With the signing of the bill that will push television stations off the frequencies they’re using for analog broadcasts in early 2009, several people I know have expressed concern about how non-digital TV sets will receive digital broadcasts. Usually, what I’m hearing is how one can future-proof themselves against the cable companies’ inevitable march towards all-digital service. Even though the “DTV bill” deals strictly with airwaves, I think a lot of people are assuming that the cablecos will use the bill to marginalize their analog offerings. They’re probably right.

I’ve noticed on our Comcast digital cable box that some of the analog stations we’re not subscribed to are available via the box, but not on our analog TVs. This indicates that Comcast has already started re-allocating bandwidth to digitized versions of their analog programming. One of my co-workers found out about QAM tuners (which pick up ATSC channels via the modulation used on cable networks) and asked Comcast what channels they could pick up without help from Comcast hardware. They grudgingly admitted the local HDTV stations would be available, but pointed out the lack of other stations and OnDemand, PPV, & DVR services if their hardware was not used.

However, one of my other co-workers has an HDTV set-top box that supports QAM tuning, and he reported to me that he received most, if not all, of the digital channels (including HDTV and the Music Choice stuff), unencrypted, from his Comcast cable service. As the amount of digital tuners (both in TVs and standalone boxes like the ones the government is promising to provide) increases, I have a feeling many others will find that they might not necessarily need an antenna or extra cable company hardware to get DTV. Of course, they will have to have an active cable subscription. It’ll be interesting to see how cable companies’ services and marketing deals with the next few years of change. I anticipate that as more and more of their programming is converted to digital, the cablecos will lock down as much of the content as they can manage to maximize control and profits.