SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE DIGITAL TV TRANSITION
On February 17, 2009, many full power television stations,
including most of the major network affiliates and large
independent stations, converted to digital-only operation.
Other full power stations have until June 12, 2009 to complete
their digital conversion. If you have a TV set that does
not have “HDTV” capability, you will not be
able to see these stations any more unless you buy a new
TV set or one of the new “converter boxes”.
You will see and hear a lot about this change, because
the FCC is requiring all full power TV stations to broadcast
announcements about it.
What many of these announcements will not tell you is that most Class A, Low Power TV, and TV Translator stations will not convert to digital next February. They will continue conventional analog broadcasting, and you will still be able to watch them on your old TV sets. These stations may have smaller coverage areas than full power stations; but there are four times more of them, they are licensed by the FCC the same way as full power stations are, and they have lots of interesting programs.
To survive the digital transition, you need to be able to watch both digital and analog stations. Most of the digital converter boxes now on the market will not let you do that, because they block analog signals and prevent you from watching stations that may have programming you want to see.
There are five things you can do to keep receiving all TV stations:
1. Buy a new TV set, hook up an antenna, and watch TV stations for free. All TV sets now being sold have both digital and analog tuners and can receive all TV stations. Some are very expensive, but not all. Stores have frequent sales, and you can buy a small screen set for under $100.
2. Buy a new DVD recorder, DVR or VCR, but make sure
that it has both an ATSC and NTSC tuner built-in. All these
devices currently being sold have both kind of tuners and
have outputs that will work with your old analog TV sets.
3. Buy a converter box to use with an old
TV set. The best kind of box is an “analog pass through” box
that will allow you to watch analog stations when the box
is turned off. Do not buy boxes without analog capability
if you want to be able to watch all TV stations.
4. Subscribe and pay for cable or satellite services. These services will either deliver signals that your analog TV can display or will provide their own converter box to use with analog TV sets. Be careful when choosing this solution. Even if you do subscribe to one of these services, any televisions you have which are NOT hooked up to a cable or satellite box may not be able to receive some local programming.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is giving away coupons that will give you a $40 credit if you buy a converter box. These coupons will not be honored if you buy a box with an analog tuner, a DVD or VCR, or a new TV set. If you think that is unfair, contact your Senators and Congressperson. To find your two Senators, go to www.senate.gov, and to find your Congressperson, go to www.house.gov. Those websites let you search for the names of Member of Congress from your state and district.
When you go to the store to buy a converter box, ask the salesperson whether the box has an analog tuner or analog pass through capability. Other terms that may be used are “NTSC” for analog and “ATSC” for digital. If you want to find out which boxes have analog pass-through before you shop, you can find a list of models at www.keepuson.com. If you have NTIA coupons, you received a list of eligible models in the envelope. The ones marked with an asterisk (*) have the analog pass-through feature. If the store where you shop does not have any of these models, or the sales person does not know what you are talking about, shop somewhere else or online.
Don’t be misled into buying a converter box that will cut you off from some TV stations. Insist on a box with an NTSC/analog tuner or analog pass-through, so that you can continue to watch all TV stations. Better yet, buy a new TV set or a DVD or VCR. Even if you cannot use your government coupon, think about whether it is worth losing access to some stations to save a few dollars. And write to Congress and complain that you should be able to use your coupon however you choose!