But chances of this happening are not high — only 11 percent of TV-watching households in the U.S. will be affected, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.
That’s because of this simple statement: This affects people who rely on antennas to watch shows on an analog TV.
If you have a digital TV, you’re going to be fine. If you subscribe to cable, satellite, TiVo or most other TV services, you’re going to be just fine because those companies are looking out for you.
I’m assuming most of my readers aren’t among the dying breed of TV watchers, which some call ‘antenna people.’ But then again, my parents — faithful readers of this blog — are in this category because they refuse to spend a cent on cable or satellite TV service.
So … I asked and you responded. Below, I’ve answered the questions readers asked. If you missed out, leave a comment on this post and I’ll try to answer it. Don’t forget to check out my guide to getting and installing a digital TV converter.
Edited for clarity:
GADGETRESS: TV converters are between $50 to $100. If you apply for the government-subsidized $40 coupon (two per household), you can get one for as little as $10. These coupons expire 90 days after they are issued so don’t delay. When the funds run out, consumers will no longer be able to get a discount.
These converter boxes sit between your TV and the antenna. Read the instructions that come with the box and check out my Gadgetress Guide to the Digital Transition HERE.
As for personal help, most major electronics store offers in-home service (Best Buy’s Geek Squad, Circuit City’s FireDog, Make It Work, etc.) but such visits can start at $100 — a price many antenna people don’t seem willing to pay.
Q: Would it be helpful if we acted now? We own and haul a portable TV into the kitchen every evening to watch the news while we eat dinner at the table. We set it on the breakfast bar and use rabbit ears. The only channels that we get a decent picture on are 7, 9 and 13. We sent for and have received the $40 discount coupons for the TV Converter Box. Should we act now? Will we be able to enjoy a better selection of channels now, even before the Feb. 2009 transition? Is the box something that we can move around with the TV?
G: Yes, act now! Those coupons expire 90 days after they are issued. Once the government runs out of money, consumers won’t be able to get coupons.
And yes again to question number two. Many stations are already transmitting digitally. The government requires that all full-power stations — which include pretty much all the channels we get here in OC — must switch to digital broadcasts by Feb. 17, 2009. Here’s a list of low-powered stations that may still broadcast over an analog signal.
And yes to your third question — the boxes can be as small as a large, paperback book.
Q: We have two converter boxes which work great. We didn’t know that several channels have different versions to choose from … especially the public TV stations like channels 28, 50, and 58. WOW! We have a question about a very old TV which we own. It is a 25 year old black/white Zenith portable with manual rotary tuner. Will the new converter boxes work on it? Our other TVs have remote tuners, however, is the manual tuner a problem?
G: Yes, a converter box will work. Just set the TV channel to either 3 or 4 (much like a VCR) and the tuner in the converter box takes care of the rest. The bonus: You now have a remote controlled 25-year-old TV.
Q: I have a 1984 Zenith TV, model Z1310PT. It has dials for changing the channels, not a remote. It has rabbit ears that are attached to the back of the TV with screws. There is no way to plug the antenna into a digital TV converter box. There is no place on the back of the TV to plug in the RF cable that comes with the converter box either! One store told me this TV cannot be converted, while another store said it can be converted. Help! Which is correct?
If my old TV can be converted, what do I need to buy so that I can attach it to the converter box? Also, I tried attaching a converter box to my newer TV (1994 Zenith, model SM2067BT), but the reception was horrible (unwatchable), while without the converter box it’s fine. Does that just mean I need a new and better antenna? It has an old one attached to the back of the TV that sits on top of the TV. The universal remote that came with the converter box wouldn’t work with my TV, either!
G: The TV can be converted, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Most converter boxes should include an adapter that can be screwed into the TV. However, if not, try a store like RadioShack to buy an adapter, like the $7.69 transformer on the right (part number 151139).
After you go digital, TV reception is either clear or blank. You won’t get a fuzzy picture. However, the picture could freeze up. Check to make sure your antenna is positioned in the ideal location by comparing notes at atennaweb.org. You may need to buy a better antenna.
The remote that came with the converter box doesn’t automatically work with your TV. The box works like a VCR. You put your TV on channel 3 or 4 and then it relies on the converter box to get TV signals and change channels. But the remote won’t turn your TV on or off, or fix the volume. You’ll need to program the remote to work with the right TV remote code. Check the instructions that came with the converter box on how to program the remote to work with your TV. From the site eHow, here’s a page with links on programming various remote controls.
Q: I have two, I presume, analog TVs as they were both purchased in 1998, with basic cable service provided by Cox (one TV set utilizes a separate DVD player/VCR player-recorder combo unit). Will I still be able to receive all Cox basic cable channels I have now and will I be able to record programs to the VCR with the setup I have now?
G: Yes. Cox says you should be just fine. Cox, like other cable TV companies, converts the signal from digital to analog at its facility. This means you will get the same signal from them that you do today.
Cox is sending both the analog and digital signal to customers. It’s smart enough to figure out if your home is digital or analog. If you have a Cox digital set-top box or a TV with a digital tuner, you will get the digital signal. If you have an analog TV with no digital tuner or receiver, you will get the analog signal.
Either way, as a Cox customer, you won’t notice the difference. You’ll be able to record programs to your VCR as well. Here is Cox’s digital TV page: LINK
G: Yes. See Time Warner’s official answer.
G: You won’t need the converter. The Federal Communications Commission requires all new TVs sold after March 1, 2007 must include a digital tuner.
