The federally mandated end of analog television signals may be more than 22 months away, but digital and high-definition signals already abound.
Conversely, old analog sets in the Tri-Cities still will be able to pick up some analog signals should low-power TV stations, including Class A stations that must provide educational programming and meet other Federal Communications Commission mandates, continue to broadcast after the main stations go all digital.
For folks in the Tri-Cities who already own a digital and/or high-definition set, The Dish Network and Direct TV satellite television systems, along with Charter and some other cable companies, offer high-definition digital service.
In addition, over-the-air stations offer digital service and some high-definition.
Local stations include ABC affiliate WKPT-TV 19, NBC affiliate WCYB-TV 5, CBS affiliate WJHL-TV 11 and FOX affiliate WEMT-TV 39.
WCYB, based in Bristol, Va., but broadcasting from a Tennessee tower, was the first go start a digital broadcast in the region in May 2000, while WKPT was the first Tennessee-based station to go digital in October 2000.
George DeVault, general manager of Holston Valley Broadcasting that owns WKPT, said he can't receive the local FOX digital signal over the air at his home in Ridgefields but can receive the others, as well as stations from Knoxville.
With digital, the signal is either there or not, not with the fuzz and static that can come with analog signals.
Temporary digital signals are on 27 for WKPT, 28 for WCYB and 58 for WJHL. But for consistency's sake, automatic programming at the viewer's end shows the WKPT main digital signal as 19-1. At 19-2 is WAPK, a Class A, low-powered Holston Valley Broadcasting station that will continue broadcasting over-the-air in analog on channel 36, while at 19-3 is a sports and variety station.
Likewise, WCYB has digital programming at 5-1 and the CW Network, which is seen on Channel 4 on cable, on 5-2.
WJHL has its main offerings on 11-1 and it's weather channel at 11-2, while WEMT operates on 39-1 on high definition digital and 39-2 on regular digital, with the same programming on both.
In addition, WKPT offers additional audio feeds (under the foreign language labels) not connected to the television programming. The audio offerings can include up to seven on a digital signal, including the main program audio. For WKPT, the other audio simulcasts are of some of its radio stations and one that provides commercial-free music.
In educational television on the PBS network, WEPT-TV 2 has WEPT DT-41 in Sneedeville that will show up as 2-1, while in Virginia WMSY-TV 52 has WMSY-DT 42 in Marion that will show as 52-1 and WSBN-TV 47 has WSBN-DT 32 in Norton that will show as 47-1.
DeVault said most stations were offered the chance to keep their old channels or their new ones, unless either was higher than UHF channel 51 and thus off limits after analog ceases.
The local stations chose to stay with their old channels, but he said some stations in other markets chose to stay with higher UHF frequencies because they would work better for other services relying on reception by shorter cell phone-type antennas.
However, DeVault said that network offerings are still a little sparse in the high-definition, 16:9 ratio format. For WKPT and other ABC affiliates, "The View" and "Good Morning America" are two of the few daytime shows in high-definition, wide-screen format.
While DeVault may watch "The View" or other high-definition broadcasts in the traditional 4:3 ratio, a flip of the remote would allow him to view it in the widescreen format, with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.
In contrast, someone with a widescreen set viewing a traditional 4:3 ratio program can choose to have black bars on each side of the screen.
Also, some sets will automatically stretch the 4:3 image to fill the 16:9 screen or compress a 16:9 image to fit a 4:3 screen.
In other situations, the screen may appear in a "picture frame" format with a black border on all sides of the image.
Such screen ratio issues may remain indefinitely since the vast majority of television programming from the 1950s to the present is in the 4:3 ratio and millions of 4:3 ratio screen sets remain in use.
The mandated switch is only for full-power over-the-air stations. The federal government regulations do not require low-power stations like WKIN LP or low-power channel 7, which Friday afternoon began transmitting from atop Holston Mountain after moving from Clinch Mountain, to make the analog-to-digital conversion. For, at least, a time, folks with old analog sets still will be able to pick up some of the over-the-air signals, if they're close enough.
Holston Valley Broadcasting's DeVault said it is incorrect to say these stations will stay analog and that across the country some are switching to digital.
"There's a national trend to change these things to digital," DeVault said. On the other hand, he said some believe there is value in keeping analog stations because of the millions of analog sets nationwide, as well as newer digital-ready sets that are backwards compatible with analog.
WKIN LP, which carries the former call letters of an AM radio station rebranded by owner Citadel Broadcasting, will join a group of other low-powered stations rebroadcasting the programing of WAPK channel 36, also atop Holston Mountain.
WAPK, formerly an affiliate of the defunct UPN Network, is now part of My Network TV, and also will remain in analog for the time being, DeVault said, although its programming is carried digitally on sister station WKPT-DT-2 or 19-2.
Other low-powered stations rebroadcasting WAPK are WAPG channel 14 in Greeneville, WAPN channel 31 in Abingdon, Va., and WAPM channel 9 in Appalachia, Va.
Cable and satellite providers also carry WAPK.
Other low-powered, analog stations to remain analog are the Class A WOPI channel 9, a mostly shopping channel broadcast from Holston Mountain, and several low-power stations that rebroadcast WKPT, the flagship of the Holston Valley stable of stations.