January 30, 2008 12:58 PM PST

FAQ: What the digital-TV switch actually means

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January 30, 2008

(continued from previous page)

Q: Are there any limitations here? Can I use the coupons toward the cost of a digital TV?
The coupons may only be used for converter boxes certified for use by NTIA, and the agency placed a number of restrictions on what features they can employ. For instance, it's acceptable for the boxes to include an electronic program guide feature, equipment necessary for processing software upgrades, antenna inputs, and video outputs. They also must meet certain energy efficiency and interference standards.

But the coupons can't be used toward digital TVs themselves or toward more "deluxe" devices that also contain, for instance, DVD-recording or playback capabilities.

Q: Does DTV mean HDTV?
Nope. As federal officials themselves note, digital television comes in many flavors. It can be SDTV or HDTV, or somewhere in between.

Q: Have any specific models been certified for use with the coupons yet?
Yes. NTIA has certified products from several companies including, Digital Stream, Zenith, Magnavox, and Philco. Other companies including LG, Samsung, RCA, Broadcom and Echostar, are reportedly in the process of seeking certification.

For a full list of certified devices check out the NTIA Web site.

Q: Where can I get a converter?
NTIA has certified more than 100 consumer electronics retailers including Best Buy, Circuit City, Kmart, RadioShack, Sam's Club, Sears, Target, and Wal-Mart. A full list of retailers can be found on the Web site (PDF).

Q: How can I tell whether my TV is currently able to receive digital signals?
Check your owner's manual or the TV set itself for indication that it contains either an integrated HDTV tuner or an Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) tuner, which refers to the American digital-TV standard. If you can't track down the manual in paper form, try searching for your TV's make and model number on the manufacturer's Web site.

A TV designated "HD-ready" or "HDTV monitor," by contrast, does not have a built-in ATSC tuner, which means you must supplement it with a converter box or subscribe to cable or satellite.

The newer your TV is, the greater the chance that it's already primed for the switch. If it's older than a 1998 model, when TV manufacturers first began offering a limited quantity of TVs with integrated digital tuners, it likely needs a converter box. An uptick in the number of TVs equipped with digital tuners began in 2004.

Q: Remind me again--why are we even making this shift?
The U.S. government has actually been attempting to clear off the analog TV spectrum for many years to make the prime airwaves available for public safety responders and for mobile broadband projects. A portion of the vacant spectrum will automatically be set aside for use by emergency broadcasters. The rest is currently being auctioned off by the FCC to companies, including the likes of Google. These companies are eager to take advantage of the spectrum's inherent physical properties, which allow signals to travel farther and penetrate walls.

All told, the auction is expected to generate between $10 billion and $15 billion to offset the government's deficit.

Q: What's in this for me as a TV watcher?
Digital television delivers clearer pictures (meaning less-snowy versions of your favorite broadcast TV shows) and sharper sound than its analog counterpart. It also allows broadcasters to do "multicasting" of various channels at the same time--say, weather on one channel, a soap opera on another, and news on a third. According to the National Association of Broadcasters, more than 1,600 television stations already offer digital-broadcasting streams.

CNET News.com's Marguerite Reardon and Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.

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53 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Q. Is it illegal to resell? A. Yes
You are wrong, it is illegal to resell your coupons on ebay and it's illegal to sign up with mulitiple house addresses to get more coupons. Read question 11 and related topics here:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="https://www.dtv2009.gov/FAQ.aspx" target="_newWindow">https://www.dtv2009.gov/FAQ.aspx</a>
Posted by raulmot (72 comments )
Reply Link Flag
electronic tracking of coupons
For those thinking of selling their coupons:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.ntia.doc.gov/dtvcoupon/DTVconsumers.pdf" target="_newWindow">http://www.ntia.doc.gov/dtvcoupon/DTVconsumers.pdf</a>
states that "Coupons will be electronically trackable and uniquely numbered, similar to gift cards, so that transactions will be verified at
the point of sale."

Further:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.ntia.doc.gov/dtvcoupon/DTVretailers.pdf" target="_newWindow">http://www.ntia.doc.gov/dtvcoupon/DTVretailers.pdf</a>
states that retailers must "Have systems in place capable of processing coupons electronically for redemption and payment, tracking every transaction and providing reports to NTIA."
They must also agree to being audited and to providing redemption information and payment receipts.
Posted by buzzinblair (5 comments )
Link Flag
Wrong audience
Though it all makes sense, your core audience most likely knows all about this.

