THE BLOG

FAQ: The Digital TV Transition

05/25/2011 01:00 pm ET

What is this "digital television transition" I keep hearing about?
At midnight on February 17, 2009, all full-power television stations in the United States will stop broadcasting in analog and switch to 100% digital broadcasting.

Why are we switching to digital TV?
Digital broadcasting will provide a clearer picture and more channels, while freeing up the broadcast spectrum for use by emergency responders. It will also offer consumers advanced features such as electronic program guides, which will display the name of the program, channel number, and a brief description of the program, all in real time. The digital conversion may also spur the sale of new television sets, providing an economic stimulus for U.S. TV makers.

Which U.S. companies currently make TVs?

None.

Will my television work after February 17, 2009?
That depends on your TV. If the size of your television's picture screen doesn't completely dominate the room, there's a chance your set will no longer work. If your television features rabbit ears or a large plastic knob that makes a chunk-chunk sound when you change channels, your television probably won't work. If your television is housed in a massive cherry wood cabinet bearing the phrase "Hi-Fi" in fancy script lettering, your set definitely won't work.

What can I do to ensure that my TV works after February 17, 2009?
Buy a new TV.

Is there anything else I can do besides buy a new TV?

Yes, but it's very, very complicated. You're better off buying a new TV.

Isn't it true I can purchase a converter box that allows my analog TV to receive digital signals?

If you're content to live in the past while the rest of the world shares in the spectacular visual riches of the digital revolution, then yes, I suppose you could buy a converter box.

How do I hook up a digital converter box?
Each TV converter box comes with a thick manual containing installation instructions from the manufacturer. Some minor welding and sheet metal fabrication may be involved. Expect the installation process to last several months, or possibly longer if you have no previous experience with sheet metal fabrication. Once your converter box is connected, you may see a dense pattern of glowing black and gray bars superimposed over the video image, or the ghostly outline of people as they walk by the TV set. This is perfectly normal.

Will I have to pay for the digital converter box?
The converter box costs between $40 and $70. However, the federal government has created a coupon program that helps defray the cost of the boxes for consumers. The coupons work much like Food Stamps, except that no American who truly needs a converter box will be turned away.

After the digital transition, will I still be able to use my video gaming console, VCR and DVD player?
Yes, but you'll have to use your video game controller to operate your DVD or VCR. To record a program, simply press the "up" button on your game controller in a frantic fashion while rotating the Flight Stick in a counterclockwise direction.

I'm a cable customer. How will I be affected by the digital transition?
You may find yourself thinking that there's never anything good on cable anymore since the Sopranos ended, not that Curb Your Enthusiasm doesn't have its moments, but that it's definitely not worth shelling out 60 bucks a month for the premium package, especially for crap like the Hallmark Channel and F/X. Other than that, your cable TV experience will remain much the same.

I don't even own a TV. How will the digital TV transition affect me?

It will allow you to remind your few remaining friends how you don't even own a TV.

Instead of going to all of this trouble making the TV picture quality slightly better, why not make the shows better?
Next question, please.

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