Friday, October 3, 2008


Here is everything you need to know about the DTV transition in one concise article:

On Tuesday, February 17, 2009, analog TV broadcasts will go off the air. If you use an antenna to receive TV, and your set does not have a digital tuner, you will need to either buy a new digital TV set or buy a converter to allow your old TV to receive digital broadcasts.

It's hard to buy a new TV that does not have a digital tuner. Highly recommended is the Sony Bravia line. If you need a converter, the Zenith DTT900 is the model to get. It is also marketed by Best Buy as the Insignia NS-DXA1. The federal government is providing $40 discount coupons to partially underwrite converter purchases. Call 1-888-DTV-2009 to apply. Converters typically cost about $60.

Hook-up of converter boxes is easy. The antenna cable connects to the box. Connect a cable from the converter to your TV and watch DTV on channel 3. The box also has analog video and audio outputs. Use RCA type jumper cables to connect to your VCR or directly to your TV. The Zenith has an interactive on-screen guide that will get you going fast.

Before you act, see if you can receive digital over-the-air TV. Go to: Mid-page, go to 'start here.' Enter your exact address and how high your antenna might be (figure ten feet per floor.)
When your results pop up, click on 'Post-Transition Only Digital.'
Don't get dazzled by all the data. The only two columns that matter are the station's call letters on the far left and the column that says Signal RX (dbm). If the signal number is lower than - 70 (i.e. -57,) it will be fairly easy to bring in the station. The range between - 70 and - 80 means reception is still pretty probable. Between - 80 and -100 will require an outdoor antenna and preamp. Beyond that requires luck, skill, the correct weather and a lack of leaves on your trees! Height is everything - the higher up your antenna is, the more channels you will receive.

If you need an outdoor antenna, buy a 4-bay or 8-bay bow-tie antenna. These antennas work very well between channels 7 and channel 60 where all the new DTV broadcasts will be found. They have very low wind resistance and are light and easy to mount. Bow-tie antennas also have a broader pick-up 'nose' than long Yagis and react better to signal fading. Highly recommended are the Channel Master 4221A (4-bay) and 4228A (8-bay.) The 4-bay version should be adequate if you are inside the city limits. Please use an antenna pre-amp (Channel Master CM-3039) with these antennas to boost the signal to your set.

After you become familiar with your new TV or converter box, it is essential that you learn how to scan for new channels. The Zenith/Insignia box calls this feature 'EZ Add.' (see picture above) On transition day, February 17, 2009, many stations will be changing from temporary digital broadcast channels to new permanent ones. You will have to rescan your set or converter to continue to see these channels. On the Zenith converter's remote, press 'menu,' (you'll be in 'setup',) arrow right and down one to 'EZ Add' and arrow right or bulls-eye to start. After the scan is done, press 'menu' twice to end.

Following transition day, channel allocations will change forever.
Channel 2 will be on 33, channel 4 on 28, channel 5 on 44 and channel 9 will be on 38. Channels 7, 11 and 13 will all be using their current analog channels to broadcast digitally. In the end, these channel frequency swaps don't really matter. Channel 2 will still show up on your converter or new TV as channel 2-1 even though it is actually on Channel 33. Digital virtual channel numbers often don't match the actual TV channel they are on. Television broadcasters will continue to use their old analog channel names as a convenience to their viewers. A new 'EZ Add' scan is needed to allow your receiver to re-learn where your local channels have moved to.

What should you expect to see? Digital TV is interesting. You'll never see interference, 'ghosts' or 'snow.' You'll see a perfect picture or nothing at all. Broadcasters often multicast with their new digital signals sending out more than one channel at a time. You are bound to enjoy new extra 'virtual' channels. Both NBC (4-2) and ABC (7-3) run full-time weather channels for your convenience. ABC repeats its evening newscasts during prime time on another virtual channel 7-2. Channel 11 broadcasts a Latino channel, LATV, on virtual channel 11-2. PBS stations provide three or more channels of programming instead of just one analog channel. Living 50 miles from the city, I can see about 60 digital channels over-the-air with just an antenna!

Get ready for great change. Remember that all your little portable TVs, the one that is not hooked up to cable in the second bedroom and the TV set at your Mom's house using an antenna will stop working. You'll only see snow! Keep in mind that your TV Sound radios, like the Radio Shack Portavision series, will also stop working. They won't pick up digital signals either! Be prepared and act now!

If you have any questions, please e-mail me at I'll be glad to take your questions. Good luck!


Nick in Philadelphia said...

> Karl,
> I have five questions:
> 1-Where can I buy a TV Sound radio after Feb. 17, 2009? Unfortunately, you can't. TV Sound radios are simply extended range FM radios that can pick up the analog audio broadcasts from TV stations which are exactly like FM radio station broadcasts, just on different frequencies. After the digital switchover, TV sound will be broadcast as a digital stream and not like a traditional FM radio station. You can't receive signals that are no longer being transmitted.
> 2-Where can I buy a portable DTV which will work with rabbit ears or a roof antenna(I live 30 miles west of Philadelphia, PA)? This is a really tough question. I have heard that a couple of lesser manufacturers (i.e. COBY) have begun to market portable DTVs, but I have never once seen one. If 'portable' means moving from place to place, you can use your current portable with a converter box. If you mean 'portable' as in 'runs on batteries' - this is will be very hard to find, at least for the moment. The amount of electricity needed to run digital circuits far exceeds simple analog TVs. You'd need quite a stack of batteries to run a portable DTV.
> 3-Is the Zenith DTT900 (Insignia NS-DXA1 at Best Buy) approved under the government coupon program and is it an analog pass through box? The Zenith DTT900 has now been replaced with the Zenith DTT901 which does pass analog signals. This point will be moot after February 17th, unless you have a low-power TV station nearby that remains on the air in analog mode. Yes, both the Zenith and Insignia converters are coupon-approved.
> 4-Would it not be better to wait until Feb. 18, 2009 to install converter boxes since signal strenght may change? Although the strength of the signals may very well change, DTV is on the air for you to enjoy right now. When the transition occurs, you'll have to re-scan your converter allowing you to see all your local channels on their permanent frequencies. The converter box will not update automatically. This is a very, very easy thing to do.
> 5-I currently have the old fashioned flat wires feeding down to my TV from the roof antenna; will I need to go to a coaxial cable? All you need to convert is a little flat wire to 75 ohm adapter. It's about as large as a large piece of candy and very easy to obtain. Your converter box may include one in the box.
> Thanks in advance for your answers.

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