Think inside the box

For John Lautenslager, owner of Lautenslage-Lipsey appliance store in downtown Albion, business has been good. In recent weeks, the business has experienced an increase in customers rushing to purchase analog-to-digital converter boxes to prepare for the upcoming digital transmission. Now, owners of analog TV sets have more time to prepare for the switch over.


On Wednesday, Feb. 4, Congress voted to delay the analog signal shutdown from Feb. 17 until June 12. The major reason for the delay was because the government ran out of subsidy coupons last month, which were offered to minimize the cost of the converter boxes.


According to Lautenslager, Albion residents were also calling into his business with questions after each DTV test for viewers to see if they were prepared.


“I really think [the delay] is a good thing,” Lautenslager said. “The digital signal is weaker than analog and often outside antennae adjustments are needed to sharpen picture quality. I’m sure people would much rather wait until the weather gets warmer to be up on their roofs.”


In Albion too, there are questions and concerns about the switch.


Digital communication converts data to be transmitted into numbers rather than waves, and the transmission can use a much narrower band of frequencies than analog. This frees up space, allowing additional TV channels to use the airwaves, according to Harold Connamacher, professor of computer science.


Some residents are already prepared for the transition. With installation help from Lautenslager-Lipsey, Francis Gideon, Albion resident, added a converter box to her analog TV set over a year ago.


“I’m still adjusting to it,” said Gideon. “It’s not difficult, just bothersome switching back and forth between digital and analog depending on what the channel broadcasts, but if an old lady 87 years old can understand it, anyone can.”


According to Connamacher, the television sets needs to be able to understand the signal they receive. Older analog televisions will not understand a digital signal so a converter box is needed.


Since January, Lautenslager has sold an average of 32 converter boxes weekly. In the past year, between 500 and 1,000 converter boxes were sold in his store. Those available at his store range in price from $39.99 to $100, depending on features such as television guides or universal remotes.


The government has coupons, which resemble a credit card, worth $40 to help cover the financial cost.


Up to two coupons per household are available through an application service by phone. Applicants have 90 days to use the coupons before the coupons expire. According to Lautenslager, there is confusion among customers about when coupons expire, and who even needs a converter box at all. 


“Just today a gentleman was all excited to purchase a converter box for the digital transmission,” Lautenslager said. “But when he handed me the coupon it had expired days ago.”


According to Connamacher, Albion College students will not be affected at school by the transition, since Albion is a cable subscriber, and cable companies can transmit signals for either digital or analog TVs across its wires.

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