Should you get a digital TV adapter for your old TV? Our handy primer can help you decide.
This is archived content from Digital TV Facts. For up-to-date information on the digital TV transition, see the federal government’s site, www.DTV2009.gov.
By Steven Sande, Digital TV Facts
What is a digital TV converter box?
A digital TV converter box hooks up to a conventional analog TV set, allowing it to receive digital broadcasts. This device, about the size of a cable box or smaller, is sometimes called a “digital-to-analog converter box, ” “set-top converter box” or “digital TV adapter.”
Do I need a converter box?
If you watch TV over the air, using an antenna or “rabbit ears, ” you will need to get either a converter box or a digital TV by February 17, 2009.
• I have cable TV service.
• I have satellite TV service.
How much do converter boxes cost?
The price is expected to be somewhere around $60. But because the federal government will provide coupons worth $40 off the cost of a converter box, the consumer’s share should come out to about $20.
How do I get a converter box coupon?
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will make coupons available to U.S. households that request them beginning January 1, 2008. Funding for the coupon program may not be sufficient to provide a rebate to every American who wants one, according to some analysts. So you might want to put in your request as soon as the program launches.
Where can I buy a converter box?
Electronics stores and other retailers, including online outlets, will sell digital TV converter boxes. Inexpensive models eligible for the federal DTV coupon program should become widely available in 2008.
If you want a DTV converter now, one option is to purchase a set-top HD receiver, also known as an HD tuner. While intended for an “HD-ready” television, some models can also be used with an analog TV, functioning like a converter box. (Note that the set-top box will not give your analog TV high-definition capabilities; no device is capable of that.)
Another option is to buy a DVD recorder, VCR or digital video recorder (DVR) with a built-in ATSC digital tuner. These devices will also let you watch local digital channels on an analog TV.
When should I buy my converter box?
To take advantage of the government rebate, you may want to purchase a converter box when the coupon program begins in 2008. Chances are, the longer you wait—as we’ve seen with HDTVs and most other consumer electronics—the lower the prices. Later models might also offer improved designs that deliver better performance. But remember, the coupons expire three months after they are issued.
If you don’t care about the rebate and simply can’t wait to watch digital TV, you can buy a converter box before the coupon program starts—if you can find one. Two major digital converter manufacturers are holding back the release of the basic boxes until early 2008.
Unless other companies step in with entry-level models before the DTV coupon program begins, the converter boxes typically available in 2007 are HD tuner/receivers intended for “HD-ready” televisions. If you go that route, you will probably pay a great deal more—and the high-definition capabilities will add nothing to your analog TV. A better value, perhaps, is a low-end digital TV or DVD recorder with a built-in digital tuner, which can cost less than a set-top HD receiver.
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