How many none techies actually visit this site? :)
Posted by itworker--2008 (130 comments )
Reply Link Flag
audience
True, this site's core audience picks this kind of thing up pretty quick. But we need to be able to console and advise the befuddled masses yearning to watch TV next February.
Posted by buzzinblair (5 comments )
Link Flag
What is a TV?
Ar we talking about that funny little radio thats got pictures on it?
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Link Flag
What about old roof top TV antennas?
Will one be able to use an older roof top antenna once one is using digital TV? Our household has a new digital ready TV but we aren't hooked up to satellite or cable.
Posted by DarienP (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The answer is yes
you can use the old antennas:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080107132609AA7JznA&#38;show=7" target="_newWindow">http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080107132609AA7JznA&#38;show=7</a>

You will just need a converter box to tune into the digital signal. There appears to be little if no difference between an HDTV and analog antenna, except the HDTV antenna is shorter because it only uses UHF waves and the old analog antennas use both VHF and UHF waves and as a result are bigger. The UHF frequencies are still being used, but the VHF frequencies are being reassigned for emergencies broadcasts like 9/11 services and government communications, and what VHF signals won't be used by the government are being actioned off (The 700Mhz frequencies) to the private industries like Google, AT&#38;T, etc for use in wireless Internet and other services.

If you have a favorite VHF channel it will be reassigned to a new UHF frequency and the channel number might change as a result.
Posted by Andy kaufman (291 comments )
Link Flag
Roof top
No.
Posted by paulsecic (298 comments )
Link Flag
Digital killed the Analog Star
I watched you on the airwaves back in Ninety Two
Lying awake intent at tuning in on you.
If I was young it didn't stop you coming through.


Oh-a oh


They took the credit for your second situation comedy.
Rewritten by machine and new technology,
and now I understand the problems you can see.


Oh-a oh

I met your children
Oh-a oh

What did you tell them?
Digital killed the analog star.
Digital killed the analog star.


High Definition TV came and broke your heart.
Oh-a-a-a oh


And now we meet in an abandoned studio.
We watch the broadcast and it seems so long ago.
And you remember the jingles used to go.


Oh-a oh


You were the first one.
Oh-a oh


You were the last one.


Digital killed the analog star.
Digital killed the analog star.
In my mind and in my bar, we can't rewind we've gone to far
Oh-a-aho oh,
Oh-a-aho oh


Digital killed the analog star.
Digital killed the analog star.


In my mind and in my bar, we can't rewind we've gone to far.
High Definition TV came and broke your heart, put the blame on DVR.


You are an analog star.
You are an analog star.
Digital killed the analog star.
Digital killed the analog star.
Digital killed the analog star.
Digital killed the analog star.


Digital killed the analog star. (You are an analog star.)
Posted by Andy kaufman (291 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You have way too much time on your hands
But Thank You. That was great.
Posted by Callbird (12 comments )
Link Flag
What about my VCRs?
Does each VCR also need a box, or does the box convert the entire
set of digital channels to analog all the time? For example, can I
watch one channel while recording another with only one box?
Posted by djschwartz (28 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Answer
According to the Commerce Dept.: "The analog equipment you currently use will continue to work with (output to) your analog TV set just as before, but they will not be able to receive over-the-air programming without the TV converter box. Attach the converter to your VCR, TiVo, DVD-R, etc. instead of hooking it directly to your TV."
Posted by AnneBroache (17 comments )
Link Flag
Good question
That is a very good question, and I have not seen that answered definitively. However, the tuners will have a remote to select a channel, so I assume you will need to have one tuner per output stream. So, for example, your analog TV, DVD player, etc. would be set to channel 3 or 4, and you would change the channel using the converter box. If your VCR (for example) feeds the TV, you could use one box for both the VCR and the TV, but you would see the same channel on both. If you wanted to watch one channel while you recorded another, I believe you would need two boxes.
Posted by ghosford (49 comments )
Link Flag
You will absolutely need two converters, but one will have to be attached to the antenna input of the TV and one to the antenna input of the VCR, unless you can attach one to the composite input of the VCR, which will result in an inconvenient arrangement for switching - and you may still not be able to watch one station and record another. If your TV has an unused component input you are in luck and and should be able to watch one station while recording a second second. You may even be able to monitor them both with P-in-P.
Posted by Gorifyny (183 comments )
Link Flag
"minority" is misleading
This FAQ reads like an FCC publication. Part of the original justification for ditching analog was that most primary sets were already on cable/sat. In essence, who cares about secondary sets? and who cares about the "minority" of primary users who are not on cable/sat. Of course a minority can be anything less than 50%, which, mind you, can still be millions of primary sets, not to mention millions more of secondary sets. Finally, the ones least likely to be able to afford new sets are the one most likely not to have cable/sat. So those people will be forced to rely on the converter boxes - let's hope the coupons are enough to cover the cost because, yes, those people will tend to be the ones least likely to be able to afford them as well. There's a pattern here and it's pretty sad IMHO.
Posted by llungster (761 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well then
while there is still a Bush tax cut, why not apply $100 of that tax cut into buying a digital TV tuner? Or paying $300 for a new 19 inch Digital TV?

