Info & Answers
DTV Transition: Converter Box or New TV?
Some consumers are eschewing converter boxes and using the digital transition as a reason to buy new TVs. But is this an eco-friendly decision?
dtv hdtv
April 23, 2008 by Kim Wilson

While it is possible to continue receiving free TV with a digital converter box once the DTV transition happens next February, that doesn’t mean you will be watching digital TV. All the converter box does is allow people to continue receiving a TV broadcast by converting the incoming digital signal to analog for playback on older TVs.

I want to reiterate that the need for a converter box is only for those people that are still watching TV using an antenna and receiving over-the-air analog transmissions. There seems to be a good deal of confusion on this point. If you have cable, satellite or any other pay TV service you will be unaffected by the transition, even if you are still using an older, analog TV. All pay TV providers will handle the transition internally. 

In the event you are someone that continues to receive free TV via antenna, now is the time to make a choice. Do you want to stay with the TV you have and use a converter box or switch over to an HDTV?

The converter box is a necessity for any TV that does not have a digital tuner, and that includes many of the early generation flat panel TVs, commonly referred to as EDTV (enhanced definition).  If you still want to receive free TV, yet, take advantage of the clarity and enhanced resolution of high definition TV, the other option is to purchase a true HDTV. 

As of March 2007 all TVs in the U.S. must have a digital tuner. There are, however, monitors available, especially in smaller sizes, say 24-inches and below that do not contain a digital tuner. To determine if you have a digital tuner, check the labels and markings on your TV/monitor. They may be found on the set itself or in your owner’s manual. Any or a combination of the following words/phrases indicate you have a TV with a digital tuner; Integrated Digital Tuner, Digital Tuner Built-In. Receiver, DTV, ATSC, or HDTV. If a digital tuner is not installed then the following should appear on the set itself or the owner’s manual; Digital Monitor, HDTV Monitor, Digital Ready or HDTV Ready.

In order to continue receiving free TV on a true HD television, you will still require an antenna.  Antennaweb.org, a website sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), indicates that over 1500 local stations across the country are currently broadcasting digital TV, covering over 99% of the U.S. More than 90% of these digital transmissions are normal UHF channels (14 through 83).

Based on this information a UHF antenna should be sufficient. However, the website also says that after the digital transition some broadcasters may opt to use their current analog VHF channels for digital transmissions instead. So to be on the safe side, an antenna that receives UHF and VHF (2-13) may be appropriate to ensure you receive all the digital broadcasts in your area. Antennaweb.org is designed to assist you in making sure you have the best antenna for your area because there are many variables that can impact signal strength, especially if you want to use an indoor antenna.

Buying a New TV
Maybe you have been avoiding buying a new HDTV because they seem too costly, however, prices on flat panel TVs (plasma and LCD) have dropped considerably and there are many good deals. If money is a top priority, some smaller 26-inch LCD TVs start under $500. Several of the key discount retailers such as Wal-Mart and K-Mart or warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club, have a wide variety of HDTVs starting at 20-inches going all the way up to 60-inches for prices that are much less than they were just a year ago.

Be sure to check product reviews (via online or print). They will help you familiarize yourself with the different manufacturers, the various features and what specifications are critical in choosing your HDTV. There is plenty of budget plasma and LCD models out there but picture quality can be noticeably compromised compared to some higher-end models that use better video processing and superior screens. That said, even budget flat panels displaying a true high definition picture look remarkable compared to analog TV. For more tips, check out “Ten Tips for Buying TVs.”

RPTVs (rear projection TVs) offer the best cost versus image size, however, they are significantly larger and deeper than flat panel TVs. Some manufacturer’s and retailers are dropping this product category from their roster as the increased size has become less appealing to consumers. At present, you can find some exceptional deals online and at brick and mortar retailers such as Best Buy and Circuit City for HDTV RPTVs, with screens larger than 60-inches.

If you shop online the best way to compare prices is to use the websites: Pricegrabber.com and Nextag.com. Once you have narrowed your research down to a couple of models, you can search to find the best price among participating online retailers. Just one caveat, the lowest price, may not be the best deal. Check for comments about the retailer’s customer service and also compare the final cost including tax and shipping. If the price is ridiculously low, buyer beware.

Thinking Green
You’ve probably heard that E-Waste is one of the greatest threats to our environment. Disposing of electronics from cell phones to TVs is a major concern across the country, and throughout the world. If you are thinking more green these days, you might be wondering why you would even consider disposing of a perfectly good set and contribute to the E-Waste problem. 

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