers in fringe areas and to reduce our energy consumption and costs. VHF signals are also less affected by the terrain & weather conditions. DTV sets currently display our channels as 7.1 WWNY-HD and 7.2 WNYF SD. This branding will remain the same after 2/17/2009, only the physical transport is changing..

  • Good signal reception is critical to DTV viewing. An outdoor antenna, orientated towards the TV station is always the best choice for reception. For assistance with the selection and orientation of the antenna you might visit

  • Sometime after 2/17/2009, our low-powered station WNYF-CA, Watertown will broadcast digitally as WNYF-DC. These digital broadcasts will be in 16:9 HDTV. While the service area is greater than WNYF-CA’s analog signal, they still are not as great as WWNY-DT’s. WNYF-LP in Massena will be converted to DTV at a later date.

WWNY-TV- analog broadcasts on VHF channel 7 (will cease on 2/17/2009).

WWNY-DT- digital broadcasts, currently on UHF channel 35, will broadcast on VHF channel 7 after 2/17/2009. Channel 7.1 is WWNY (CBS) in 16:9 HDTV, channel 7.2 standard definition 4:3 broadcasts of WNYF (FOX).

WNYF-CA- analog broadcasts on UHF channel 28 from Watertown, NY

WNYF-LP- analog broadcasts on UHF channel 28 from Massena, NY

WNYF-CD- digital broadcasts of WNYF (FOX) in 16:9 HDTV, sometime after 2/17/2009


Anonymous said...

So full-power US stations are digital-only as of Feb 17, with low-power US stations to follow at an unspecified time and Canadian stations (except in the far north) to be all digital by the end of August 2011. Why, then, are the ATSC converter boxes nowhere to be found in Kingston - less than fifteen miles from the edge of Jefferson County? The closest vendors for the boxes appear to be Watertown or suburban Toronto. Many new TV's are still analogue-only in Kingston; the area makes a prime dumping ground for whatever can't be sold in Watertown now as there are no federally-required warnings that ATSC is missing from the low-end models. All but the least-expensive LCD flatscreens seem to be able to get WWNY-HD/WNYF-SD digitally, but most new CRT sets do not and DVD or VHS recorders more often than not are analogue.

While the US government has been busy in a hard-sell of ATSC, the Canadian government has done nothing and most Canadians could well be unaware of the 2011 cutoff date for their domestic stations and unaware of whether (and how) the US shutoff affects them. Meanwhile, most over-the-air TV in Kingston comes from Watertown or Syracuse and none of it is LPTV.

Clearly someone hasn't thought this through at all, either in government or in the private sector.

Anonymous said...

While we watch WWNY...why hasnt WSTM or WPTZ put a translator up to serve the region for NBC service???

Jim Corbin said...

WSTM & WPTZ are our should direct your question to them.

Only WWNY & WNYF are operated by United Communications Corp...

Anonymous said...

I remember WWNY-TV used to carry a tiny amount of NBC programming during (and before) the 1970's, but I have no idea why NBC hasn't tried to get back into the Kingston-Watertown market by getting at least a subchannel (whatever.3) on an existing Watertown station.

After all, Watertown is a huge and sprawling metropolis with more than twice as many channels of OTA DTV as Ottawa, for instance. ;)

Anonymous said...

Still plenty of confusion out there; for instance, it looks like on-air PSA's are still getting the whole satellite question badly wrong.

Even WPBS-TV is running a half-hour programme at various odd hours (occasionally even on digital-only channels - oddly enough) in which they have This Old House on-air personalities going through Boston to deploy DTV converters. Both the half-minute PSA and the half-hour programme claim that "if you have cable or satellite, you're good to go". Um, no...

The full program also claims that a second TV with an indoor antenna in the kitchen of an otherwise satellite-TV household needs "a wire to the satellite dish" to keep working (not quite... it would need that *and* another satellite receiver, unless it only is to display the same channel that's on the main TV). The program then depicts that TV being replaced with a new LCD DTV (which predictably does receive both WGBH 2 analog and 2.1 digital correctly).

Oddly for a home improvement "how-to" program, they say little on how to install antennas - instead sticking to generalities like "make sure your outdoor antenna is pointed at the transmitter", directing users to info online or advising "contact a local antenna installer".

Maybe this is good enough for Boston, but metropolitan Watertown?

Our locals are not on the satellite; they are on US cable (the new subchannels are still missing on Canadian cable). We also have to deal with an odd mix of analog and digital signals - this until 2011 (because of Kingston remaining analog-only). Distances out here also require the whole antenna question be examined very closely indeed. Beyond 10-25 miles, indoor antennas are all but useless for DTV reception.

For distant locals from US broadcast satellites, small-dish viewers typically only qualify if they're not in the service area of the same network's local affiliates. For instance, Jefferson and St Lawrence County subscribers would not be free to subscribe WCBS lawfully from small-dish because that's WWNY territory. The same would also be true of the ABC station in Jefferson. They could in theory ask for waivers from the local stations, but these are rarely granted as local broadcasters have nothing to gain here.

Watertown dish subscribers might qualify for WNBC, though, as there's basically nothing here from that network. Even the largest "deep-fringe" outdoor antennas are typically rated no better than 100 miles VHF / 60 miles UHF, and Syracuse is to become a UHF island after the 2009 transition.

Jim Corbin said...

Unfortunately, the PSA's and 1/2hr programs are general in nature and don't take the unique characteristics of the Watertown market into account.

It frustrates us also that the message often is the change occurs on 2/17, when in fact we have been broadcasting DTV full-time since 2003. Also, that all analog gets cut off...when in fact, Canadians and LPTV's are not. Finally, that if you are connected to satellite you're OK...not so unless you qualify for distant market feeds. Even if you do qulaify, you will not be served with local news and information.

