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January 13, 2009

Ready Or Not, Digital TV Is Coming

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Do you know that on midnight Feb 18th television as we know it will cease to exist?  Now don't panic. For most of you that won't be a problem because you have cable TV, satellite TV or a TV set that receives digital TV signals. 

However for the rest of you---several million households---you're going to have to take action to make sure your weekly fix of "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy," or "CSI" isn't interrupted. That's because the government has mandated that as of midnight February 18th all television stations must stop broadcasting analog signals and broadcast digital signals only.   

If you don't have cable or satellite TV and your TV doesn't receive digital signals--you'll have to check your TV manufacturer's manual or website to find that out--you'll have to get an analog to digital converter box. 

The boxes cost between $40 and $70 but the government is issuing $40 discount coupons to help with the purchase of the boxes.  So for example, a $60 box will only cost you $20.  The boxes are being sold at major electronic stores and by electronic retailers online.  Sounds fairly simple doesn't it? 

Well it is, and it isn't.

Some problems have cropped up that can make the process frustrating as my fellow BlogHer Contributing Editor Maria Niles discovered when she applied for two coupons for her older TV sets.  First of all the coupons expire 90 days after they are mailed out and then you can't get another one.  As Maria found out: 

Though you can request the coupon online, it is snail mailed to you.  And mailed weeks after you request it - mine isn't going out for nearly 3 weeks.  Plus they emphasize the "snail" aspect as it does not go out first class and you must give it 10 days to arrive.  Therefore I will not receive my coupon, ordered today, until nearly the end of January.  Then I still have to buy the box which I will probably buy online so give it another week or so to arrive.  After you get the box you have to hook it up to the TV, attach the antenna to the box and then play with the signal strength settings so you can find the best reception in your area.

Last week I got a good deal on a brand new plasma TV so I'm now a two TV household.  But since I don't want to hook up cable service to my 25 year old Sony Trinitron, I ordered a converter box coupon this afternoon.  After submitting the order I got the following message:

IMPORTANT:  We have determined that you are eligible to participate in this program and your coupon application has been approved. However, because program funding is not currently available, you will not receive coupons unless more funding becomes available. If program funding becomes available you should receive your coupons in the mail.

What that means is the government ran out of money for the coupons so now they're waiting for some of the ones that were sent out and never redeemed to expire.  Then they'll release that money for people like me who are now on a waiting list.

Now President-elect Barack Obama and others are calling for an extension of the February 17th deadline in order for the government to get more coupons out to consumers and for more community outreach.  The problem is there are still many, many people who don't know this is going to happen or that don't understand what this means.

Of even more concern to me and blogger Digital Dynamo are the many seniors, minorities and rural Americans out there.  Digital Dynamo is part of a non-profit Urban Progressive Foundation that has been reaching out since June 2008 to just such Americans, helping acquire and install converter boxes.  They have a website Transition to Digital Television DTV Uncovered with all kinds of information about their efforts.

In the meantime, be a good neighbor.  If you know someone who's older and lives on their own, or someone you think is going to get stuck when their stories get cut off, knock on their door and see if you can help.  Check with elderly relatives and make sure they understand what's happening and what they might need to do to keep their TVs from going dark.

Those of you in Hawaii will be switched over at 12 noon on January 15th and if you're in Canada, you've got more time, until August 31, 2011.

Finally, one more issue.  If you live in an apartment building and aren't on an upper floor, you might have problems getting any digital signal at all, even with the converter box.  Maura Judkis at US News and World Report did a little test and found her signal wasn't very good.   In that case, your choices are to purchase a digital antenna or try to have your converter box/TV connected to a traditional rooftop antenna.

On the plus side, those who have already gotten their converter boxes or are about to, and have good signals will be treated to a whole new viewing experience.  Once you've had the converter box scan for digital stations, you'll get more channels than before and better reception. To get started, go to the government's website for step by step instructions on how to order the coupons, where to get the converter box and how to install it. 

Good luck and Happy Viewing!

For more information, here are some additional articles and links:

The New York Times:  "Confusion in Transition to Digital Television."

BlogHer CE Virginia De Bolt's Post from 2/08:  "Are You Ready For Digital TV?"  

FCC Consumer Facts Trouble Shooting Guide

FCC Setting up Your Digital Converter Box

What You Need To Know About DTV

Thanks to fellow BlogHer CE Gena Haskett for some of these links.

Cross Posted From BlogHer


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