DTV Confusion

June 20, 2008 3:34:59 PM PDT
Starting February of next year, many analog T-V sets will require digital converter boxes to receive over-the-air broadcasts with an But there are many different models of these d-t-v boxes - so which one's right for you?

First a reminder: Not everyone needs a converter box.

You do not need a converter box if you subscribe to cable or satellite. Nor do you need one if you have a DVD player or VCR you bought after March 2007 because it comes with a digital tuner.

The converter box is only for people with analog sets who use an antenna.

By now you probably know the federal government is offering coupons to help you pay for a digital converter box.

It converts broadcast digital signals pulled in by an antenna into analog signals so you can continue to get programming on your old analog T-V even after stations start broadcasting digital-only.

"You simply just take your cable from your antenna. Hook it up to the antenna input and then output either the r-F signal or the audio video cables if that's what your T-V uses. Plug it in and you're ready to go," said Grant Clauser of E-Gear Magazine.

The boxes come in different models and price points but don't worry.

"For the most part they operate the same way so it doesn't matter what one you get," added Clauser.

Indeed, Consumer Reports tested 15 boxes and found little difference in performance. It also found a more expensive box does not translate into a better picture. In fact, one of the boxes ranked most highly for best picture quality and recommended features is the $50 Tivax STB-T9 followed by the $55 Lasonic LTA-260.

Hank Volpe is 6ABC's chief engineer and an expert on the switch to digital.

"Everybody's under the misconception that I got my coupon, now I have to wait until February 17th to cash it in," said Volpe. "And no you can go out today and get your box, hook it up today and watch digital television," he added.

You'll see an immediate picture improvement when you make the switch.

Hank also said another common misconception is about replacing antennas.

"If you have an outdoor antenna whether it's on a rotor or fixed or some people have it in their attic you don't need to replace it at all," he said. However, if you have rabbit ears with only two arms you probably do have to get a new one.

And a reminder: Each household is eligible for two $40 coupons to help pay for the converter boxes.

But you have to apply and the coupons expire within 90 days.

Also, you do need a converter box for each T-V set that receives a signal from an antenna.