Tuesday’s official launch of WEIU-TV’s digital channel will allow owners of digital televisions to see a glimpse of the future of TV broadcasting.
For now, programming on the new digital channel (Digital Channel 50), will be identical to WEIU’s original analog broadcast (Channel 51) that we’ve all been used to.
The difference, however, will be apparent in the DTV’s movie-quality picture and sound, which will be far superior to that offered on the analog broadcast.
In the future, the changes will become much more noticeable, as viewers get increased programming options and services, all on free broadcast signals, said WEIU general manager Denis Roche.
Consumers will eventually receive several channels from every broadcaster, as the federal government has mandated that all television stations provide digital broadcasting by Feb. 1, 2009. Most stations, including WEIU, plan to continue to operate both analog and digital operations until Feb. 17, 2009, when, by law, all analog broadcasts will cease.
At that time, people will be required to either have digital televisions or converter boxes for analog TV sets in order to access free TV broadcasting. Beginning in 2008, the government will provide discount coupons for the purchase of converter boxes. The FCC’s Web site at http://www.dtv.gov has more information on the switchover.
Most funds for WEIU’s digital conversion were provided by the state of Illinois and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
WEIU completed its digital conversion in only 1.5 years, which is considered very quick by industry standards, Roche said.
Down the road, WEIU plans to add a second digital channel with offerings not available on other locally accessible channels. It will also be enhancing their children’s programming offerings and sprucing up their prime-time offerings by adding mystery, nature, adventure and how-to programs.
“I think our prime-time and children’s program offerings are going to be superb,” Roche said.
To accommodate the digital conversion, WEIU upgrade its 200-foot tower by building a 500-foot tower near Humboldt, about 10 miles northeast of EIU. The taller tower allows the signal to reach a larger geographic area.
Also, in addition to already being on Mediacom and Consolidated DVS, WEIU should be on DishTV within the next six weeks, and agreements with other cable and satellite systems are in the works as well, Roche said.
All told, the digital conversion and its resulting changes should allow the station to transmit to at least 500,000 households, a huge increase from the 100,000 it reached previously.
“By the time we’re through here, we should be covering 90 percent or more of east-central Illinois, as well as the Terre Haute area of Indiana,” Roche said.
Roche encourages people who don’t receive WEIU, but who live in areas reached by its signal, to call their cable systems and request that the station be added.
Recognizing that viewers will have questions about the new world of digital television, Roche plans to have a few call-in shows to allow viewers to get answers they need to feel comfortable with WEIU’s new offerings and with the new technology in general.