February 28, 2008

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Digital TV is coming
You have one year to comply
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

In just under 12 months, there will be no more analog television signals broadcast within the United States.

In a transition that has been put off several times in the past, the federal government finally set a deadline of Feb. 17, 2009, for domestic TV stations to switch to all-digital broadcasting. An auction of wireless frequencies used by analog TV started in January, so they’re really serious this time.

Don’t worry that you’re going to be left with an obsolete television set, though. In a stunning display of sense, the Federal Communications Commission is using proceeds from the auction to fund $40 coupons good toward converter boxes. While the manufacturers of those boxes are sure to make out like bandits, this is one of those rare cases where the consumer wins as well. The converters take the new digital broadcasts out of the air and output analog signals. They’ve recently hit the market at around $50, and that price is bound to drop as the transition nears, so it’s likely they will end up effectively free.

To get a coupon, visit www.dtv2009.gov and click the big “Apply for a Coupon” link. The coupon is good for 90 days.

Thing is, you probably don’t need one. The site also features an interactive questionnaire that helps you figure out if your setup requires a converter box, but here’s the short version: you don’t need a converter box if...
• You have an HDTV with a built-in digital tuner. All high-definition televisions that aren’t just “HD ready” or “HD monitors” have a digital tuner, because HDTV broadcasts are digital. Most stations already broadcast simultaneous digital signals; if you can receive those, you’re all set.
• You have cable, even basic. Cable companies have been trying for years to hide their basic, analog services because they make more money on fancier digital packages. They’re required to keep offering analog until at least 2012. Any cable-ready TV will do just fine, no converter box required. If your cable service requires a set-top box, it’s already doing the conversion.
• You have satellite or that FiOS thing. As with cable, your set-top box is doing the digital-to-analog conversion for you.
• You bought a TV or other receiving device in the last year. All TVs, DVD players, VCRs, TiVos, etc., made after March 1, 2007, are required to have a digital tuner if they have any tuner at all. Retailers can still sell older stock, but they must tell you if a device has only an analog tuner.

If all else fails, you can still use your old TV with game systems, VCRs or DVD players.