Jan
20
2009

What are the advantages of digital TV?

Digital technology makes wide-screen television a reality. These TVs were on display at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show. Mobil'homme photo. CC-BY

Digital technology makes wide-screen television a reality. These TVs were on display at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show. Mobil'homme photo. CC-BY

Many television viewers are making the switch these days from the old-fashioned system — the basic technology for analog TV has been around since World War II days — to modern digital. Those who have are finding that they can get much clearer pictures than is possible with analog TV.

Indeed, the ability to broadcast sharper, clear pictures is the biggest advantage of digital TV. For technical reasons, there are no “ghosts” with digital TV and no snow — the picture will always be perfect.

Digital TV also allows for wider screens. Watching TV becomes more like watching a movie in a theater rather than watching an image that isn’t much more wider than it is tall.

But not all the advantages of digital are obvious to the user. One of them is technical in nature: Digital TV has a smaller bandwidth. That means that more stations can be squeezed into the same amount of the broadcasting spectrum, or that a cable could carry more stations. There also all sorts of other possibilities; a station might be able to provide more than one feed of the same game, for example. Or it may be possible to broadcast more digital information to accompany a signal; imagine an election night, for example, where you can pick the election results you want to see.

In the United States, the reduced bandwidth of digital TV is allowing the government to allocate former TV frequencies to other uses, such as wireless Internet services.

With all the positives to digital, there is one big negative, however: People who get their signals over the air will find that the picture will always be perfect — or it won’t exist at all. With analog TV, it possible for people in poor signal areas to watch TV with a degraded signal. But with digital, a weak signal or one with interference could result in no picture or sound.

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