DTV Transition: FAQs
Here's a list of some common questions and answers related to the analog-to-digital transition, coming on June 12, 2009.
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June 08, 2009 by Kim Wilson

THE DIGITAL CONVERTER BOX

What is a TV Converter Box?
The digital-to-analog converter box is a stand-alone device that receives and converts digital signals into a format for display on an analog television receiver.  The TV converter box plugs into your analog TV and allows you to continue receiving free, over-the-air TV using an existing or new antenna. A TV connected to cable, satellite or other pay TV service does not require a TV converter box from this program.

How much does a converter box cost? The TV converter box is a one-time purchase and costs between $50 and $70. However, since the DTV transition is government mandated, they are providing each household up to two $40 coupons to defray the cost of a converter box.

What is the TV Converter Box Coupon Program?
Congress created the TV Converter Box Coupon Program for households wishing to keep using their analog TV sets after June 12, 2009. The Program allows U.S. households to obtain up to two coupons, each worth $40 that can be applied toward the cost of eligible converter boxes. For a list of TV converter boxes that can be purchased with $40 government coupons, go here: https://www.dtv2009.gov/Boxes.aspx

How do I get the coupons?
Consumers can apply for up to two $40 coupons per household by calling 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009), by applying online or by mailing their application to PO Box 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000. Coupons will be mailed to requesters. Deaf or hard of hearing callers may dial 1-877-530-2634 (English/TTY) or 1-866-495-1161 (Spanish/TTY). TTY Service is available from 9 AM - 9 PM Eastern Time Monday through Friday.

Where can I use the coupons?
When the coupon is mailed to you, it should include an insert with a list of nearby participating retailers. You will be able to buy TV converter boxes and use your coupons at retail stores such as Best Buy, Circuit City, Radio Shack, Kmart, Sears and Wal-Mart where you would normally buy consumer electronics products. There are many online retailers as well that can be located here.

How can I tell if I need a converter box for my TV?
If you have an analog TV and want to continue receiving TV using an antenna (indoor or outdoor) you will need a converter box. TV sets made before 1998 were traditional “analog” sets. The only exception is a limited percentage of projection TV sets (and generally only those 42 inches in diameter or larger) included digital tuners before 2004. You will have to refer to your owner’s manual to verify if your set is one of these.

I don’t have cable TV or a satellite dish system do I still need a converter box?
Not necessarily. If you have a TV with a built-in digital tuner you can receive digital TV using an indoor or outdoor antenna without the extra converter box.

How do I install a TV Converter Box?
Converter boxes plug into TV sets, either in the back or front, depending on your TV. You will still need your antenna, which works with the TV converter box. Each TV converter box will come with installation instructions from the manufacturer. For specific questions, you should ask your retailer or call the manufacturer’s technical support hotline. A generic “Quick Start Guide” and installation video are available at www.DigitalTips.org.

How big is the converter box?
Most converter boxes are relatively small, about the size of a paperback book, and will fit on top of a small to medium sized TV set.

Do I need a converter box for every TV?
It’s advisable that each analog TV be set up with a converter box if they receive TV via an antenna. While it’s possible to split the signal and use one converter box for two or more TVs, the signal can be seriously degraded. Moreover, each TV would have to view the same channel, whichever one the converter box is set to.

Will I still need an antenna to receive programming?
Yes. If you currently use an antenna to receive your over-the-air programming, you will still need it after you install a converter box. In some cases, TV viewers may need a new antenna. For help choosing an antenna in order to receive your free, local broadcast TV channels, please visit www.antennaweb.org and www.fcc.gov/.

Which manufacturers are making the TV converter boxes? Are there differences?
TV converter box features may vary depending on the brand, however, all models will allow your analog TV to continue to operate after June 12, 2009. The best way to get information on individual converter boxes is to visit the manufacturer’s website—or visit one of the authorized retailers selling converter boxes. For a list of retailers log onto www.dtv2009.gov and a complete list of eligible TV converter boxes can be found here: www.dtv2009.gov/Boxes

What is the analog pass-through feature on some converter boxes and do I need it?
If you also receive over-the-air TV signals from a low-power TV station that does not have to make the digital transition, in addition to full-power TV stations that will be switching to all digital, you will want to consider getting a converter box with analog pass-through. This allows the analog signal of low power TV stations to pass through to your TV. If the converter box doesn’t have an analog pass-through feature, you may have to physically disconnect the box every time you change from a digital channel to an analog channel. For RV owners, a converter box with an analog pass-through is a great choice while traveling. It will allow you to receive TV signals from various TV stations whether they are transmitting in analog or digital.

If I attach a digital converter box to my old analog TV, will the quality of the image be as good as before? Will it be better or worse?
According to TV broadcasters, consumers should notice a clearer picture with the converter box, moreover, additional programming will be available because DTV makes it possible for stations to broadcast multiple channels of free programming simultaneously through a technique called “multicasting,” instead of broadcasting only one channel at a time.

Is there any benefit to purchasing a digital converter box and hooking it up before the February 2009 switch date?
Since most full-power stations are currently broadcasting both in digital and analog, viewers can plug in their converter boxes now and generally receive a clearer picture and “multicast” channels (where they are available).

Will my cable company be providing converter boxes?
No. However, if you are using cable then you will not need a converter box.

I have a handheld or battery-powered TV. Can I use a converter box with this to continue receiving TV after the transition?
In some cases it may be possible for portable, battery-powered analog TVs to receive over-the-air programming after June 12, 2009. However, it will have to have the necessary plugs to allow it to be connected to a digital-to-analog converter box. As it’s not likely that battery powered digital-to-analog converter boxes will be produced, an external power source would also be required.

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