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The Real Deal on Digital Television Conversion


There has been a lot of confusion about what happens to television once the US switches from analog to digital broadcasting [DTV] on February 17 2009. This transition comes in the wake of confusion over standard definition televisions and high definition televisions [HDTV]. So let’s start there - digital broadcasting is totally separate from HDTV. The conversion to digital transmission does NOT mean you will receive HDTV.


Most USA TV broadcasters have been broadcasting both digital [ATSC] and analog [NTSC] signals for several years. On February 17, 2009 they must cease broadcasting their analog channels and only broadcast on their digital channels. In addition, no station will be allowed to broadcast on channels 52 to 69 [700 MHz band]; this frequency being returned to the Government.

The new digital channels will be identified with the same numbers as the old analog channels, regardless of the physical channel being broadcast on.

The change only refers to over-the-air broadcasts and NOT digital cable or satellite channels.

To clarify – for those currently connected to:

  • Cable or Satellite - or other paid services will not be affected by this change. However, as every cable company is different, contact your provider to confirm that you will not be affected.
  • Over-The-Air – using roof top antennas or rabbit-ears – you WILL be affected. Check your TV manual to see if your TV has a built-in digital tuner. If it does, you are okay. If not, you will need a digital [DTV] converter box.

Find a Digital to Analog TV Converter Box


More on Cable

Virtually all cable companies converts some or all of the signals it transmits into analog, as most sets in current use do not have digital capabilities. You are therefore currently receiving analog cable reception on a "cable-ready" television set. This means that you are fine with your current set up as long as the cable provider continues this practice. Your cable provider may opt to receive the new digital over-the air broadcast signals and continue to send them on to you in analog form. However, cable providers are NOT required to continue delivering in analog, so you must check with your provider for any change schedules. If they do, you will need to get a converter box as well. Many cable companies have already dropped analog, making a box mandatory on the cable system.

Higher-tier packages also provide analog reception, for now, for digital cable channels, but to receive those you usually need a box from the cable provider. These channels typically include the scrambled premium film channels, like HBO, for example. They also include other "premium" content that is not necessarily scrambled, but for which a digital cable box is required (which box converts the digital cable signal into an analog signal for your television set). Again, you should be able to continue using your current sets with these boxes should you ever upgrade your service and require a cable converter box. Note, this box differs from the ones needed for OTA transmissions. Every cable system is different; the digital signals they send are NOT the same as the digital signals broadcast over-the-air.

Converter Box Coupons

The coupons for converter boxes currently being distributed will work only for over-the-air broadcast signals and NOT with digital cable signals. A digital cable box will get you the digital over-the-air signals converted into analog, but the new converter boxes will not get you digital cable channels.

Built in Antennae

Television sets using built-in rabbit ear or telescopic antennas will NOT be able to use the digital broadcast converter box. You will need to disconnect these and get a separate antenna that can be connected to the converter box . This box is then connected to the TV set.

This will be the case for most portable TV sets, most of which have built in antenna.

The hookup between the converter and the TV set will require a 75 ohm connection, or the use of a 75 ohm to 300 ohm transformer if the set is so old it has only the older 300 ohm twin-lead connection.


Although HDTV has nothing to do with digital TV, most newer HDTVs use digital tuners that will work after the switch. A few recent SDTVs area also fitted with digital tuners, so check your manual.

Find a digital ready HDTV

The DTV Difference

The difference you will notice with DTV, apart from a clearer picture quality, is that the ghosting and snow you currently experience in low reception areas will disappear. You can expect perfect pictures with digital tuners even on the weakest stations.

There are also some existing sub channels that no analog tuner can decipher. These will become available to you.

Find a Digital to Analog TV Converter Box

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