How to Prep for the Digital TV Transition

By Teresa O’Dea Hein, Managing EditorWashington, D.C.–While many people may be counting down the shopping days to Christmas, there are only 74 days left, as of December 5, until the end of analog television broadcasts. Are you, and your communities, prepared for Feb. 17, 2009 transition to digital TV?To highlight this issue, the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) recently held a Webinar to point out what property owners and managers need to consider to prepare for the elimination of analog TV broadcasting. Interestingly, said Steven Hill, vice president of training and technology for the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association, February 17 was chosen as the deadline because it is one day after the last possible date that the Super Bowl could be scheduled.Cable TV is exempt from this mandate of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), which dates to December 1996, because cable companies transmit via their own network.If you change channel assignments at a property, you will need to change processing electronics or analog channels will disappear, Hill pointed out.He and Jerry Budge, director of marketing and product management at Blonder-Tongue Laboratories Inc., Old Bridge, N.J., suggested that owners conduct a digital channel site survey, otherwise known as a DTV antenna survey. “Have your tech staff dig out the instruction book and check for 8 vsd—that’s the key,” Budge said. And the minimum usable received signal level is -30 dBmV, he noted.Budge pointed out that antennas are frequency dependent, so they do not care what the content is. “Do not fall the for the marketing hype of a ‘HD antenna,’ ” he warned.The numbers of some current VHF channels will change after the switchover to all-digital, Hill added.“It’s not like plumbing or water—RF signals are ornery and stubborn; you have to control where they go and make sure nothing gets in the way,” said Budge. “Coaxial networks are not as simple as electrical wiring – it’s a different method of transmission.”You and your residents can also learn more on this subject at the following Web sites: www.dtv.gov and www.dtv2009.gov.Hill says every property is different and requires different arrangements and distribution systems.Also, make sure you get your legal teams involved, he added. “You have the upper hand in this situation, so use it,” Hill advised. “But get into your contracts now, because it will take time.”Secondary markets, where companies are more bandwidth-constrained, are more vulnerable to deleting analog channels in the next two years, he warned.Furthermore, there are some unintended consequences to this mandate, such as challenges with TVs on fitness equipment. Most fitness center equipment cannot handle digital cable, warned Henry Pye, assistant vice president of resident solutions at JPI Companies, Durham, N.C. “Almost the only way that they will be able to receive TV channels on integrated fitness equipment  is to put a set-top box on a stand next to the exercise machines. And with encrypted programming, it won’t work.”Pye also recommended that people use commercial gear, which is made to run 24/7 and 365 days a year and also designed to meet ADA requirements, such as closed captioning.“The death of analog will impact your operating budgets for bulk video,” Pye noted. For example, a cost increase on one student housing project is expected to be in excess of $11/bed, he reported. “I highly recommend who you get your bulk video service from and ask what they will be offering after February 17.” Since leases terms potentially require that you provide broadcast service over fairly large lead times, Pye noted that owners and property managers have to factor this in. “The worst case is purpose-built student housing, where in some cases, they operate under a 22-month lead time.”