G: If your TV has a label that contains the words “Integrated Digital Tuner,” “Digital Tuner Built-In,” “Digital Receiver,” or “Digital Tuner,” “DTV,” “ATSC,” or “HDTV” (High Definition television), it’s digital. If the TV label says, “analog” or “NTSC” and doesn’t say anything about containing a digital tuner, it’s NOT digital.
Also, if the TV says “Digital Monitor” or “HDTV Monitor,” or “Digital Ready” or “HDTV Ready,” it may not contain a digital tuner. You’ll then need to buy a separate converter box or subscribe to a TV service. More detail on this at the Federal Communications Commission FAQ page.
G: Nope. Just by mentioning Verizon, the telephone company, you must be subscribing to FiOS, Verizon’s TV and high-speed Internet service. The newish service, which debuted in Orange County last year, is all digital to start.
If you had an older, analog TV, the box Verizon gave you does all the converting necessary. However, Verizon did initially allow customers to watch TV on a second analog TV without the set-top box. You’ll need to get a free digital adapter from Verizon to maintain service on these TVs. Here is Verizon’s FAQ page.
Q: We have 3 TVs with boxes. We get channels up to 79 on these three TVs, which is fine because they are in garage. Right now each box charge is like $2.93. Time Warner has set up three new boxes on these TV’s and then told us the charge in Feb. will go up to $8.00 a box. These 3 TVs now get channels up into the two hundreds. Who needs that many channels in the garage? I think they have put one over on us and we don’t understand if we “have” to do this or not. I have talked to three different customer service people and they say we have to have these new boxes, I can not get a good answer. Can you help?
G: I won’t ask why you need three TVs in the garage. I talked to TimeWarner and got your answer:
You must live in Tustin or Costa Mesa and you previously had Comcast cable TV. Comcast used an analog set-top box. TimeWarner is swapping those old analog boxes with new digital ones. After the switch, TimeWarner will charge you for the price of the cheaper analog box for 12 months. After that, the price goes up to the going rate, apparently $8 a box. If you aren’t a former Comcast customer living in Tustin or Costa Mesa, call me and I can give you the direct line of the TimeWarner person in charge.
Q: I have cable TV WITHOUT a converter box. Currently, I use a splitter to distribute the signal to two TiVos and one TV set. Will the digital transition affect me? If so, how can I keep the flexibility of using the TiVo service to record anything I want at any time, for later viewing?
G: Sounds like you’re a cable subscriber who gets cable service from a cord sticking out of the wall. As long as the service is from the cable or satellite or phone company, everything should work just as it does today. Remember, it’s only TVs that rely on antennas that need the converter boxes. In other words, your TiVos will still work.
Q: I’m so glad you are addressing this. It has me so stressed if I have to replace over 71 large TV sets! My question and concern is … Once the signal goes digital/high definition and the cable and satellite company gives us the new boxes will our TVs not work? What will happen to our signal? Shouldn’t the signal work since I am using the cable and satellite transmissions? I am frustrated, sick and stressed that I may have only until February to replace all 71 sets!
G: Relax. If you get TV service from your cable or satellite company today, you will continue to get service after Feb. 17, 2009. The companies are taking care of the conversion for you. You will get the same, if not better, quality picture.
HOWEVER, if you’re not using wide screen, high-definition TVs, the picture won’t look as good as it could and your customers may be wondering what’s up.
Still, if customers are sitting more than eight-to-10 feet away from the TVs, the benefits of high-definition TV (seeing the sweat drops on an athlete’s brow, individual blades of grass…) are lost because they are sitting too far from the TV. Here’s a calculator to show the best viewing distance for HDTVs.
Q: I installed a converter box about a month ago, and with my external antenna I’ve improved TV quality around 100% both picture and sound. Only channel 7, gives me some reception problems. My question to you is why were we not told that we will be unable to tape any digital programs to our VCR after the box is installed? We can not buy a VCR that will allow us to tape through the box. It appears if we want to do any of this we will need some sort of cable operation.
G: Ahhh … but it will work. The converter box takes the digital signal and converts it to the analog signal that your VCR is used to. So, it should work. You may not have hooked up the box correctly.
However, if you are trying to record one TV show on the VCR while watching a second live, you will need a second converter box for the VCR. The converter box turns one digital signal into one analog signal. Trying to watch and record two shows means you are converting two signals. Hence, you’ll need two converter boxes.
As for reception issues with Channel 7, you may need a new antenna. According to Jason Oxman, at the Consumer Electronics Association, you either get a clear picture or nothing with digital broadcasts. You won’t get the fuzzy images of analog TV. What might be happening is the picture is freezing. If this is the case, he advises adjusting your antenna. Check out AntennaWeb.com for detailed advice on how to set up your antenna and what direction is best.
Q: Is anyone planning to make a block converter for ATSC -> NTSC conversion? I know plenty of people with houses full of televisions and VCRs who would love to have this as a solution rather than have to mess with multiple converter boxes. Many condos, apartment houses, and even large single family houses have a central roof antenna which feeds a distribution amplifier/splitter, which sends a signal through in-wall wiring to antenna outlets in various rooms. Replacing the existing distribution amp with one which incorporates block conversion would be a boon to such people. I understand that this would be an expensive device, but it would be well worth it to many people.
G: Interesting question but I haven’t heard of a product like this. Neither has the Consumer Electronics Association. Has anyone out there? If so, please comment below.