By June every family will get a $500 check from the IRS, as part of Bush's tax cut to stimulate the economy. So there is no reason now to use part of that money to get with the 21st century and buy a Digital TV tuner or Digital TV.

The coupon will cover $40 to $60 of the cost based on what Digital Tuner you buy, and chances are the stores will also offer a $20 or more rebate for buying a tuner so they can move them early from their inventory. The average Digital TV Tuner costs between $60 to $80, and $40 to $60 of it is covered by the coupon, which makes the tuner $20 to $30 after coupon, before a $20 rebate, which makes it $10 or $20 after the rebate.

Put it this way, would you be willing to pay under $100 to get a better quality picture on your TV set than you are already getting? I would. Esp if after a coupon and rebate my cost would be $20 or less. I'd go without lunch for a week, to save up the $20 that the Digital Tuner would cost after the coupon and rebate.

Those that cannot afford it, can go without broadcast TV for a while. There are much better things to do during the day than sitting at home and watching TV. The Library is still free, read a few books, or use the computers at the library to read the news if you cannot get a digital signal at home. Not only that but bars and taverns have free TV as long as you are a paying customer, so you can catch your sports shows there. Not only that but radios will still work for AM and FM signals and you can get your news that way. Not only that, but news and videos are on the Internet for free or almost free, IPTV is catching on via TVAnts the free satellite TV viewer that works over the Internet. <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://tvants.en.softonic.com/" target="_newWindow">http://tvants.en.softonic.com/</a>
Posted by Andy kaufman (291 comments )
Link Flag
Basic cable is very cheap.
You don't get much more than your local channels, but the cost is near nothing.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Link Flag
Don't forget the possible extra cost of a new rooftop antenna plus installation. These new DTV signals are much weaker than the old analog signals and must be received with a higher degree of strength or you will not get a strong enough signal for the converter.
Posted by Gorifyny (183 comments )
Link Flag
One of the 'Minority'
If my experience is any indication, this is going to be a big problem. I have a nice modern digital TV, and a large rotating outdoor antenna, but I like tens of millions of people live in a marginal reception area (even though I live in a major city). The main problem is that digital transmissions, as they have been implemented, are simply not as robust or forgiving as analog. There are a number of channels that I can watch as I don't mind slightly less that perfect reception. The present digital channels that are being broadcast next to their associated analog ones simply don't come in reliably, they are unwatchable. I am going to lose 3 of the major networks over the air when analog ceases. I and many million of others will be forced into getting cable or some other pay service we really don't want, or maybe forced to erect giant antennas. This will be a huge windfall payday for the pay TV services. Digital TV could have and should have been designed with much better engineered broadcast capability to overcome weak reception and interference.
Posted by ArtInvent (374 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well then IPTV is for you
as I assume you have Internet access.

TVAnts is a free IPTV program:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://tvants.en.softonic.com/" target="_newWindow">http://tvants.en.softonic.com/</a>

It allows you to watch satellite TV over the Internet. I think that most popular satellite TV channels are routed through it, as well as most of the networks from various places in the USA.

You'll also always have Youtube, Miro, Joost, and other web sites that deliver videos to your Internet ready PC.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.getmiro.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.getmiro.com/</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.joost.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.joost.com/</a>

Did I happen to mention that they are all free?
Posted by Andy kaufman (291 comments )
Link Flag
Check out the cost of the ultra stripped down basic cable.
From what I remember, the FCC requires local cable companies to offer a package that just has local channels. The cost is near zero.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Link Flag
The glib and irrelevant reply about internet sources overlooks the fact that the people most in need of an alternative source of programming are also the most likely not to have access to the type of high-speed internet necessary to make these feeds even marginally viewable. Not to mention the fact that watching on a computer monitor is a much less appealing experience than watching on a television.
Posted by Gorifyny (183 comments )
Link Flag
FAQ: What the digital TV switch actually means
You've answered all the questions for normal home viewers.

Now - answer this one:

Will they come out hand-held digital TVs in the U.S.?

