THE SWITCH TO DIGITAL TELEVISION

Beware of ‘HDTV Converter’ scams

What does it take to get HD? To start with, you’ll need…an HDTV.

This is archived content from Digital TV Facts. For up-to-date information on the digital TV transition, see the federal government’s site, www.DTV2009.gov.

By Steven Sande, Digital TV Facts

If anybody tries to sell you a device that will turn your analog TV into an HDTV, don’t take the bait.

No such device exists—because no standard TV can ever give you high-definition television. HD images offer significantly higher resolution, capable of revealing fine details, accompanied by CD-like surround sound. That poor old analog TV can never give you that, alas. It lacks the necessary technology. If you want to watch shows in HD, the first step is to buy an HDTV. (We’ll get to the second step later on.)

HDTV is (aside from the early analog HD systems in Japan and Europe) a digital television system. Digital TV, or DTV, is a technology that efficiently encodes a television signal as a bunch of zeroes and ones.

Watch digital channels on an analog TV

You don’t have to haul your analog TV out to the trash, however, when analog over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts end on February 17, 2009. The addition of a set-top box will allow an analog TV to display digital programming. But the programs will be viewed in standard-definition (SDTV), not HD. Even SDTV will generally look and sound better than typical analog television, though.

If you watch TV with an indoor or outdoor antenna, your analog TV will need a DTV converter box to continue doing its job after the switchover to digital broadcasts is completed in 2009. The federal government will make $40-off coupons available to help consumers pay for the boxes.

Read more: DTV Converter Box Coupons

Cable or satellite TV subscribers require a digital cable box or receiver to watch digitally delivered programming on an analog TV.

Read more: Digital TV facts for cable TV customers
Read more: Digital TV facts for satellite TV customers

That, then, is what it takes to get digital TV programming—in SDTV form—on your analog TV. Again, if you want HDTV programming, you will need an HDTV.

But in addition to having an HD set, you must have a source of HD programming.

HD programming options

You can watch local HD broadcasts over the air for free on an HDTV that includes a built-in ATSC digital tuner.

Besides an HDTV, cable or direct-broadcast satellite customers will need to subscribe to a package that includes HD programming. (Depending on your HDTV and your pay-TV provider, you may also need an HD-capable cable box or satellite receiver.) Otherwise you’ll just be watching in standard definition.

While broadcast stations and cable networks have increased their HD offerings, many programs have yet to make the jump to HD. Capacity limits on cable and satellite systems have limited HD programming to certain channels, although the number of HD channels is expected to grow over time.

Scams vs. labeling errors

To recap: Stay away from anyone who claims that an “HDTV Television Converter” will convert your analog TV to HD. Nod your head, feign interest. Then turn to the huckster and earnestly ask: “Does this one run on magic beans?”

Note, however, that some models of set-top HD receiver boxes will also work with analog TVs, providing local digital TV channels in standard-definition quality. An HD receiver (also known as an HD tuner) is primarily intended for use with a tuner-free, “HD-ready” TV.

Careless merchants might label a set-top HDTV receiver as an “HDTV converter box.” The name can be misleading. But don’t assume they are out to cheat you—unless they make worthless claims about an HD experience on an analog TV.

Related:
DTV Converter Box alternatives

Updated July 3, 2007, 6:45 a.m. ET

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