How to Survive the DTV Switch

Posted by AfroWhitey | Home Theater & A/V,How-to | Tuesday 19 May 2009 12:12 pm

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On June 12, 2009, almost every television station in America will be forced to stop broadcasting analog signals. What does this mean? It means that anyone still using bunny ears to receive their local stations may lose their signal on that date. Your TV may go completely fuzzy. Most people by now know about the DTV (Digital TV) switch that is about to happen, but not everyone knows what to do about it, so I am going to attempt a walkthrough to be sure you are ready.

Step 1: Will You be Affected? – The first step is to determine if you will even be affected by the switch. Anyone who has a cable subscription or who uses a satellite service such as Dish Network or DirectTV is already good to go. They will not be affected at all by the switch. The ones who have to worry, are the ones that are using a tabletop antenna to receive their television stations, but not everyone will need to buy a converter box, and some may not even need to buy a new antenna. Let’s see which category you fall under:

Any TV built after July 1, 2007 was required to include a digital tuner. That means that if you bought a TV after that date, you are probably okay, skip to Step 3. If your TV is larger than 36″ and bought after July 1, 2005, you are also most likely in the clear. Anyone with a TV older than that will probably need a converter box.

To check if you need a converter box, you’ll need to look at the back of your TV where the antenna plugs in. If it says “Digital Tuner” or “ATSC,” you’re okay, at the most, you will only need a new antenna and you can skip to Step 3. If not, you will need a converter box. Another way to check is to go into your TV’s channel setup and see if there is a digital tuner option. If not, you need a converter box.

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Step 2: Order Your Coupons and Buy Your Converter – If you determined you need a converter box in Step 1, you should order your government coupons as soon as possible. The Government is offering $40 off any approved digital converter box to ease the transition. You are allowed 2 coupons per person, so if you are married or have a roommate and need more coupons, be sure to order some through them as well. The coupons expire after 90 days and there may be a waiting list to get one because of the late rush of requests, so order as quickly as possible here.

Now you need to find a good converter box. You can buy them at any place that sells electronics. Just ask a salesmen to show you the ones that are eligible for the coupons. Most of them will cost you nothing but a little tax. I recommend Dish Network’s DTV Pal. It is eligible for the coupon and it has a detailed channel menu that makes setting timers to record or watch your favorite shows a breeze. I bought 2 and they are very easy to use and set up. Unfortunately, as of this point, the $40 TR-40 is sold out, but the similar DTV Pal Plus is only another $20 on top of your coupon.

Step 3: Install Your Converter Box and Scan for Channels – If you bought a converter box, consult the user manual to hook it to your TV. It is usually as easy as plugging your antenna into the box and plugging the box into the TV using the provided cables. Now you need to scan for channels.

With a converter box, simply turn on your TV and the box and it should automatically scan for channels. If you have a TV with a digital tuner built in, access your TV’s channel setup menu and scan for digital signals using the digital auto-program. If you receive all your local channels, you’re good to go, if you receive “weak signal” messages or fuzzy pictures, you probably need a new, more powerful DTV antenna. Try moving the antenna around a little, and if that doesn’t work, you’ll have to buy a DTV antenna. Digital TV is always crystal clear because the signal is either there, or it’s not. So if you see snow or static, you will need a new antenna.

Step 4: Buy and Install Your DTV Antenna – You can buy a DTV antenna at any place you can buy electronics these days. I bought mine at Target and it feeds both of my TR-40s through a standard coax splitter. They typically cost around $40. Spend any less than that and you risk buying an antenna that isn’t powerful enough. Do not buy this antenna. I tried it first and it was just too weak. We were constantly forced to adjust it. The main difference between a DTV antenna and bunny ears, besides the price, is that DTV antennas are typically amplified through external power (they plug into an AC outlet in the wall). They sell external antennas that you can mount on the outside of your house, and you may want to consider that if you had trouble getting channels before the switch.

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Why Bother? – Some of you may be thinking that this is way too much hassle to deal with and may be considering cable or satellite. What it comes down to is a matter of price. You can spend about $40 once and receive unlimited local channels in crystal clear, digital picture by staying with over-the-air TV, or you can spend about $10 or more a month for the rest of your life for the basic cable plan and receive what is often, sketchy, fuzzy signals. Those who already have cable or Satellite don’t need to worry about this, but anyone who receives over-the-air TV and is satisfied with the amount of channels they get should seriously consider it before switching. Digital TV is a good thing, but paying for channels I can get for free is not something I want to do.

As always, if you have any questions, or need help getting your TV ready for the DTV switch, feel free to contact me by commenting below, or using the links to the left.

  • Dan

    This has been very helpful. Thank you for dumbing it down for an idiot like me. Mr. Mighty Aftrowhitey to the rescue.

  • Thanks Dan! Glad I could help!

  • Thanks Dan! Glad I could help!