I've read about development of hand-helds that will operate on the European system (not compatible with the U.S. format) - but not a word for the U.S. During power outages I don't want to be relegated to having to: 1) Paying my cell phone company for access 2) Watching on a tiny cell phone screen.
Posted by Ron 48326 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's nearly nine months after this inquiry and still no sign of highly-portable TV's - usable in emergencies and power outages. This is a travesty and major shortcoming in this ill-considered and forced transition.
Posted by Gorifyny (183 comments )
Link Flag
I would have appreciated the display of the full link.
Mention of the govt. entity that will be issuing
coupons to get set-top converter boxes. But I
never found the complete link to the govt.
source for the coupons.
Posted by ONEderer (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The site is www.dtv2009.gov
Posted by bmph8ter (4 comments )
Link Flag
4 TV and 8 VCRs means 12 boxes???
Isn't there a 'whole house' converter so I don't need 12 units for this?

I expect the analogue output won't be as sharp as full digital, but isn't that true even if we go with 1 box per TV?
Posted by ALPe97 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Reviews for DTV Converters?
When will CNET Reviews start making recommendations on DTV converter boxes? If CNET has no such plans, can anyone recommend a site that is reviewing the equipment that's out there and has their ear to the ground on new models? I'd like to get a converter before they or the coupons are no longer available. On the other hand, I don't want to buy one without much research out there and slap my forehead later in the year for not getting a better model. It would help to be a more informed consumer so I can better time my getting the coupon in anticipation of a better model coming out.
Posted by ReleaseTheHounds (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Seconded
Anxiously awaiting the CNET review for Set-Top converter boxes.
Posted by cocofalco (3 comments )
Link Flag
Consumer Reports has some early reviews on 3 boxes and I expect a fuller review once we get closer to the deadline. A web search also turned up a couple of techie A/V forums with very active discussions.

A lot of people are waiting on the Echostar boxes which are due out in June.
Posted by Macroman (1 comment )
Link Flag
I've seen several sites with <a href="http://www.digital-tv-converter.info/category/digital-tv-converter/">digital TV converter reviews</a> up already;
<a href="http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/electronics-computers/televisions/non-digital-tvs/digital-converter-boxes/digital-tv-converter-boxes-first-look-3-08/overview/digital-tv-converter-boxes-first-look.htm">Consumer Reports</a> has a few, the <a href="http://www.wtfda.info/forumdisplay.php?s=c83b21176895cdead15a17ffa30b1668&f=45">WTFDA forums</a> have some, <a href="http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/forumdisplay.php?s=d4208cc6b0a5ee44caf0956030f09fa9&f=186">AVS Forum</a> has a couple too.

Maybe this helps some? I picked the Philco TB100-HH9 as I wanted and S Video output and an analog pass through. Good luck!!
Posted by bmph8ter (4 comments )
Link Flag
Senior support
Some(obviously not all) Seniors are gonna have big problems with this.

I help out one of my family members.
Specs are:
Family member is 90+
Lives in a rural area - No cable ....,
no interest in paying monthly for Satelite(plus the down side of the compilication factor)
Uses a broadcast antena.
Uses a VCR daily, to tape while watching a diff channel.
Changes in remotes, TV's and VCR's are a real problem - no real technology savey- its all by rote.
Fixed income - cash is kinda scarce.

Issues:
Not even sure from the start if any OTA-DTV will be available, this is a ways from any city. I'm not sure people are truely compehending the drop in service with digital since anything below a sufficient signal yields zero signal.
To start we talking folks that were the last to get electricity and phone service.
How many folks are gonna be where they have to go to monthly service or lose service.

The set-tops seem to only be single tuner, so 2 would be needed one for VCR one for TV.
VCR's are actually kind of hard to come by and the whole DVR thing is kind of a stretch.(Hey it is what it is - she understands VCR's - DVR's not the same)
Going from 2 remotes to 4 remotes.
Why can't there be multi-tuner ones?

And the whole thing about; now the Remote controls the box and not the appliance is a huge step back and additional complexity.(Not including the losing the automatic VCR channel change) Cable guys must be laughing it up, see as how complicated this is getting just to watch "free" tv.

A lot of these problems would be solvable - but the hardware guys are either too far behind or are the same guys that would rather sell you a 1K flat panel.

I'm at the point, I don't have a clue what to recommend, I feel bad that along with the aches and pains of age, now they've got a government induced headache.(Yea Yea greater good - ... this is another typical - cake and eat it too - I want the spectrum for re-sale but I don't want to pony up on the costs so I'll just dump it on somebody else cause I can get away with it)
Posted by cocofalco (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
One large digital TV converter box
Why isn't it possible to have just one large
or main digital TV converter box per each house hold? Then run cords, or whatever is less annoying, to the box ...

