The Big Switch From Analog To Digital TV

tv digital transition
Display of Digital TV Converter Boxes at Best Buy in Mountain View, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009. Congress is giving consumers four more months to prepare for the upcoming transition from analog to digital television broadcasting but many stations still plan to cut off analog on the original date, less than two weeks away. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
AP Photo
Atop the Empire State building Friday, engineers from one of the country's biggest television broadcasters, WCBS, pulled the plug on its analog transmitter.

For 60 years, analog has delivered classic TV programs, and brought history into our living rooms.

But by midnight Friday, analog will be history. CBS News science and technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg reports on the transition from analog to digital.

Digital will deliver clearer pictures and high definition signals.

The transition got a big boost after September 11, when emergency crews demanded, and will get, some of the abandoned analog airwaves to upgrade aging communications systems.

But the transition was plagued with delays, taking 18 years and $4 billion dollars of taxpayer money.

Still as many as 2 million homes, many in areas with large non-English speaking populations, could wake up Saturday to nothing on the television.

"Think about it. It's a massive technological program being run by the government. There's a problem right there," says Brian Cooley, editor-at-large at

Most newer TV's and TV sets connected by cable or satellite aren't affected.

Older sets with a proper antenna will still work, but they will need a converter box that costs between $50 and $60 dollars.

Neil Dick used a $40 dollars government coupon to help buy his converter. He says, "If I don't do this, I won't have any television. No broadcast service at all."

Nearly half of all stations have already switched. The other 974 will do so today, keeping call centers and help desks busy.

In some cases, the Federal Communications Commission is actually making house calls. Thousands of volunteers, firefighters and tech's hired with stimulus money, are going to people's homes to set up their TV's.

"We know there will be some disruptions this weekend and over the coming weeks, but it won't be for us not trying," says William Lake, the FCC DTV Transition Chief.

One group is already looking ahead to the next TV frontier. The cell phone industry paid billions for once public airwaves in the hopes that you'll pay for TV delivered to the palm of your hand.