McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
FRESNO, Calif. — The biggest change in television since the invention of color is coming Feb. 17, 2009. That's when local television stations make the change from broadcasting analog signals to digital.
The mandated change has caused some confusion.
Some viewers fear they will not be able to watch television after the switch.
Others are confused by government coupons, converter boxes and all of the other aspects of the arrival of the digital era.
Stop beating yourself over the head with your TV remote. If you are still boggled by the impending change, the following provides answers to some of the most often asked questions. They should help make the transition a little less confusing.
Q. What is going to happen Feb. 17, 2009?
A. All full-power television stations in the United States will stop broadcasting in their current analog format and switch to digital.
Q. Will everyone be affected?
A. Yes, everyone with a TV.
Q. What if I don't want to switch?
A. You have no choice. The switch is going to happen. But you might not be able to watch the television channels you like if you aren't ready for the change.
Q. What if I have cable or satellite?
A. If every TV in your house is hooked to one of the cable or satellite providers, you will not notice a single difference. The cable and satellite companies have taken care of the matter through the way your signal is delivered.
So stop reading this story. Go do the crossword puzzle. The switch will have no impact on your viewing habits.
But if you disconnect your cable or satellite service, then you'll need to read on.
Q. What if I don't have cable or satellite?
A. If you do not subscribe to any form of cable or satellite and depend on an antenna, that's where there could be a problem.
Unless your television set is digital-ready, then you will need to purchase a converter box. This box changes the digital signal collected through the airwaves and makes it compatible with your analog TV.
Q. How do I know if my TV set is digital-ready?
A. There should be a place on it that says. A good rule of thumb is that if the set is more than a couple of years old, odds are high that it is not digital.
Don't try that argument that you spent a lot of money for the TV and so you expect it to pick up the signal whether it is analog or digital.
This is like having a car that operates on diesel, and you have to start using gasoline. It won't work without some changes.
If you have doubts, write down the name of the TV set and go back to where you purchased it. The dealer should be able to help.
Q. Why is digital better?
A digital signal provides a clearer picture. It also creates more programming options. You can see that now with multiple channels being broadcast by local stations.
The switch to digital will free up airwaves for use by police and fire departments.
Q. Should I just buy a new digital-ready TV?
A. That's your call. But if your television is still providing a quality picture, it may be better to wait. As with other new products, the price of digital televisions will go down.
If you do buy a new television with a built-in digital tuner, you won't have to worry about applying for a coupon or trying to hook up the converter. But you might need a better antenna.
Q. What is a converter box?
A. It is exactly what it sounds like — a box that is connected to the back of your television set. The converters can be purchased at most major retail and electronics stores.
Q. How much will a converter box cost?
A. The price varies. You can expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $60.
One word of warning: There is a high demand for converter boxes at this time. That means there have been shortages. You may have to check at a few different stores to be able to find one.
Q. What if I can't afford to buy the converter box?
A. There is some help. Congress created the TV Converter Box Coupon Program. This program allows households to obtain up to two coupons, each worth $40, to apply toward the cost of converter boxes.
It doesn't matter if you have more than two TVs. You can get only two coupons.
Q. How can I apply?
A. There are a couple of options. Information on how to apply can be found at dtv2009.gov or by calling (888) 388-2009. You will be asked a few questions. Should the request be denied, an appeal process is in place.
Q. Can I apply and wait until next year to buy the converter box?
A. Each coupon expires in 90 days. There have been more than 16 million coupons sent to consumers. So far, more than 1 million of those coupons have expired.
Once your coupon expires, it is no good. It is an ex-coupon. Use it as a coaster; it's is worthless. And the government will not send you another coupon.
Q. What should I be concerned about when I go shopping for a converter box?
A. The Federal Trade Commission has released a list of shopping tips that include:
— Never pay for a coupon for a digital converter box. The coupons are free from the federal government.
— If you return a converter box you bought using a coupon, you can't get the value of the coupon back. Before you buy a converter box, ask the retailer about the box's features, any manufacturer's warranty and the store's return policy.
— Before you leave the store with your new converter box, check to make sure installation instructions are included. If you have questions, ask the retailer to explain the installation — or check to see whether the manufacturer offers a toll-free help line.
— Ignore any offer for a "free" converter box, especially if it requires you to pay for shipping or a warranty. The companies that are making these offers are not certified by the government, and their converter boxes are not eligible for the coupon program.
Q. Are all converter boxes the same?
A. No. And the differences are very important. The change is mandated only for high-power television stations. If you are in a market that includes stations without a high-power signal, you should look for a converter box that will allow the low-power analog signals to pass through to your TV sets.
Q. How hard is the converter box to install?
A. It should be as simple as disconnecting the antenna from the TV and hooking the antenna to the box. Then connect the box to your television set.
Should you decide to hire someone to install the converter box, make sure you get the price in writing before you agree to the job.
Q. What if my TV doesn't have an antenna?
A. Bad news. There are a lot of small television sets with a built-in antenna. These are usually small televisions sets that people have mounted under a shelf in the kitchen or in an RV.
Unless the set is digital-ready you won't be able to watch any of the high-power local stations. But those low-power stations will still be delivered as an analog signal.
Q. Is the converter box all I need?
A. Maybe. Many who have hooked up the converter boxes have noticed their current antenna is not sufficient. This ranges from the small antennas that rest on top of the TV to those on top of the house. A new antenna will probably be needed.
There's another problem. Once the shift is made, some of the local stations from the UHF lineup (stations above channel 13) will move to the VHF bands of 2-13. If your antenna is not designed to pick up both UHF and VHF, there could be a problem.
Q. Will my VCR still work?
A. Yes and no. Most VCRs won't take a digital signal. You will still be able to use it to record one show through the converter box. But if you want to watch one program and record another, it will take a second converter box.
The change will have no effect if you want to watch tapes.
(c) 2008, The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.).
Visit The Fresno Bee online at http://www.fresnobee.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.