Bargain hunter that I am, I couldn't resist trotting down to my local Best Buy on the evening of February 28, looking for deals on big screen TVs with analog-only tuning. After all, come midnight, those TVs would be illegal -- high-tech contraband (see Analog TV sets cannot be sold in U.S. beginning Thurs. March 1.) But alas, there was not a single clearance TV to be found, except for a few open-box items having nothing to do with the DTV transition.
I asked a salesperson where the analog clearance TVs were, but he knew nothing about the DTV transition, except that in 2009 the analog TV stations would go dark. He hadn't heard anything about any TVs becoming illegal. And indeed, a more detailed survey of their merchandise revealed that every model with a 25" or larger screen did in fact have ATSC tuning built in. So much for my bargain hunting.
To my recollection, only twice in U.S. history has this happened before, back in the 1960s when the FCC mandated UHF tuning (in addition to VHF), and back in the 1980s when the FCC mandated closed captioning text for the hearing impaired. (I might be missing some safety-oriented mandates in this ultra-brief history of TV manufacturing regulation, I think at some point lead had to be added to CRT glass to block x-rays, too.)
For most Americans, ATSC tuning is largely irrelevant, because roughly 87% of U.S. homes have either cable-TV or satellite-TV, making over-the-air tuning unnecessary. (See report, CEA says number of American homes depending on terrestrial TV is "low and shrinking" in Broadcast Engineering magazine.)
That was my bargain-hunter's rationale, too -- as long as I've got hi-def cable with component video and HDMI outputs, I hardly need ATSC tuning in the TV. But I guess lots of other people thought the same way, and have been quietly buying up these soon-to-be-illegal TVs over the past year or two. (Truth be known, I bought one last summer, but was hoping now, on the eve of the law kicking in, the prices would be even lower.)
So, based on my brief observation at the local electronics store Wednesday evening, the DTV transition is going very smoothly indeed. As far as retail is concerned, Sony's limited-quantity PS3 rollout late last year caused much more of a ruckus.