What DTV Conversion Means for You


Last Wednesday night I missed an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond during a sudden meltdown of my TV and cable box. Nothing would turn on. Perplexed, I wondered if I had fallen victim to the digital TV transition thingamabob that was about to happen, or maybe just happened?

Of course, had I paid any attention to the news, I would have realized that the conversion has yet to occur and, more importantly, has nothing to do with me. And had I remembered accidentally bumping my power strip earlier in the day, causing it to turn off, I would have all the sooner realized the real cause of my sudden blackout. 

While I’m unaffected because I already have digital TV (i.e. digital cable), some 6.5 million people are probably going to have actual TV blackouts when all full-power TV stations in the U.S. stop broadcasting in analog and switch to 100% digital broadcasting.  The switch was supposed to occur Feb. 17, but Congress has just passed a bill putting it off until June 12. President Obama is expected to sign the bill in short order.

With the clock ticking, here are answers to the conversion’s most popular questions.

Will this change affect my TV? If your TV has an antenna or “rabbit ears” to receive over-the-air broadcast signals, your TV won’t get a signal on and after the change.  If your analog TV has a built-in digital tuner, and it’s plugged in to the wall, then you should be ok. Additionally, if you’re a cable subscriber, you may need new DTV equipment to watch DTV programming in digital format.  Same goes for satellite subscribers. You may need new DTV equipment to watch high-def digital programming. Talk to your cable or satellite provider to find out what, if anything, you may need.

What should I do to prevent a TV black out? You can either buy a digital or high-definition TV, or get a separate digital-to-analog set-top converter box. These boxes take digital signals and turn them into analog format for you to watch on your TV.

How much will a TV converter box cost me? They run anywhere from $40 to $80.  You have until March 31 to request up to two coupons, worth $40 each, towards buying up to two digital-to-analog converter boxes.  The coupons are being issued by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). For details and to apply online visit www.DTV2009.gov.  Or call the Coupon Program’s toll-free 24-hour automated system 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009).

Just a heads up: The NTIA has run out of money for the coupon program. You can still apply, but you will be put on a waiting list. The hope is that some people won’t use their coupons, they’ll expire, and money will open up for those on the waiting list. Coupons expire within 90 days of the date they are mailed.

Where can I buy a converter box? National retailers participating in the program include:

  • Best Buy (Stock Quote: BBY),
  • Circuit City, Kmart (Stock Quote: KMT),
  • RadioShack (Stock Quote: RSH),
  • Sears (Stock Quote: SHLD),
  • Target (Stock Quote: TGT)
  • Wal-Mart (Stock Quote: WMT)

There are also several online retailers listed at the digital transition web site.

Can I still use my VCR and my Nintendo 64 on my analog TV? Yes.  If you want to keep one of your analog TVs just to play some games or watch movies, feel free. Analog TVs will continue to work with VCRs, DVD players, camcorders, video games consoles and other devices.



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