Facts for over-the-air viewers


This is archived content from Digital TV Facts. For up-to-date information on the digital TV transition, see the federal government’s site,

By Steven Sande, Digital TV Facts

If you still watch television the way TV pioneers did, back in the 1940s—on a standard analog TV with an antenna—well, bad news, video ranger: Your TV is slated to go dark on Feb. 17, 2009, unless you pony up some cash. On that day, television stations throughout the U.S. will complete the transition to digital broadcasting, as mandated by Congress.

You can extend the life of your analog TV, however, by purchasing a set-top converter box. Without a converter box, analog TVs will no longer receive over-the-air (OTA) television.

Converter boxes, also known as digital TV adapters, are not readily available today in the U.S. market. That will change as 2009 draws near. Consumers might expect to pay $50 to $60 for one of these digital-to-analog converters; see our FAQ section for more on converter box prices. A federal subsidy program will provide two coupons by mail, each worth $40 off the cost of a converter box, to households that request them.

Time for a new TV? Look for the digital tuner

If you decide to go shopping for a new digital TV (DTV) instead, keep two things in mind:

1. Many brand-new TVs sold today, and most low-priced models, are still analog. If you find one at a price that seems too good to be true, remember: When 2009 rolls around, you’ll still need to buy a separate converter box to watch over-the-air broadcasts.

2. Many so-called “digital TVs” do not include a digital tuner—which means they cannot receive over-the-air broadcasts unless you purchase a separate digital receiver. This includes many HDTV models and some digital TV monitors labeled “HD-Ready.”

Again, the key question is: Does the set have a digital tuner? How can you tell? A digital tuner is sometimes called an “ATSC tuner” (after the Advanced Television Systems Committee, which created the U.S. digital TV standard). So look for a label that refers to an ATSC or digital (or “ATSC digital”) tuner. A TV labeled “HD Built-In” or “Integrated HDTV” should include a digital tuner.

An FCC regulation, requiring manufacturers to include digital tuners in all digital TV sets by March 1, 2007, is being phased in. Today, all TVs with screens larger than 25 inches, imported into the U.S. or manufactured here, are supposed to include digital tuners. Yet a surprisingly large percentage of big-screen TVs on retail shelves today remain analog-only. In addition, the regulation contains a loophole that allows “TV monitors” to be sold without tuners—under the assumption that consumers will hook them up to cable or satellite service.

Shop with care and know what you’re buying, as the descriptions of TV sets found in stores and newspaper ads can be confusing or, in some cases, flat-out wrong. A voluntary labeling program for analog TVs was announced by the Consumer Electronics Association, but Congress has resisted calls for mandatory labeling.

Next: For some, a bumpy road to digital TV »

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