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Misconceptions About the Transition to Digital Television

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Whenever the subject turns to high definition television, I’ve always found a few people who are disappointed because they believe they need to sell their television and upgrade to high definition by February 17, 2009, they day the lights go out on analog broadcasts. This is a significant misconception, an incorrect assumption that is encouraged by electronics stores that use confusing and sometimes misleading terminology. Stores are encouraging people to upgrade to high definition televisions, inspiring fear that once February 17, 2009 rolls around, their current TVs will go dark, unable to receive signals from their cable or satellite company.

This is simply not true. The only changes will be to free over-the-air signals. For the most part, the only people who will be affected are those who use standard antennas to receive free television. Many people have cable or satellite boxes that are not affected by this change. The cable company will receive those local stations via the required digital signal and will send the signal to your house. The set-top cable or satellite box will use a digital tuner to receive signals and will send the video to your television over an analog or digital cable.

old televisionIf you subscribe to cable or satellite, it is unlikely this change will affect you at all. If you use a cable box, the company has taken care or will take care of everything for you. If you receive cable service without a set-top box, you may need to contact the company.

If you are one of the many people across the country who watch only the television programs broadcast over the air, you have three options. The first option is to buy a new television set. Almost all new televisions have digital tuners now, but check the specifications before you buy. Don’t buy a “monitor,” which has no tuner at all. Cost: $150.

The second option is to buy a special DTV converter box. These cost about $50, but households can request up to two $40 coupons. Cost: potentially $10 per set.

The third option is to subscribe to a cable or satellite service. Cost: $15 per month.

The biggest misconception I’ve been exposed to, particularly at work, is the idea that to receive any television at all after February 17, 2009, you will need a high definition television. This is simply not true. Please get the word out.

Image credit: ninjapoodles
DTV Transition Coalition
Digital Television from the FCC

Updated January 16, 2010 and originally published January 10, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Mrs. Micah

One commercial I actually like is by either Verizon or Comcast all about how people with their cable service don’t need to worry. Not quite a PSA, but actually useful.

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avatar Sasha ♦644 (Dime)

Bah. I’m one of the few holdouts refusing to upgrade my TV set (it’s big, it’s not flat, but it’s fine) and it annoys me that the stores are spreading misinformation just so more landfills can get stocked with discarded perfectly-good TVs.

I’m glad you’re setting it right, though.

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avatar Maurice

I found an excellent site; it had all the info about the Digital Transition and requesting the $40 coupon. I ordered my 2 coupons from it. http://www.digitalconverterbox.org

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avatar Marlene

I have a question for anyone reading this that might know the answer. I read or saw on tv somewhere that really old tv might not be able to work with the converter box? Would it work if I connect to a newer dvd player and connect that to the tv.

I don’t have or plan to get cable and my tvs are at least 15 years old. Maybe even older.

I’m not a tech person.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

Marlene: If you can currently connect your DVD player to your TV, then you can use the new converter boxes or a box from a cable company. You’ll probably want to pass the signal through the DVD player as you suggested (or get a signal switch) if you want to switch between watching a DVD and watching over-the-air or cable programming.

Here are your pass-through options (the switch options are difficult to describe using text).

[CABLE Connection from Wall] –> [Converter Box from Cable Company] –> [DVD Player] –> [Old Television]

[ANTENNA] –> [Converter Box from Retail Store] –> [DVD Player] –> [Old Television]

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avatar Andy

When purchasing a converter box it is important to buy one with a pass through option. Meaning it will still pass the old analog signal through to your TV.

Many low powered stations as well as repeating towers in rural areas will not have to be switched to digital by the deadline next year. So if you buy the converter and you watch a low powered station or get your affiliate from a repeater, you will lose your signal with the wrong box.

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avatar Marlene

Thanks Flexo. I wasn’t really looking forward to buying a new tv.

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avatar John

Many people are finding that now they need a (directional) roof antenna and an amplifier in order to get anything watchable. With digital TV you need a much stronger signal. Digital TV with even a moderate signal is terrible. Even with a strong signal there is occasional glitches and hang-ups.

I think that each of the pols and liberals that supported this should be forced to watch several hours of broadcast digital TV.

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