Converting Your Old TV to DTV
As of February 17, 2009, all broadcast television stations will be switching from analog broadcasting to digital. This means that if you are watching television using those rabbit ears you won’t be able to view this new format.
We have provided answers to some of the most common questions regarding the switch, including information on how to receive $80 worth of coupons, beginning January 2008, to switch your current television to digital.
The Switch to Digital TV
What is the digital TV (DTV) transition?
The switch from analog to digital broadcast television is referred to as the digital TV (DTV) transition. In 1996, the U.S. Congress authorized the distribution of an additional broadcast channel to each broadcast TV station so that they could start a digital broadcast channel while simultaneously continuing their analog broadcast channel.
The federal government has required all broadcast TV stations to change from an analog signal to a digital signal by February 17th 2009. This means that if you get your local TV signals over the air (through ‘rabbit ears’ or a rooftop antenna) you will need a converter box to keep using your old TV set.
Televisions that Will Need to be Converted
If I get my local TV signals from “rabbit ears” or a rooftop antenna, will my TVs still work?
Your current television will still work but you will have to either:
1. Buy a digital TV converter (that looks a lot like a cable box) and connect it to your current TV. We have provided information on how to receive coupons towards the purchase of this converter box below.
If I currently have cable TV, will my televisions still work?
Yes. This change only affects over-the-air broadcasts. Your current televisions will still work with cable TV. You won’t notice any change because your cable company will do all the conversions for you.
If I have satellite TV, will my televisions still work?
Yes. If you subscribe to a local channel package, which most satellite subscribers do, then this change will not affect you. You already get digital local TV through the satellite.
However if you do not subscribe to the local channel package and get your local channels through an antenna (rooftop or ‘rabbit ears’) then you will need to upgrade by either purchasing the local channel package with your satellite provider, upgrading to a new satellite box that can convert the new digital signals, or buying a separate digital TV box to use alongside your satellite box.
If I bought a new television recently, do I still need a digital box?
As of May 25, 2007, all new televisions sold in the US must have a digital tuner or be clearly labeled as not having one. So if you bought a television recently, it should be compatible once the conversion takes place.
Can I hook up more than one TV and video recorder to a single digital-to-analog converter box?
You will need one digital-to-analog converter box for each TV set or other device (such as a VCR) that only has an analog tuner. The digital-to-analog converter box basically replaces the analog tuner in one piece of equipment. So if you want to use your analog TV and VCR at the same time (for example, to watch one program and record another simultaneously), you will need two digital-to-analog converter boxes.
Using other Systems with my Current Televisions
Will my VCR or DVD player still play videos?
Your old VCR or DVD player will continue to play videos on both old televisions and new ones.
However, their video will only be displayed in the maximum resolution that is available with each analog product. Manufacturers are producing a number of different connectors to hook equipment together and improve picture and sound quality when DTVs are used with existing analog equipment. Check with your retailer to determine the types of connectors that will work with your equipment.
Will my VCR still be able to record my favorite shows?
VCRs will follow the same rules as televisions. If the signal is directly from an antenna and your VCR does not have a digital tuner built in (most don’t) you will need a digital tuner to convert the signal for the VCR to use. If you get your signal from cable or satellite, your VCR will continue to record as it always has.
If I currently use an antenna (rooftop or ‘rabbit ears’) will I have to buy a new digital antenna?
Any television antenna will pick up digital signals. However, because the digital signals are sent from different transmitters, the signal itself may be stronger or weaker where you live. If it is too weak, you may need to upgrade to a larger antenna to get the signal.
Available Coupons to Help you Switch to DTV
To help consumers with the DTV transition, the government established the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a part of the Department of Commerce, administers this program. Every U.S. household is eligible to receive up to two coupons, worth $40 each, toward the purchase of eligible digital-to-analog converter boxes. You will be able to request the coupons beginning in January 2008. The coupons may only be used for eligible converter boxes sold at participating consumer electronics retailers, and the coupons must be used at the time of purchase. Manufacturers estimate that digital-to-analog converter boxes will sell from $50 to $70 each. This is a one-time cost. For more information visit The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) web site:
Other Questions and Answers regarding DTV
Why are we switching to DTV?
An important benefit of the switch to all-digital broadcasting is that it will free up parts of the valuable broadcast spectrum for public safety communications (such as police, fire departments, and rescue squads). In addition, DTV also provides the opportunity for improved picture and sound quality. Also, some of the spectrum will be auctioned to wireless companies for the provision of advanced commercial wireless services (such as wireless broadband).
With the transition to digital, consumers will also benefit from a more efficient technology. For example, rather than being limited to providing one analog programming channel, a broadcaster will be able to provide a super sharp “high definition” (HD) program or multiple “standard definition” (SD) digital programs simultaneously. Providing several simultaneous programs on one broadcast channel is called “multicasting.” This means broadcasters can offer more choices of programming. Further, DTV can provide interactive video and data services that are not possible with analog technology.
How is Digital Television different from “regular television”?
Our current analog television system, (NTSC), has been in place for nearly 60 years. The current system has served us well, but pales in comparison to the depth of detail and color of digital TV.
Digital TV (DTV) is a new television system that provides over-the-air digital and high definition (HDTV) programming. Instead of a traditional analog signal, video signals are created and transmitted as digital information with no resulting loss in clarity or detail. Consequently, your DTV picture at home is delivered with stunning detail and CD quality sound.
