Watching Emergency TV During 2009 Hurricane Season

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And so we enter another South Florida hurricane season come the 1st of June… We all know the drill. We’ve done it countless times before. Prepare the shutters, check the generators, get fuel and make sure you have plenty of fresh batteries for the flashlights and your emergency portable TV. But this year, fresh batteries for the TV likely won’t be enough. Most of us will need a fresh TV too.

On June 12, 2009, the FCC and U.S. Government requirement to have all broadcast television stations permanently shut down their analog signals goes into effect. This means most TV sets that are not using cable or satellite boxes will simply stop working. More importantly, nearly all of the portable TV sets people have packed away for emergency use become instantly defunct. So, if you are used to huddling around your battery-powered emergency TV to watch news reporters flap in the breeze as they tell you about the latest hurricane damage, you’ll need to buy a new set that has a digital tuner (ATSC). Otherwise, it’ll just be you and the radio.

And for those who do have satellite or cable plugged into an analog TV; don’t forget that should (or more likely, when) the cable or satellite feed goes out, you are in the same boat. Nothing but snow to keep you company as the winds howl outside.

The reason for the analog shut down is clear... or more accurately high-def. It is the ATSC digital signal which is capable of producing beautiful, high-resolution HDTV images on our ever-expansive flat-screen TVs. It's the future of all TV. Over the past two years, all broadcast TV stations have been dual broadcasting their programming in both analog (NTSC) and digital (ATSC) formats to accommodate viewers during the transition. The June 12, 2009 analog shutoff is the next logical step in the move to HDTV. While there are many benefits to the digital signal, the lack of backwards compatibility is a huge drawback, especially for Floridians during hurricanes.

For the uninformed, our next weather event could be a rude awakening. That's why, as a technology consultant, I felt it important to write this article. It is important to know that this potential ”communication emergency” is real. Thankfully, the solution is simple. Buying a new emergency ATSC portable television is not an expensive proposition. At around $100, it's pretty much a no-brainer. I have seen and recommend buying either the Haier 7" Portable TV (Model HLT71) or the Coby 8" Portable TV (Model TF-TV891). Both are sold through (use this link and if you order now, will arrive in plenty of time for the hurricane season.

In addition to the new portable TV, you may also want to consider an external HDTV antenna. Based on my research in the areas of Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay, digital broadcast reception is marginal with the use of a basic indoor antenna and may require something beyond the included telescoping antenna. Either a roof antenna or a passive indoor antenna such as the Terk HDTVi are good choices. Even though amplified antennae typically yield better reception, I suggest you don't buy one for your hurricane supplies. If the power is out, you are out of luck.