CarlB said...

True, endlessly repeating the same PSA offers very little new information that hasn't already been seen - and what information is provided is only serving to confuse viewers.

The three points which PSA's most want to refuse to address are:

* The mass-move of VHF channels to UHF is often failing to replicate existing coverage and even when it does work adequately, the best antenna for channel 2 is not necessarily the best for 14 - 51. Most 82-channel antennas consist of a huge VHF yagi/log-periodic, ahead of which is a tiny corner reflector and a minuscule UHF section. Even the largest "deep-fringe" antennas claim not much more than 60 miles UHF, even if they promise a hundred miles on VHF 2-13.

* Direct-broadcast satellites' use of local-into-local spotbeams leave much to be desired. A most costly endeavour, wasting massive amounts of spectrum re-uplinking the same networks from various adjacent markets to the point where US DBS providers are having to use satellite orbital positions which otherwise would be allocated to Canada or México, yet many small markets are still missing entirely. Those who can get locals from this pay a hefty price (usually $6 or so above the existing dish subscription) to see TV which could be had for free terrestrially, and often need a second dish or second LNB to get all of the channels. Useless to anyone in Watertown in any case.

* That the 2009 transition isn't a date for turning on anything new - the digital channels available are mostly whatever we're watching now on newer TV's with antennas, the 2009 transition merely turns off the existing (mostly-duplicate) analogue versions.

I remember looking at the coverage of the Wilmington test and thinking that that huge ceremonial eight-foot on/off switch (with DIGITAL at the top and ANALOG on the bottom) is upside-down. The digital signal was turned on weeks or years previous - the last being a 75-watt CBS VHF LPTV that turned on 15kW of digital UHF two weeks before Wilmington analogue was shut down. All the big ceremony commemorates is turning off signals. It's just that it's more marketable to claim to be providing something new instead of taking away existing signals.

It's confusing to audiences when endless hard-sell "buy this converter now or we'll turn off all your signals and shoot the dog" PSA's are being broadcast from US stations into Canada (where the boxes are almost nowhere to be found) and that most of these spots also gloss very badly over the whole LPTV question.

Info regarding satellite reception is also being mishandled or omitted, as is the whole problem of stations changing frequencies (often across bands), transmitter locations and power levels.

All these changes do affect antenna choice; in some cases, existing channels will be irretrievably lost. The transformation of low-VHF channels, once part of the most coveted portions of the spectrum, into a digital ghost town is an unfortunate setback that isn't even being mentioned in terms of lost coverage area vs. analogue TV.

I'd expect (based on TVfool) that both Carthage-Watertown and Potsdam-Massena can forget about over-the-air NBC once all those broadcasts move to UHF (and WPTZ's transmitter moves out of state).

Back in my day, if the operators of a viable low-VHF network affiliate were to propose to shut down, move to UHF and relocate the transmitters to Vermont, they would likely have been committed to a madhouse somewhere. UHF and mountains did not get along very well together, at least unless the receiver were also at the top of a tall mountain.

Even when reception problems can be solved reasonably well by a more directional antenna in a different (or higher) position, the people creating these PSA's seem not to risk the ire of viewers by bluntly admitting that more than a few OTA viewers likely need new antenna installations just to keep some existing channels.

A digital TV or converter box is a relatively marketable quick-fix - just bring it back to the living room and plug it in. A trip onto the roof with a ladder to install a better antenna is not... and what exactly is an "HDTV antenna" in today's marketing-speak anyway? Looks to be just a plain old UHF antenna; name-brand manufacturers are belatedly beginning now to design new antennas to target channels 7-51 specifically, even though we're already in the last few months to deploy any outdoor antennas in the north country before winter arrives.

Meanwhile, Canada is as bad or worse, with authorities doing nothing to make anyone aware of an end-August 2011 analogue shutoff. This only adds to public confusion about this winter's US full-power analogue shutdown in our region. Most digital stations listed as allocated to Canada don't exist and haven't even been applied for yet; nothing digital has been built outside five largest north-of-the-border markets.

At least the new widescreen LCD's tune both; ten or eleven channels of free OTA TV within forty miles in an area like Kingston-Watertown isn't all that bad, as when this does work it works well.

Anonymous said...

The PSA's aren't just general in nature, they're dumbed-down to leave out important information.

For instance, a half-hour programme will show an installer unpacking a CECB and a set of red-white-yellow RCA cables, then putting those cables aside and using RF-only connections to drop the converter into the signal path before the VCR and the TV.

What do the other cables do? It pointedly doesn't say... if it's simpler to ignore that almost every VCR ever made has the baseband A/V input jacks and show the simpler (but not necessarily better) RF modulator, the rest of the cables are quietly put back in the box and not mentioned again.

The minor detail that a VCR will not be able to automatically change channels (or record one programme while another is being watched, if using just one converter) is also left unmentioned.

At least there's plenty of info on the Internet... where those most likely to need it may never find it.

CarlB said...

Actually, it's worse.

The PBS PSA's that are claiming "if you have cable or satellite, you're good to go" also claim that, if you have a digital TV, you're good to go.

Not quite. That shiny new high-definition Viewsonic flatscreen with the built-in DVD player will indeed tune WWNY 7.1 and WNYF 7.2, but to record... hmm, let me see... I still have this stereo VCR here that's been working great since the 1980's and - oh wait a minute - there's no channel 7.2 on here, is there? And the built-in disc player in that shiny new digital TV won't record. :(

There's a video out jack on the TV, but that seems to be just for the disc player. And no, the Watertown stations aren't on the dish anywhere and the subchannels aren't on the cable in Kingston.

Um, where did I put that CECB again?