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Sunday, March 8, 2009

What’s The Frequency?

We spent the afternoon in Rhode Island with my Mom. We swung by Water Street in Worcester to pick up three lean, double corned beef sandwiches from Weintraub’s to bring with us - extra pickles (crispy, fresh and oh so very garlicky) please! It was good to spend time together with Mom. One of our biggest challenges - even with just the three of us - is managing to stay on one topic from start to finish. We are always going off on multiple tangents and then laughing as one of us tries to drag us all back to the original starting point of that particular topic. It becomes exponentially more challenging the more family members we have in attendance!

Mom has been wrestling with the mandatory transition here in the U.S. from analog to digital television. She’s never had cable television; never needed it, never wanted it. She’s always gotten by just fine with a hook up to the condominium’s roof antenna and a set of rabbit ears. Last summer, she dutifully got her government coupons as instructed. She used the coupons to defray the cost of the converter boxes. Then, just before Christmas, she decided to buy a new digital ready television. Chuck and I spent time on previous visits trying to help her get everything set up. Some things we were successful with. Others required the assistance of another family member with a degree in electronics. He spent many hours over three or four days and moved Mom close to completion. But the brand new digital TV can’t receive Channel 10, the local NBC affiliate. However 10 does come in on the little set in her bedroom via the converter box. That technical challenge prompted a genuine Geek Gal from Best Buy to make a house call. Mom reports that she was very nice, but she’ll be making her second visit later this week! To further complicate matters, for the last few weeks Mom hasn’t been able to use either one of her VCRs - even though they were both working fine prior to the digital transition on February 17th. Today, Chuck managed to get both of her VCRs up and running. Yes, once again, Chuck achieved hero status!

This whole digital transition has been a royal pain in the neck for Mom. There was great hue and cry in punditland when the government voted to delay the complete transition until June. I think what has effectively become a rolling transition to digital has turned out to be a good thing. Mom, age 85, is not the only elderly person struggling with all of this. Because the need is so great, in some parts of the country, Meals On Wheels volunteers have been including digital converter box set up and service calls as an adjunct to their food delivery. One of Mom’s friends went through comparable challenges, but ultimately had to throw in the towel and purchase basic cable. We’re hoping that within the week, all of the kinks will finally be ironed out and Mom will once again be able to satisfy the need she has for lots of news, some cooking shows on PBS and a few riveting mysteries. That’s not too much to ask.

10 comments:

Sue said...

Well done to you for all pulling together to get your mom up and running again! My mom would give up TV all together if she had to change - she's technically challenged and hates learning new things about electronics...

dancingmorganmouse said...

I feel for your mum, it's happening here too, next year I think. I'm not looking forward to any of the fiddling, even when I know I'll not actually be doing any of it.

barbie2be said...

chuck is a stud!

Wendy said...

Its so difficult for elderly people to change their ways so I so feel for your mum. I know I would be awful in the same situation. Also at that age (and mine) tv is such an important thing to keep you entertained and connected with the world. Well done both of you and yay for chuck. heres hoping the news will be free flowing shortly
xx

Pink Granite said...

Hi Sue -
My Mom keeps saying how overwhelmed she is with all the new technology. Then we watch her as she zips back and forth between remote controls and we are impressed!

I hate that whole process of learning a new technical gizmo. So often it feels like such a steep climb, until somethings clicks and it all becomes clear!
Thanks!
;o)
- Lee

Hi DMM -
Oh! So it's not just us!
I'm sure between you and Mr. Brown, you'll get it all sorted it out.
And perhaps all of our hiccups and screw ups over here will prove useful cautionary tales for your powers that be!
;o)
- Lee


Hi B2B -
Love it!
I can't wait to read your comment to Chuck!
Thanks!
;o)
- Lee


Hi Wendy -
The elderly have been disproportionally effected by this transition. The big concern is exactly as you described, keeping "connected with the world". In these challenging times, it's so important to keep accurate information flowing to all - not just folks who can afford and choose to buy cable!
Thank you!
;o)
- Lee

Jeff Barnard said...

The new digital frequency for WJAR-TV Channel 10, according to the list of stations at the NAB website is UHF channel 51 in Providence.

Where the converter boxes may have a slightly lower receiving threshold, the new HDTV may not. It may need a slightly stronger signal to show that station.

Unlike marginal analog signals, marginal digital signals will either work with a full, clear picture, or simply not work at all. There's no "snow" or "ghosts" with weak or marginal signals on digital TV.

Also, the digital channels are higher in frequency than the older analog channels. This means that "line of sight" is more of an issue. If your Mom has any significant hills between her location and the transmitting station, then the higher and more prominent the hills, the more problematic reception will be.

Over the long term, it might be seen that the cable converter boxes will show frame freezes on channel 10, where the signal drops every once in a while. And the interesting thing with a marginal signal like that is that once the foliage has fully come out, she may lose channel 10 entirely for the whole season, even on the converter boxes.

Pink Granite said...

Hi Jeff -
Thank You!!!
I read my Mom your comment and she really appreciated all the information. She's concerned, as are we, that the signal strength may be too weak. Which is terribly frustrating after all this hassle and expense!

She's on a first name basis now with a technician at WJAR and she has the Geek Gal coming back later this week. So she's still keeping her fingers crossed.

Now we're wondering if it's possible or appropriate to add a converter box to the new HDTV set - even though the new TV is supposed to have that built in???

At this point, the cynical side of me is beginning to think this whole transition was just a racket so the cable companies would get more subscribers!

Thanks again!
;o)
-Lee

Jeff Barnard said...

A converter box for the HDTV would be iffy...

The fundamental thing to know is that the antenna is the key to this whole thing. The bigger and higher above ground the antenna is, the more likely this reception problem could be solved.

Another thing to note is, when she's using an indoor antenna (like the old "rabbit ears"), it should be designed for UHF (not VHF). Also, when moving such an antenna to try and get a station to come in, you have to move it and then stand back and wait a few seconds, maybe even as long as a minute, before trying to adjust it again.

The old TV's would show immediately whether reception was better when you moved a set-top antenna. But the digital nature of the new channels means that the conversion device has to "lock in" the signal before you see anything. The more marginal the signal is, the longer this might take.

Lastly, the condo's outdoor common antenna may simply not be aimed towards Providence. It may be that it's aimed towards Boston...

Pink Granite said...

Hi Jeff -
Thank you once again for your generous advice!
Because of the information you've been providing, we feel as if we have a better handle on it all.

Mom does get Boston stations quite clearly. Prior to the transition she got the RI stations: 6, 10, 12 as well as Boston's 4, 5 & 7 - along with several UHF stations including 25.

Last summer, when Mom was deciding whether or not to go with converters, I called Cox cable to get prices for her. During the call, Cox said Mom's condo unit was one of the few without cable. With Mom in the minority, we're not sure what we can expect for antenna improvements or even tweaking.
Thanks again!
;o)
- Lee

Pink Granite said...

The Saga Continues...

To clarify, my Mom has her new HDTV hooked up to a rooftop antenna. Since the digital transition on February 17, 2009, she cannot get WJAR 10 in Rhode Island on that new TV.

But on an older TV, in another room, using a digital converter box, hooked up to the same antenna, she gets Channel 10 clear as a bell.

The Geek Squad folks have been out twice. They say the problem is in new TV's tuner, specifically Channel 10.

I called the manufacturer and explained the history and situation. They recommend an authorized service call to check the TV. That may happen next week.

All I want to do is wave a magic wand and get this all working perfectly for my Mom!!!!!!!!!!! And I want to do that yesterday!!!

Thanks for all your support and advice!
;o)
- Lee