Why MUST we be forced into switching? I have a few crummy little cheap TV's spaced around the house,
garage, etc. that are not worth $40.00 ... am I expected to get digital converters for them?
What about my little handheld? Now it's a $250.00 worthless piece of #@$%! ???

I think people ought to have the option of keeping what they have, are use to, can afford
to up grade. Not being forced into what others believe is best for them.

And how long will it be untill there are no longer
any free TV singals?
Posted by tavines (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Wonderful World Of Digital
Last month I received my two digital TV converter box coupons in the mail.

Upon reading the lengthy instructions which accompanied the coupons I noticed that I had only 90 days to use them. Ah...but there is NO date either on the cards themselves, the instruction sheet or even the envelope. So when did the 90 day count down begin?, your guess?and a guess is all it can be?is as good as the next persons.

Alas I was without the needed funds to make the purchase at that moment so I waited until my check arrived and then hurried to the nearest Wally-World and forked over the money to cover the added cost of the boxes.

After hurrying home I immediately read the instruction book to assure myself that I knew exactly how to install my marvelous new digital TV receptors. No need to mess with my outdoor high gain antenna as it is already aimed precisely for best reception of the four main channel transmitters located within a close geographic area 45 miles distant. In effect at that range all the transmitters fall within the narrow beam and does not require any re-aiming of the antenna for each individual station.

The upshot of this new and improved television reception is that I now receive one, count em...ONE, channel. Before the improvement I was receiving no less than eight (8) channels clearly and another five (5) in fair to poor strength, depending upon weather conditions at the time.

So, when the law of the land goes into effect and I am forced kicking and screaming to view new and improved digital television, I will be limited to a single station to choose from. Ain't progress great?, but I'm sure someone in the government knew this would happen and are taking steps even now to rectify the error. But I won't hold my breath waiting to the "fix" to appear.

On the other hand, just what am I missing? Truth be told nothing, nothing at all. Well maybe that's not absolutely correct as I do sometimes watch the weather when there are storms approaching from Alabama. Nice to know when there's a tornado heading my way but otherwise there's nothing but the constant flow of dysfunctional families, cop shows and far flung political tripe inter spaced by talent less talent shows and home videos of seemingly brain dead folks trying to make their bodies do likewise.

All in all I'm not missing a thing.
Posted by Ambicious (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Ambicious: Your 90 days began <a href="http://www.digital-tv-converter.info/faqs/using-a-converter-box-coupon/">the day they were mailed</a>. Don't be discouraged about your channel count either. There will be more stations coming online between now and February. I know it sucks to wait; You may consider unhooking the box for a while and maybe just try it every so often to see if any more stations in your area have switched.
Posted by bmph8ter (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Our local stations have done several test runs with the digital signal. Our tv has "failed" both times when we checked during these test runs. It is listed as having an ATSC tuner in the specifications in the owners manual. We receive signal thru rooftop antenna and have no plans to subscribe to cable or satellite. Why did the tv fail the tests?
Posted by mailsub (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
can someone please tell me if my little tiny tv's will work with the converter box? they are all the small ones, they plug directly into the wall and have one antenna on the top of them, they aren't very expensive but they are all i have, can someone please help me? i am so confused...
Posted by belindabg (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
If the tint TV has a way of connecting an external antenna you can hook the RF (coaxial cable) output of the box to your tiny TV. You may need an F-connector to mini-plug converter if your TV's external antenna connection is a small round jack. Some TV's may have an external signal or "game" input that will work with the composite (usually yellow) output RCA-type jack. Thes will also have a jack for sound (audio) which is connected to the audio output jack of the converter box (usually red and white). If your TV has only mono sound (which is the casw for most small TV's) you can hook only the red or white output up. You will lose some sound, but probably won't notice on a small TV. You can use a Y-connector to parallel left and right channels. Radio Shack or such can help you with the necessary adapters.
Posted by Gorifyny (183 comments )
Link Flag
I have a digital HDTV, but it has no built in tuner. I do however own a digital antennae. It is manufactured by Turk. It says it receives digital signals, though it is simply an antenna of the "rabbit ears variety in terms of physical appearances. It connects to the coaxial input that cable TV would connect through if I had it.

Will this be sufficient?
Posted by vamphaery (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Any update on Hand-Held Digital TV's ??? i still have my old Casio hand held TV and would like to know what is the latest on a digital version.
Posted by lugnuts6 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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