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Digital Confusion

Kim Hart

Last week I wrote a story about the digital television transition that will take place Feb. 17, 2009. That's when broadcasters will stop carrying analog signals, or the over-the-air programming that TV-watchers generally receive with a rooftop antenna or "rabbit ears." Instead, broadcasters will send their shows in digital format, which is supposed to have much better picture and sound quality. Digital signals also use airwaves more efficiently, so some of the old analog airwaves can be reallocated for other purposes.

If you have an analog TV, you have three choices to continue to receive signals after the switch-off date. You can buy a converter box for each TV in your house, you can buy a new TV with a digital tuner, or you can subscribe to cable or satellite service.

Judging by the questions I've received since the article appeared, there still seems to be a fair amount of confusion about this transition. Hopefully the extra tid-bits of information below can help clear some of that up.

Q: How do I get a converter box and how does it work?

A: The converter box translates digital signals back into analog signals so they can be viewed on your analog TV set. It will look like a cable box. You will have to hook up a converter box to every TV in your house that's not hooked up to a cable or satellite service. So, if you have one TV hooked up to cable, but two other stand-alone TVs in your bedroom or kitchen, you'll need to have a converter box for each additional TV not hooked up to a cable box.

If your TV has a digital tuner--which all new TVs are required to have these days--you will not need a converter box to receive signals from your rooftop antenna.

Many retailers have said they will not carry the converter boxes in time for the holiday shopping season, but will start selling them in January. You can buy them in most stores that sell electronics, such as Best Buy or Wal-Mart.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an arm of the Commerce Department, is issuing coupons to help consumers pay for a converter box, which will cost anywhere from $50 to $70. You can request one by calling 1-800-DTV-2009. Each household can request two vouchers, which will be worth $40 each. Check out the agency's Web site for more information.

Q. The Federal Communications Commission recently passed a rule that requires cable operators to carry signals to analog subscribers. So why should I worry?

A: The rule applies only to customers subscribing to analog cable service, which is sometimes also referred to as basic cable. This type of cable service is not digital and still carries analog signals. The FCC ruled that analog-only cable subscribers will still get a picture for three years after the transition. If you aren't sure whether you subscribe to digital or analog cable service, call your service provider.

Q: How much more expensive are digital TVs?

A: There isn't much of a price difference anymore between analog TVs and digital TVs. Since last spring, all TVs manufactured must have a digital tuner. But many retail stores still have a lot of analog-only TVs in their inventory. They're required to label them clearly on the box or shelf. So when you're looking at TVs, make sure to find out if it has a digital tuner.

For a closer look at the technology behind digital TV, check out Rob Pegoraro's explanation.

By Kim Hart  |  October 3, 2007; 6:48 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Comments

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so when the Comcast tech told me that my 2004 TV which I presume is an analog set could be used to watch Comcast programming "forever" maybe I shouldn't have believed him? Are the cable companies really planning on not providing analog service after 2011?

Posted by: DCer | October 3, 2007 11:53 PM

DCer:

Your cable TV is unaffected by this transition You most likely already have a digital to analog converter in your cable TV box. If not, Comcast will provide you with an appropriate device when they switch to to digital.

Posted by: Jim | October 4, 2007 12:41 AM

This keeps popping-up on my browser history.

http://community.washingtonpost.com/ver1.0/Direct/Process

Is this an attempt by the Post to identify posters? Does this mean we are NOT anonymous when we post to chats?

Posted by: What is this? | October 5, 2007 11:07 AM

This will also affect a number of products, including OnStar systems in cars and home security systems.

Posted by: Mike S | October 9, 2007 9:29 AM

What about my portable handheld and 13" set that we take to picnics, the zoo, and such, to watch the game while out and about (this really just affects my husband who is "dragged" to these functions while "the big game" is on, thus his need for a handheld analog TV (e.g. Watchman or similar) so he can quietly watch while the rest of us participate in our activity.

Posted by: alexandria | October 10, 2007 4:27 PM

I have asked this question in several forums with no response:

We are great users of TV radios in our family (listening to the audio portion only of programs). Since audio is presently broadcast on FM frequencies, am I correct that our radios will no longer work. Will something similar become available? Will we be able to afford it?

Posted by: Eremita | October 12, 2007 9:23 PM

Ah. No wonder I don't come to this blog anymore... it sure is a snoozer. No updates in over a month... Come on.. I want IT blogging

Posted by: Rob2 | November 8, 2007 12:48 PM

Soooo, if you have, say, 4 analog tv and have digital boxes on 2 can you purchase digital converter boxes COMPATIBLE WITH THE COMCAST SIGNAL. This would allow NOT having to "rent" their boxes for about $7/mo.
Whatda ya think ????

Posted by: bhart | November 13, 2007 5:50 PM

Dear Hart,

I as a "U.S. consumer" can totally see the benefits of the digital TV, but what you are trying to convey is that everyone NEEDS digital signals to view on that TV. That means that to do this they will have to pay to watch anything on their TV. I do admit that much of what we get out here in rural WV is somewhat static enhanced... but, it doesn't cost the $60 (or so) a month to see the local weather and news that has been broadcasted over the air for decades.

No matter how you look at it, the forcing of making everyone pay for the Digital Programming (that is to go along with the must-have digital TV) is another loss of our American freedom. I do admit that freedom comes with a price, but does it now have to be always money?

I am an American Soldier (over eight years in the active Army and eight years continuing in the Air Force National Guard, and I find it hard to swallow that our Government finds it necessary to take this freedom away from us (unless we pay for it in dollars). That 'Dear Hart' is another freedom that will be lost!

Whenever a freedom has to be paid for in money, is one less freedom that I as an American Soldier am willing to die for.


Posted by: John McNeel | December 7, 2007 2:51 AM

Is this blog dead? No update since Oct. 3rd? Lame.

Just get rid of it if you aren't going to update it.

Posted by: KR in DC | December 11, 2007 10:49 PM

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

Posted by: Maurice | January 2, 2008 2:06 AM

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