Digital signals to take over TV broadcasting 3.12

Written by David Green.

The year-long countdown is underway. Beginning next Feb. 17, your old analog television set will produce nothing but static.

But don’t let an electronics store salesperson talk you into a new television because the chances are good that you won’t need it.

Next February, television signals change from the existing analog format to digital. Anyone with cable or satellite service won’t be affected by the changeover. Only those who still rely on an antenna will have to make a change, unless their TV has a built-in digital tuner. TVs sold in the last four years are likely to have a digital tuner.

Rather than pitch your television, head for an appliance store to buy a digital converter box. It’s a small device about the size of a hardcover book. Attach your antenna cable to the box and the box’s outgoing cable to your television. The picture is restored.

Converter boxes are selling for around $50 and the price gets much cheaper with a $40 coupon from the federal government. Don’t order a coupon until you’re ready to buy since they’re only good for 90 days after being issued.

There are three major reasons for the change to digital signals. Digital programming can offer a sharper image and better sound, it will give viewers more options and it frees up airwaves for increased use by emergency responders.

Don’t think you’re going to get a high-definition picture simply by buying a converter box. All hi-def programming is digital, but not all digital programming is hi-def. Besides, it takes a high-definition TV set to make the difference. Still, users of antennae should expect to see an image that’s as clear as from cable service—at least in most cases. Time will tell if there are unforeseen problems.

Local broadcasters are likely to offer an additional channel or more. For example, Channel 13 provides the regular programming you’ve had for years. Channel 13.1 might be a special weather channel.

Owners of older television sets have a choice to make: Continue use via a converter box until the set breaks or take a step into contemporary programming and splurge for a high-definition set.

If you’re reading this March 12, you have 342 days to make your decision.

• Order a coupon on-line by visiting www.dtv2009.gov or call 1-888-388-2009.

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