It’s no wonder that many Americans are still confused about the conversion from analog to digital TV service, which began yesterday and is due to wrap up on June 12. Even the news media is confused. For example, an AP article on the transition included the following bit of misinformation:
In addition, many households will find that they need new antennas. Digital signals generally come in better than analog ones, but they are not received well by some older antennas.
This makes a blank screen appear to be the antenna’s fault. Not so. And it could scare some people into wasting money on new “digital” antennas. A radio wave is a radio wave — whether it carries an analog or digital TV signal. So the old antenna picks up the new signal just as well — in fact identically — as it picks up the new signal.
The problem is in the signal and the receiver. Analog receivers are more tolerant of weak, distorted signals. After all, it’s analog’s nature to degrade, which is why almost no one gets a pristine analog TV signal (unless they live right next to a tower). Digital doesn’t tolerate ambiguity. The receiver is looking for either a 1 or a 0. It won’t tolerate 0.5, for example. So if a digital signal deteriorates too badly, the receiver just throws its hands up in disgust, which we see as a blank screen.
In that case, you might need a new antenna — specifically a bigger one or one that is mounted on the roof instead of on top of your TV — so you can pick up a stronger signal. But it has more to do with the how far you are from the transmitter than with the quality of your antenna. If you live close enough, and got a crisp analog signal with a 30-year-old set of bent rabbit ears, you should fare just as well with digital signals.
Beware of ads and salespeople pushing new “digital” antennas.