The Disadvantages of Digital Broadcasting

By Erik Devaney

Digital broadcasting is a way of transmitting audio and video information through an encoded signal that is comprised of 1s and 0s. It represents the latest in mainstream television broadcasting, having replaced the analog system. And while digital broadcasting has several advantages over analog, including sharper picture and sound, it also has its disadvantages.

Making the Conversion

The United States made the switch to digital television broadcasting in 2009, which meant that individuals using standard analog televisions had to convert. This meant either purchasing an entirely new digital television set or--the less expensive option--purchasing an external converter box, which you can attach to an analog television much like a cable box. Although this was likely an inconvenience for many, the government offered coupons prior to the conversion to help cover the costs of these converter boxes. According to nhk.or.jp, broadcasters also had to adjust to the conversion, and needed to invest in new production, transmission and operating equipment as well as new devices for video and audio encoding.

Scanning Channels

According to kmos.ucmo.edu, when you first set up a digital converter box or turn on your digital TV, you will not have instant access to channels as with an analog system. This is due to a delay between when your digital device receives a transmission and when it can display it. So before you can start watching, your television needs to complete a channel scan or memorization. This will take approximately 30 to 60 seconds per channel. Luckily, you only have to do this once, when you first make the switch to digital.

The Cliff Effect

While analog broadcasting provides a continuous albeit distorted feed when transmission is interfered with, digital broadcasting will suddenly cut out if not enough information is received. According to kmos.ucmo.edu, this is known as the Cliff Effect, and means that you will either have perfect reception (when you are on the cliff) or no reception at all (when you fall off). You will know that your digital broadcast reception is on the on edge of the cliff when your television screen’s image becomes momentarily pixelated and scrambled.

Finding New Frequencies

A long-term problem that will occur with digital broadcasting is that more and more frequencies will eventually be needed to make room for more digital programming. According to nhk.or.jp, this means that the frequencies usually reserved for analog broadcasting, such as those used by traditional radio stations, will eventually need to be appropriated. Otherwise, digital TV will only be able broadcast a limited amount of programming.