Delay the digital TV transition

On Feb. 17, full-power TV stations must discontinue analog over-the-air broadcasts. Free TV sent over the airwaves to an antenna — in other words, network broadcasts like CBS — will be digital.
Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, is urging the federal government to consider delaying the digital TV transition, to allow time to resolve “significant problems” with the changeover from analog to all-digital broadcasts. Otherwise, millions of Americans — mostly elderly, low-income and rural populations — could be left with blank TV screens.
While that sounds cataclysmic, the change will affect only the way free television will be broadcast over the air, to a rooftop or indoor antenna. All televisions (no matter what type) connected to cable, satellite or one of the new telephone-company fiber-optic services should continue to function (though your company may separately be moving consumers to get a set-top box for cable; see below).
Consumer Reports compiled information for people to help them understand what’s going on during the conversion.
If you get programming via free broadcasts over the air, using an antenna (rooftop or indoor), with an HDTV set or new television of any type with a built-in digital tuner, make sure that it’s connected to a UHF/VHF antenna to keep getting programming. Rabbit ears can pull in only analog stations on VHF. Many digital stations are UHF.
If you get programming via free broadcasts over the air and have a set that’s an older picture-tube television, a small LCD or an HD-ready set, without a built-in digital tuner, you will need to buy a digital converter box or a DVD recorder with a digital tuner. Connect either to a UHF/VHF antenna, then connect the box to the television.
The next step is to go into the television’s setup menu and scan for channels. If needed, adjust the antenna or move it near a window. Still no luck? Ask whether neighbors get the channels that are missing. If so, the setup is at fault. Buy a signal booster or a better antenna, such as an amplified set-top model or a rooftop or in-attic unit. If you and your neighbors are still missing the same channels, call your local TV networks to troubleshoot.
The federal government was offering $40 coupons to defray the cost of an approved converter box. But the government has already sent out all the coupons it has funding for. Anyone requesting a coupon now is being put on a waiting list and advised to buy a converter box at his or her own expense — typically $50 to $80 — or to pay for satellite or cable service. For more information on coupons, call (888) 388-2009 or visit www.dtv2009.gov.
People who get programming via cable, satellite or a phone company and whose sets are old or new, with or without built-in tuners, don’t have to do a thing. The digital transition won’t affect paid TV service or the programming that’s received.
For more information about the digital TV transition, go to www. ConsumerReports.org and search for Digital TV transition.
Top TV converters
With the switchover approaching, CR recently tested 31 models of digital TV converter boxes.
CR found nine that produce picture quality for over-the-air signals that rival those of a DVD. All of the converters tested performed comparably in their ability to pull in digital stations at CR’s Yonkers, N.Y., location and in lab tests to see how well they handled progressively weaker signals.
The top-rated Zinwell ZAT-970A ($46) has the ability to pass through analog signals, and it has a VCR timer that will turn on and/or change the channel on the box so that the VCR can automatically record from different channels.
The Channel Master CM-7000 ($80) is among the first to have an S-video output, which can deliver better picture quality than a composite-video or RF output. It also has analog pass-through.

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