The digital transition has come and gone, with just a few hiccups. I’ve kept the page below for anyone seeking historic information.
If you’re not ready for the transition, please keep reading my guide below. And don’t forget to check out the latest DTV stories in the sidebar because there are tips to getting FREE converter box installation.
Also, if you’re still struggling and have questions, the Federal Communications Commission has set up a hotline at 1-888-CALL-FCC.
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Welcome to the Gadgetress Guide to the 2009 Digital TV transition, most recently updated on June 8, 2009.
The move to digital TV was postponed until June 12, 2009. But please folks, switch already so any kinks can be resolved before TV stations stop broadcasting in analog.
Stop reading if …
1. You subscribe to cable, satellite, FiOS, U-verse or another paid-TV service.
2. You have a digital TV (TVs purchased after March 1, 2007 or if it has a label that says Integrated Digital Tuner, Digital Tuner Built-In, Digital Receiver, or Digital Tuner, DTV, ATSC, or HDTV, it’s digital).
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For everyone else, get caught up:
TV stations have been broadcasting over analog airwaves forever. By law, they must switch to digital broadcasts (a new wireless frequency) by February 17, 2009 June 12, 2009 for a few reasons. Digital channels use less space, so a TV station can offer, for example, 5 digital channels in the same space as one analog. The unused analog signals are slated to be utilized for emergency usage and wireless communication companies.
The bad news is that $40 discount coupons to buy converter boxes are no longer available. The $1.3 million budget the government set aside for coupons ran out of money in early January. The coupons were good for specific converter boxes (see list of eligible boxes). There are currently 3.9 million people on the waiting list. The coupons looked like this:
However, you don’t need a coupon to buy a digital converter box. Any store that has them in stock will sell it to you full price, which is anywhere between $40 to $100. You can still get on the coupon waiting list by submitting your name to dtv2009.gov or calling 1-888-DTV2009. The coupons expire after 90 days. Some helpful stories on this:
|• Clearer picture. With digital, you won’t get the fuzzy reception of analog TVs. You may get pixilation or you won’t get the channel at all.
• More channels. According to AntennaWeb.org, TV viewers in Santa Ana get 22 analog channels. Comparably, there are 36 digital channels. However, not all viewers will get more channels (see cons). Real HD. Cable TV compresses the digital signal. So even if you think you’re getting great high-definition picture, the over-the-air HD signal is much better.
• Real HD. Cable TV compresses the digital signal. So even if you think you’re getting great high-definition picture, the over-the-air HD signal is much better.
• You get to watch TV. If you don’t convert, your old TV will just be door stop.
|• It’s not free. You must buy the equipment, such as a new TV, converter box and possibly a new antenna. However, after the initial investment, TV channels are free.
• Installation. This should be simple, but could frustrate some. You might have to install an antenna on your roof.
• Fewer channels. Viewers should get the same channels as before. However, the federal report that backs this was based homes with outdoor antennas. You may need a new antenna. Also, if the signal strength of the local TV station isn’t strong enough, you’re out of luck.
Essentially, you plug the antenna into the converter box instead of the TV. The FCC’s illustrated example is on right, click to enlarge. If you need more help, Register videographer Lenin Aviles went to the Best Buy in Costa Mesa and got a personal demo of how to set up the basic converter box. Watch his video:
And a few more video tutorials:
- PHOTO: eHow offers photo help: How to hook up a digital converter box for an old TV
- VIDEO: Fox news shows how to hook up a converter box.
- VIDEO: On YouTube, “nykwynes” offers a video lesson in How to Hook-up a Converter Box to a TV and How To Hook-up A Converter Box To A VCR.
Get the right antenna: Once the converter box is installed, then the real problems begin. If you appear to be missing channels, it’s likely an antenna issue. Some more tips, from the National Association of Broadcasters:
Visit AntennaWeb.org and type in your home address. This will tell you what channels you should be able to get. It’s not 100 percent accurate. Take note of the colors (each address will have different colors). If you get more yellows, you’re lucky and you could probably get by with a basic, indoor antenna. But if there are several colors, you’ll need to get an outdoor antenna.
The color guide (click image on right to enlarge) is read clockwise, starting with yellow to pink. Each color gets progressively more difficult to get great signals unless you get the proper antenna. At the most extreme, you’ll need a large, outdoor antenna mounted to the highest point on your home as possible. It may require an amplifier and roof mounting.
At minimum, try your existing antenna first. If you need just a basic antenna, get one that can get VHF (channels 2 to 13) and UHF (14 and up) channels. If you’re getting blue, violet and pink, you may as well start with an outdoor antenna.
For those wondering about a Smart Antenna, these are indoor antennas that smartly figure out what direction the best signals are coming from. However, not all converter boxes have a spot for a smart antenna. If you’re getting signals from all different directions, an outdoor antenna will probably outperform a smart antenna.
Link to antenna reviews site: HDTVantennalabs.com
Rescan the channels – As more TV stations go digital, you’ll need to have the converter box rescan the airwaves to see what else it picks up. Make sure to do this after February 17. Check TitanTV.com to see what digital channels you should already be receiving.
Favorite channel still analog? Only full-powered channels were required to make the switch. The low-powered stations have no requirement to transition. So, many of these will remain on analog airwaves. If this is important, make sure you buy a converter box with “analog pass through,” allowing those analog channels to show up on your TV.
Channel missing or blank? Just like adjusting rabbit ears for best reception, you’ll need to fiddle with the antenna to get the best digital signal. AntennaWeb.org shows best directions to point antenna based on the channel.Fewer channels – There is a possibility that you won’t get as many channels as you did before. The Federal Communications Commission issued a report saying that if you can get the channel pre-digital, you’ll be able to get it post-digital. However, this was based on the assumption that viewers had outdoor antennas.
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**Links Links Links**
- TV converter box coupon program (U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration)
- How to use a converter box and antenna to get DTV (Consumer Reports blog)
- Digital TV transition information center (Consumer Reports magazine)
- Digital Tips, Your Ultimate Guide to Consumer Electronics (from the Consumer Electronics Association)
- AntennaWeb: Get better reception with an antenna (Consumer Electronics Association/National Association of Broadcasters)
- DTV Answers (National Assn. of Broadcasters)
- DTV Transition
- Digital TV Facts (some guy who wanted to start an independent information site)
- HDTV antenna reviews (HDTV Antenna Labs)