DTV 101 (part 1): The "Digital TV Transition"; Converter boxes (coupon requests due by 12/31/08!)

by professor.knowsitall@evpl on Friday, December 26 2008, 3:15pm. Viewed 1,192 times.

As stated at DTV2009.GOV, "At midnight on February 17, 2009, all full-power television stations in the United States will stop broadcasting in analog and switch to 100% digital broadcasting."  Is this gibberish to you?  Do you realize that some of your televisions may require a converter box beginning February 17?  In this, the first in a series of blog posts about the digital TV (DTV) transition, we'll discuss what this transition "thing" is all about; why it's happening; what a converter box is and if you'll need to purchase one; and if so, how to apply for a government-subsidized coupon towards the purchase of a converter box.  The last day to apply for these $40-off coupons is December 31.

What is the "Digital TV Transition"?

Many items we use everyday have already transitioned from analog to digital: cassettes to CDs, VHS to DVD, etc.  Switching to the digital formats brought some great new features (CDs: track skipping, better sound quality; DVDs: chapter markers, greatly improved video & audio quality), but these transitions weren't without their share of headaches.  This is very similar to what the transition to DTV is.

Besides some minor changes in 1953 with the advent of color television, our current analog television standard has remained relatively unchanged since 1941.  Technology has evolved, and the old standard has become obsolete.

Currently, television stations are broadcasting both analog and low power digital.  On February 17, 2009, stations will stop broadcasting analog and will broadcast digital at full power.

Remember when you bought your first CD?  There was no way to play it in your old cassette player.  The same held true with DVDs; you couldn't play them in your VCR.  The same is true with digital TV; older televisions, which can only receive analog broadcasts, won't be able to "play" digital broadcasts without some add-on equipment.

Why the switch to digital???

There's a number of reasons:

  • New features & benefits: DTV provides better picture & sound, including high-definition video (when watching on a HDTV).  It can also allow for interactivity, electronic programming guides, and toggle-able languages & subtitles (like on DVDs); no stations have yet implemented these kinds of features, but they are possibilities for the future.
  • Saves "space": While the sky seems limitless, there's only so much "space" available for television to be broadcast in.  Analog broadcasts take up more "space" than digital ones.  By switching to digital, more stations can be broadcast using less "space". (An oversimplification, but you should get the idea.)
  • Freeing up analog airwaves: Once the DTV transition is complete, the old analog airwaves will be free.  Some will be turned over to local fire & police departments for emergency communication.  Others will be auctioned off to companies providing "new wireless services".  Uncle Sam has to pay for those $40 coupons somehow!
  • Stimulate the economy: More than ever, consumers are running out to purchase new TVs.  Those who aren't may decide to upgrade to cable or satellite.

What do I need to do?

If all of your TVs are connected to cable or satellite, you do not need to do anything.  You will continue receiving broadcasts over cable/satellite as you always have.

For TVs that are NOT connected to cable or satellite and use an antenna:

  • HDTVs are "Digital Ready"If the television is a HDTV, you do not need to do anything.  All HDTVs are ready to receive DTV.
  • If the television is a SDTV (not a HDTV), how old is it?
    • Most SDTVs made within the last couple of years should be ready to receive DTV, but it will depend on the model.  Check the instruction manual or the manufacturer's website to determine whether your TV is ready to receive DTV.  Some commonly-used terms to look for are "Digital Ready/Capable", "DTV Ready/Capable", "HD Ready/Capable", & "ATSC".  If you find that your TV IS ready to receive DTV, you don't need to do anything.
    • NOT "Digital Ready"!Older SDTVs are not DTV capable.

If your TV is not DTV compatible, you can always replace it with a new TV or begin cable/satellite service.  However, the most frugal option would be to purchase a converter box.

What is a converter box?

Digital converter boxTVs that aren't able to receive DTV can be retrofitted with a converter box.  Your antenna plugs into the converter box, and the box into your TV.  This gadget converts the digital signal it receives from the antenna into an analog one, which it sends to your TV.

A couple of important points:

  • Once installed, you'll change channels through the converter box (NOT through the TV).  So you'll need your TV's remote to power it on & adjust volume, but you'll use a 2nd remote (that comes with the converter box) to change channels.  Those with remote-aphobia should look into universal/programmable remotes.
  • One converter box will convert ONE TV.  If you have multiple TVs that are not DTV compatible, you'll need a converter box for each of them.

Applying for a converter box coupon

Converter boxes typically run $40-$70, not too cheap.  Congress created the TV Converter Box Coupon Program, which allows US households to obtain up to two coupons, each worth $40, that can be used towards the purchase of a converter box.  You must apply to receive these coupons, and the deadline to do so is Wednesday, December 31.  You can apply online or by calling 1-888-DTV-2009.

After applying, you should receive the coupon within 2-3 weeks; they expire 90 days after being mailed.  Any stores that sell electronics should have the converter boxes for sale and will accept these coupons.


Ain't technology fun?!?  If you have any questions or comments, please post them in the comments section below!  There's also a lot of good information at DTV2009.GOV

I've had a HDTV for nearly 3 years now, receiving DTV.  While I think DTV is great, and I'm glad that it will finally become mainstream, I cannot claim that it's problem-free.  In a future post, I'll talk about my experiences, including reception woes & other issues.  And since HDTVs are more popular than ever before, I'll be going over some HD basics in another post.  It will be an interesting ride, and hopefully the world will not cease to exist this coming February!

Comments (4)

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on Wednesday, January 21 2009, 11:22am

I received an email from a reader about his DTV Converter Box Reviews website at

Check it out before deciding which one is right for you!

on Friday, February 6 2009, 10:51am

While previous efforts to delay the DTV transition failed, on Wednesday the House of Representatives

on Tuesday, February 10 2009, 10:51am

On June 12 ( pushed back from the original February 17 date), TV will change forever. Whether or not

on Thursday, June 11 2009, 4:13pm

Tomorrow, 2.8 million households will riot in the streets when their TVs cease to work. Okay, slight