Tune In to the Digital Transition & TV Ratings

On Feb. 17, 2009, television broadcasters nationwide will stop broadcasting an analog signal and will switch completely to a digital signal. Families with certain types of television sets may need to take some action to continue to watch TV.

The switch from analog to digital is happening for a few reasons. First, the digital format is more flexible, and broadcasters can provide a better-quality picture. Another benefit is that the digital format allows for interactive capabilities, like ordering a pay-per-view movie from the comfort of your living room. Soon you may be surfing the Internet or even checking e-mail from your television screen.

Here is what you need to know to prepare for the switch:

You don’t need to buy a new TV. If you’ve purchased a new television in the last two years, there’s a good chance it catches the digital signal. See the resource box for specific labeling that will let you know whether your set will work with the digital signal. If you have an analog-only set, you can get a converter box at your local electronics store to convert the new digital signal. They cost about $50.

You could get $40 off of the TV converter box price. The government program to provide up to two coupons per household will run through March 31, 2009, or until supplies last. You can apply for the coupons either through a 24-hour automated system at 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009) or online at www.dtv2009.gov.

You don’t need a new service subscription. If you don’t have cable or a satellite dish and receive your TV broadcast through an antenna, you can still catch the signal. The digital format travels through the air, just like the old analog format, so you can still use an antenna to catch the signal.

You may need a new cable box. If you do subscribe to a cable or satellite dish service, contact your provider to find out if you need any new equipment.

You don’t have to ditch your old TV. Analog-only TV sets will still work with your old VCR and most video game consoles. You can use these older televisions for entertainment purposes in a family room or spare bedroom.

Have more questions? Visit www.dtv.gov for more on the digital television transition.

Understanding TV Show Ratings

While most viewers understand the “G” rating for major motion pictures, many parents are less familiar with other media ratings — even ones displayed regularly on television. In a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 12 percent of parents with children ages 2 to 6 recognized the TV rating “FV” as “Fantasy Violence” while another 8 percent thought it stood for “Family Viewing.”

Interpreting ratings for a specific audience also can be tricky. Media rating systems can be a starting point for families, but Liz Perle, editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media, a parental media resource, says there’s more to consider. When it comes to matching ratings with your family, “there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Perle says, adding that industry rating systems don’t take into account individual differences in age, maturity level or household values.

Understanding the television-rating system is the first step to help your family find a good viewing match at home. The TV Parental Monitoring Board created the following TV Parental Guidelines to help audiences with their viewing decisions:

TV Y – Appropriate for all children.

TV Y7 – Viewing for children ages 7 and older.

TV Y7 FV – May be appropriate for children who understand the difference between real life and cartoon violence.

TV G – Appropriate for a general audience and contains little or no violence, sex or strong language.

TV PG – Parental guidance is suggested. Descriptors may include (V) moderate violence, (S) some sexual situations, (L) infrequent coarse language or (D)suggestive dialogue.

TV PG 14 – Parents are strongly urged to exercise great supervision and cautioned against allowing viewers under the age of 14. Descriptors may indicate (V) intense violence, (S) some sexual situations, (L) strong coarse language or intensely suggestive dialogue.

TV MA – Created for adults only. Descriptors include (V) intense violence, (S) explicit sexual activity and (L) crude indecent language.

Television shows are rated by episode, so the ratings on a weekly series can vary with each episode’s content. Commercials and network promotions are not rated. Also, every television set produced after January 2000 has a V-Chip — built-in technology that can be set to block programs based on TV ratings. Your cable or satellite service may also provide parental control and channel-locking options.

Sharon Miller Cindrich is a mother of two who writes frequently about parenting, technology and travel.

Will My TV Work?

Your TV has a digital tuner if you purchased it after March 1, 2007. If you purchased a set before then, look for the following terms on a label or in the owner’s manual to determine if you will need an analog-to-digital converter box.

Labels on TVs With Digital Tuners

Integrated Digital Tuner
Digital Tuner Built-In
Digital Receiver
Digital Tuner
DTV, ATSC or HDTV (High-Definition Television)

Labels on TVs Without Digital Tuners

Unless specified as having a digital tuner
Digital Monitor
HDTV Monitor
Digital Ready
HDTV Ready
From the Federal Communications Commission, www.dtv.gov

Categories: At Home, Home, Lifestyle