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Converter boxes at Best Buy…sort of

August 15th, 2007

Reader Dan writes:

Where the HECK can I BUY one of these converter boxes? I’ve been trying to get one for several years…Tweeter, Best Buy, Circuit City, seem to have no idea what I’m talking about. I can’t find anything for sale on any website….

I see products for sale with stickers on them warning that converter boxes will be needed, but as nearly as I can tell those boxes are figments of somebody’s imagination.

Dan’s question is shared by other antenna-based viewers who are actually paying attention to the impending digital TV transition—and those five or six people want answers!

A glimmer of good news appeared a few days ago: A major retailer has begun stocking DTV converter boxes at a store in Maine, the Sun Journal of Lewiston reported:

At Best Buy in Auburn, the first such box arrived a week ago. Its price: $179.

No customer has asked for one yet, [Best Buy clerk Eric] Weeks said.

Well, that almost sounds like good news (forgiving, for the moment, that steep price). Best Buy, after all, has been criticized for its hesitant embrace of the converter box. The newspaper article even implied that the in-stock converter boxes were of the type that would be eligible for the federal government’s DTV coupon program, which will offer $40-off coupons to U.S. households for converter box purchases beginning next year.

No such luck, apparently. A phone call to the store revealed that the box is a Samsung, though the service rep wouldn’t disclose its model number (is that some kind of customer-nonservice policy?). When I asked whether the box would be eligible for the federal DTV coupon program, the clerk was noncommital.

I will go out on the limb a bit and guess that what they’re selling is the Samsung HDTV Digital Terrestrial Receiver, model DTB-H260F, which can be found on the Best Buy website priced at $179.99. That set-top box will not be coupon-eligible—for one thing, it contains an HDMI output, a disqualifying feature under program rules instituted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The DTB-H260F is really intended for use with a digital TV “monitor”—for example, an “HD-ready” TV that does not include a built-in ATSC digital tuner. But it can also be used with an analog TV to tune in digital channels, although consumer reviews suggest that it is less than ideally suited to that purpose.

Samsung will be coming out with a coupon-eligible converter box (CECB), priced at $75. Could they already be in stores? Doubt it. I don’t imagine that Best Buy would add $100+ to the introductory price—though, again, I don’t know for sure because they wouldn’t tell me.

Retailers and manufacturers alike seem in no hurry to supply old-school television viewers with newfangled digital boxes. What they’re waiting for is the federal government’s DTV converter box coupon program. Today NTIA awarded a nearly $120 million contract to IBM to carry out the voucher program, and the company says it’s already beginning its work. The coupons are slated to be available in January 2008. By that time, coupon-worthy DTV converters will, I hope, be more than imaginary.

Earlier:
Cheap converter boxes: Retailers not on board
Hey, Best Buy: We need analog labels, digital converters
Samsung DTV converter box priced above rivals
Converter box alternatives

Comment


  1. Doug Malloy says:

    I have been searching around, I haven’t found any DTV boxes yet, at least not ones that are supposed to be Coupon Eligible.

    I have read that LG has a box, it will be under the Zenith Brand:
    http://www.hdtvexpert.com/images_b/lg-dc.jpg

    RCA and Thompson have got an super-ugly looking box coming out: the DTA800
    http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/digital-switchover/rca-dta800-digital-converter-for-analog-tvs-updated-delayed-322419.php

    I personally like this box - the MPI-500 from Microprose. I was surprised to see Microprose, they’ve been doing software since back in the 1980’s, but I remember a big arcade game they used to have, so looks like they are back in the game (no phun intended) with a very slick looking box:
    http://www.micro-prose.com/hdtv.htm

    Now supposedly Samsung and I think Sanyo are going to get into the DTV arena too, but I haven’t seen any announcements or photo’s of their boxes, these are the only ones I’ve found so far.

    -=Doug=-

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DIGITAL TV TRANSITION: Get ready for 2009

DTV Converter Boxes: Should you get one for your old TV?

DTV Coupons: How to get your $40-off government coupon.

DTV Converter Box alternatives: You don’t have to wait.