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What's the Difference Between Real and Virtual Channel Numbers?


The virtual channel number is the number you see that is displayed on screen on the television screen.

The real channel number is the actual channel frequency in use by a the TV station to broadcast the TV signal.

The frequency spectrum is broken down into 3 bands.

VHF Low band. Real channels 2-6

VHF High band. Real channels 7-13

UHF band. Real channels 14-51.

Note: Even though the TV may display a channel number above 51 this is the virtual (not real) channel of the TV station and not the real broadcast channel frequency. Currently no full powered TV stations in the U.S. broadcasting above channel 51.

Okay, I've got some questions.

Since the conversion to digital over the air transmission many stations now are transmitting signals over UHF instead of their ‘tradition’ VHF frequency.

The FCC site lists TV stations along with their new frequency assignment.

But what I don’t understand is that in my area NY, channel 2 now broadcast on UHF 33 but is received on the tuner channel 2 while in the Boston area channel 2 receives UHF 19. How is it possible that in one area channel 2 receives UHF 33 while in another area of the country channel 2 receives UHF 19?

The channel that displays on the TV such as 2.1 etc... is what we call the virtual channel number. The NYC channel 2 is received by your TV tuner on real channel frequency 33. Within the 33 signal is a code that tells the TV tuner to display the channel number as 2.1. The real incoming channel frequency can have any virtual channel incoded into the signal that will tell the tuner what virtual channel number to display channel to display on the TV no matter what frequency is used to receive the channel.

OK Denny I've got it. After reading your response a little closer I know why ch2 in Boston and ch 2 in NY , although on a different frequencies, will both display ch 2.
Thanks again.

You've got it. The real frequency assignments and the virtual channel on-screen display on the TV is the most confusing issue pertaining to the digital transition. The 2.1 virtual channel number no longer has anything to do with the real channel frequency in use to broadcast the signal. The real channel 33 broadcast frequency (2.1 in NYC) can be coded so the TV's on-screen channel number can display any virtual channel number from 2.1 to 69.1. The 2.1 or any virtual channel on-screen display is no longer a frequency it's a recognition number so the viewer can identify what channel they're viewing. In some cases the virtual number and the real channel frequency are the same. For an example in NYC channels 11.1 CW and 13.1 PBS have both the real and virtual channels the same. Channel 11 broadcast on real channel frequency 11 and displays 11.1 and 13 does the same broadcasts on 13 and displays 13.1 but all other stations broadcast on one frequency and display another .

 

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