DTV Transition: Is My TV a Digital TV?
Not sure if your television is analog or digital? Here's a guide to help you figure it out.
DTV Transition
June 11, 2009 by Krissy Rushing

So you’re up to speed on the Digital TV transition set to take place at midnight on June 12, 2009, right? (If not, read “Everything You Need to Know About the Digital TV Transition.”) If so, you know that the only people that are going to have to take action before the transition are those who are currently watching free, over-the-air broadcasts of TV on an analog TV. Those folks will have to buy an external digital-to-analog converter box in order to continue watching free, over-the-air broadcasts after the cutoff date, only then the broadcasts will be all-digital. If your TV is a digital TV, you won’t be affected. The next logical question: Is My TV a Digital TV?

Newer TVs
Simply put, a Digital TV is any TV that has a digital tuner to decode digital broadcasts. Of course, whether or not you have a digital tuner in your set is sort of difficult to discern seeing as how its inside the TV. If you own a TV that was shipped after March 1, 2007, it is digital. The Federal Communications Committee has made sure of that. How do you know whether your TV is a digital TV that was shipped after March 1, 2007 or is an analog set that has been sitting quietly on the store shelve, waiting for an unsuspecting consumer to snatch it up? Again, the FCC has required TV sellers, as of May 25, 2007, to disclose at the time of purchase that a TV does not include a digital TV tuner, and therefore will require a separate analog-to-digital converter box to receive over-the-air broadcasts after the DTV transition date.

If you are in the market for a new TV, analog-only sets will have a warning label displayed prominently stating that the TV has only an analog tuner, so take notice. In other words, if there is no warning label and you are buying a TV today, it has a digital tuner. If there is a warning label on the box, then the set only has an analog tuner. Again, that means you will need a separate analog-to-digital converter in order to get free over-the-air broadcasts come February 18.

Existing and Older Sets
If you already have a TV at home and haven’t a clue whether it is digital or not and purchased it before the dates mentioned above, look at the front of the set, the packaging, or the accompanying literature and specifications. If it has any of the following wording, it will have a built-in digital tuner:

• Integrated Digital Tuner
• Digital Receiver
• Digital Tuner

Megan Pollock, an expert on the DTV transition and a spokeswoman for the CEA advises consumers to “Be wary. Even some of the newer TV sets are purely display monitors that lack the internal circuitry needed to pick up digital broadcasts Usually these sets have been advertised as ‘HD-ready’ or ‘HDTV monitor’ sets.” Obviously, watch for NTSC and analog designations that aren’t accompanied by labeling indicating that the set also contains a digital tuner.

If you bought your TV set before 1998, it probably doesn’t have a digital tuner at all. “Almost every TV set made before 1998 was a traditional analog set that can’t display digital TV signals without either a special converter or a cable TV connection,” says Pollock. “If you bought a big-screen, projection TV between 1998 and 2004, it’s possible there’s a built-in digital tuner inside. But chances aren’t great. Only a limited percentage of projection TV sets (and generally only those 42 inches or larger) included digital tuners before 2004.” Simply put, if you have a set older than 2004, it’s likely you will need to purchase the digital-to-analog converter box from a national retailer in order to continue to receive free, over-the-air broadcasts of your favorite programs. Or it might finally be time to upgrade your TV. (If you decide to do this, reread the first section of this article.)

If you’ve purchased a new TV set since 2004, your chances of having a built-in digital tuner improve dramatically. “Starting in 2004, many of the TV sets sold at popular electronics stores have featured digital tuners,” says Pollock. Still unsure? Just go online to the TV manufacturer’s website, which should include specifications for the various TVs, including the type of tuner included. Some manufacturers, such as LG even devote entire sections of their website to the transition to help make consumers lives easier.

Does TV Type Matter?
Many people are under the assumption that all flat-panels—plasmas and LCDs—are digital. But that is not necessarily the case. While most do include digital tuners, some are, as we mentioned before, simply monitors without any tuner at all.

Likewise, while some consider tube TVs to be old technology, not all tube TVs are analog-only. You can find tube TVs that contain both digital and analog tuners. This just goes to show you that no matter what the technology is, it is best to double check that the set you are buying has a digital tuner built-in. If you are in the market for a two-piece projection system, you won’t automatically get a digital signal because projectors don’t have tuners of any kind built in. Projectors will, however, display signals from an HDTV tuner, satellite, or cable.

“I tell most consumers, you don’t accidentally buy a digital TV—for the most part, DTVs are more expensive than their analog counterparts,” says Pollock. And if all else fails, you’ll find out very soon whether or not your set is a DTV. If, at midnight on June 12 when the analog signal goes black your set does too, it’s time to start shopping for a new TV, a digital-to-analog converter box, or a satellite/cable subscription—all three direct paths to the DTV phenomenom. The choice is all yours.

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