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Analog shut off test darkens New York TV stations for 2 minutes

New York City TV stations temporarily switched off their analog antenna feeds today, previewing what's scheduled to happen permanently in February 2009.

New York City over-the-air analog TV stations went dark for two minutes today. The prescheduled test gave a temporary taste of what's planned when the stations permanently pull the analog plug on February 17, 2009.

The two minute test occurred between 5:58 and 6:00 p.m. ET, and--in the case of WCBS, at least--was accompanied by a countdown timer and an explanation narrated by the onscreen newscaster. (The test was in the middle of the local news.)

We monitored the over-the-air digital (HD) and analog feeds, and the analog one cut-off right on schedule, dumping to a "this is a test" warning crawl, while the digital feed continued unabated. (See the video above, with color commentary provided by CNET TV guru David Katzmaier.)

Simultaneously, we were monitoring the local DirecTV and Time-Warner Cable feeds as well. In both cases, the WCBS feed was also uninterrupted (even though it was the standard-definition transmission).

In other words--for our sister CBS station, anyway--the test seemed to go as planned, with only analog antenna viewers seeing the warning screen. Anyone watching on cable, satellite, or over-the-air digital--including those using DTV converter boxes to watch programming on their old sets--should have been blissfully unaware of the test pattern.

Now that the broadcasters have demonstrated that they can do this--target only the antenna-viewing audience that will actually be affected by this change--I think they should amp up these sort of tests. Reports indicate that a huge swath of the antenna-viewing public is still woefully unprepared for the DTV switchover, but if they start getting increasingly invasive test patterns during their favorite shows, I think the message will start to hit home.

If you still get your TV programming from an antenna and you're confused about the forthcoming changes, be sure to check out our Quick Guide to the DTV Transition.