What’s the difference between analog and digital television sets?
The most obvious difference is the screen size. The current NTSC system uses a 4:3 picture ratio, which is somewhat square. Digital TV, however, uses a 16:9 screen format that is considerably more horizontal, much like a movie screen. Consequently, you can view movies in a format much closer to what the film director intended, and view sports events in a much grander scale. Also, in NTSC analog format, your picture is made up of horizontal lines. In digital TV, however, your picture is composed of millions of individual picture elements (pixels) much like a digital camera or computer screen. Consequently, there is a fineness of detail and richness of color that the older NTSC system cannot hope to match. There are two formats available for hi-definition television. First is 1080i, which is an interlaced scanning format similar to your analog television. Currently, CBS and NBC have adopted this format. The second format is 720p (progressive), which is a picture that is composed of pixels; similar to the way your computer screen operates. The ABC and FOX networks currently broadcast in this format. Keep in mind that some digital receiver/monitors that are capable of receiving the highest quality signals sometimes down-convert them to a lower-quality 480p format (SD, or standard definition) for display. Check with you local retailer to make sure you are getting a display capable of true high definition resolution.
Do cable TV networks, like CNN, MSNBC, Lifetime, etc., have to switch to digital broadcasting as well?
No. The current requirement to switch from analog to digital only applies to full-power broadcast TV stations, which use the public airwaves to provide free over-the-air programming. However, as cable providers convert to digital transmissions over their systems, you may need to subscribe to their digital tier to continue to receive this non-broadcast programming.
How do I know if I already have a digital TV (DTV)?
Many DTVs and digital television equipment will have labels or markings on them, or statements in the informational materials that came with them, to indicate that they contain digital tuners. These labels or markings may contain the words “Integrated Digital Tuner,” “Digital Tuner Built-In,” “Digital Receiver,” or “Digital Tuner,” “DTV,” “ATSC,” or “HDTV” (High Definition television). If your television equipment contains any of these labels or markings, you should be able to view digital over-the-air programming without the need for a digital-to-analog converter box. (Remember, you do not need an HDTV to view free over-the-air digital programming. As long as your television equipment contains a digital tuner, you can view over-the-air digital. An HDTV is only necessary if you want to view High Definition programming in full HD quality.) You should also check the manual or any other materials that came with your television equipment in order to determine whether it contains a digital tuner.
If your television set is labeled as a “Digital Monitor” or “HDTV Monitor,” or as “Digital Ready” or “HDTV Ready,” this does not mean it actually contains a digital tuner. Thus, you still will likely need a separate set-top box which contains a digital tuner in order to view over-the-air digital programming.
Over-the-air digital set-top boxes for Digital or HD “Monitors” can be purchased at retail stores. Cable and satellite TV providers also sell or lease digital set-top boxes for their specific services. (Note: the digital set-top box described here is not the same as the digital-to-analog converter box, described above, used to convert free over-the-air digital broadcasts for viewing on an analog TV set.)
If your television set is labeled as “analog” or “NTSC,” and is NOT labeled as containing a digital tuner, it contains an analog tuner only.
If you cannot determine whether your television set or other television equipment contains a digital tuner, you should check your equipment for the manufacturer name and model number, and then contact your consumer electronics retailer, or the manufacturer, to determine whether it contains a digital tuner. This information also may be available online through the manufacturer’s website.
Because most broadcast stations in all U.S. television markets are already broadcasting in digital, consumers can watch DTV today. You can contact your local broadcast stations to determine the channel numbers on which the stations are currently broadcasting digital programming. You should then ensure that your television is set up to receive over-the-air programming (as distinguished from being connected to a paid provider such as cable or satellite TV service), and then tune to the over-the-air digital channels to see if your set can receive the digital broadcast programming.
What is the difference between “Integrated” DTVs and DTV or HDTV “Monitors”?
An Integrated DTV set is a television with a built-in digital tuner (also referred to as “a DTV”). A digital tuner is also sometimes called a DTV decoder or DTV receiver. If you have an Integrated DTV, you will not need any additional equipment, with the exception of a broadcast antenna (either a rooftop antenna or “rabbit ears” connected to the set), to receive over-the-air digital broadcast programming. Integrated DTVs can also receive and display analog broadcast programming, so you can continue watching analog broadcasts.
In contrast, a DTV Monitor is not capable of receiving digital broadcast programming without additional equipment; it is simply a display device without the processing capability for DTV reception. A digital or HD set-top box must be connected between the antenna and the monitor to receive and display over-the-air digital or HD programming.
If you have a digital or HD “Monitor” and would like to purchase a digital or HD set-top box to view over-the-air programming, confirm with your retailer that the set-top box is compatible with your Monitor.
How do I know if I already have digital programming through my cable or satellite TV service?
You may receive digital programming if you subscribe to a digital or HD package from your provider and you are viewing the digital programming on a digital set. However, the digital cable tier and satellite TV service are not necessarily DTV. Your cable or satellite TV system may be using digital technology as a more efficient way of delivering analog programming to you. If you have an analog television set, then you are probably not getting digital, even though the reception may be somewhat improved. Check with your cable or satellite TV provider to find out what kinds of programming you can receive, and what equipment you need to receive it.