Millions of TVs due to go black

June 2, 2008 8:39:57 AM PDT
A big change is coming to television early next year. By government mandate, television stations will stop sending analog signals and go totally digital.That will free up valuable signals for more television programming and more bandwidth for cell phones, as well as for fire and police. But it means sets in 42-million households will go dark unless people take action.

Terry Linkowski gets her TV signal the old-fashioned way, with an antenna. As of February 17th of next year, if she does nothing, her TV will go black when television stations stop sending analog signals.

"I don't believe it," she said. "You mean they won't provide any service at all?"

People with an analog set like Terry have several options -- all involving money. Consumer Reports' Gerard Catapano is looking at the least expensive option -- a digital converter box. It costs $50 to $70 and converts the digital signal to analog.

"The government has an assistance program to help people who need to buy a digital converter box, by offering a $40 coupon toward the purchase of the box, but it's on a first-come, first-served basis," Catapano explained.

To get the converter box coupons, which became available January 1, call 888-DTV-2009 or go to dtv.gov. Another option is to buy a new television that's able to pick up digital signals. But be aware?

"You don't need a high-definition television," Catapano said. "What you need is a TV with a digital tuner. And you can get one of those for a few hundred bucks."

A third option is to buy a new DVR or DVD recorder with a digital tuner for around $200. You route signals from your antenna through the recorder and into your television. For people like Terry, the fourth option is to do what she has resisted all these years -- sign up for cable or satellite.

She asked, "Then I must pay for my TV? Then I may just fool them, I may not get it."

The TVs that will be affected by the switch to all-digital are those that need an antenna to get television signals and older TVs -- even one that is HD-ready, unless it has a digital tuner. You can get more free advice on how to survive the switch to digital at ConsumerReports.org.

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