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2009-01-08

Questions and Answers about Digital TV Converters

Update: Easy-to-remember Tiny URLs have been created for articles in this series.

tinyURL.com/dtv-pdx Flowchart of what to do (if anything) and list of old vs. new Portland area channels.
tinyURL.com/dtv-qanda This post.
tinyURL.com/dtv-ready How to tell if your TV set is digital-ready.

Update #2: Added link to detailed converter reviews at http://dtvconverterboxes.blogspot.com/

Q: I need an explanation in another language. Where can I find that?
A: https://www.dtv2009.gov/

Q: When does conversion happen?
A: It happens Tuesday, February 17th, by Federal law. A town in North Carolina has already converted; Hawaii converts on January 15th.

Q: Why?
A: Digital channels can fit closer together without interfering, so the Federal government can sell the old frequencies to use for police, fire, public service, and new cellular data services. Sometimes, reception quality improves even on older analog-only sets using converters. There are other advantages to television stations; they can split their channels into sub-channels and have multiple signals with different programming.

Q: What does a converter do?
A: All converters receive the digital signals from new transmitters and convert the signals to analog so they can be used with older TVs and VCRs.

Q: Are all the stations ready now?
A: Most stations have digital signals, plus analog signals, now. The digital signals are now on different channels to avoid interfering with analog channels. Some major stations will switch on February 17th. Some small stations will stay on analog channels, but only small channels and small transmitters. Here's a chart which shows channels now and after for Portland.

Q: Do I need a converter if I have an HDTV set or a Digital-Ready Set?
A: No.

Q: Do I need a converter if I have cable TV?
A: If you use cable TV, you don't need a converter. The cable system handles conversion for you.

Q: Do I need a converter if I have satellite TV?
A: If you use satellite TV, you don't need a converter. The satellite system handles conversion for you.

Q: Do I need a converter if my building has a community or shared antenna?
A: Maybe, so check with your building management to ask if they will be doing the digital-to-analog conversion for you.

Q: I use 'rabbit ears' or an indoor antenna now. Do I need an outdoor antenna for the converter?
A: Maybe. My next blog post on this subject will explain how to estimate if you do. Many indoor antennas will work well in the Portland Metro area, especially if you can see Council Crest from home. There is no 'digital' antenna; the same antenna design works for digital as analog, but you may need a better antenna because your favorite stations are changing to UHF from VHF (like our ABC and CBS affiliates) or because digital requires a better quality of signal; snow now equals problems later.

Q: I use an outdoor antenna now. Do I need to change it?
A: Maybe, see above.

Q: What are the rules for the converter coupon program?
A: You must buy a converter on the NTIA approved list after getting a coupon.
http://www.ntia.doc.gov/dtvcoupon/rules.html explains more and lists a phone number.

Q: Must I have a coupon to get a converter?
A: No. If you don't use a coupon, you can buy whatever converter you wish.

Q: How much does the coupon get me?
A $40 credit on the spot from participating dealers.

Q: Are all converters $40?
A: No, some have extra features and are as spendy as $300.

Q: Which converter boxes are NTIA-approved?
A: They're listed at https://www.ntiadtv.gov/cecb_list.cfm - see the next item.

Q: What are the NTIA-approved converters available for sale nowadays? What makes and model numbers can be bought with coupons?
A: Here's a list. * = Manufacturer says it has Analog Pass-Through.

AccessHD: DTA1020D, DTA1020U, DTA1010D, DTA1010U, DTA1020AD *, DTA1030D *, DTA1050D *, DTA1080D *, DTA1080U *
Airlink101: ATVC102 *, ATVC101
Alpha Digital: AT2016
AMTC: AT2001
Apex: DT1001, DT250 *, DT502 *, DTA250A *
Artec: T3A, T3AP *, T3AP Pro *, T3APro
Cadence: DTVC-9
CASTi: CAX-03 *
Channel Master: CM-7000
Cleartech: CT DCB100A *
Coby: DTV-102 *
ComponexX: CX-900A *
Coship: N9900T, N9901T *, N9988T
Craig: CVD506 *, CVD508 *
Digital Steam: DSP6500C *, DSP7500T, DSP7700P *, DSP7700T *, DTX9900, DTX9900D, DTX9950 *, DX8700 *
Dish Network: DTVPal Plus *, DTVPal *, TR-40CRA *
GE: 22729, 22730, 23333 *, 23334 *
Goodmind: DTA1000, DTA1100 *
Gridlink: GLT-200
iNet Access: SSR 1921 *
Insignia: NS-DXA1, NS-DXA1-APT * (Note: A BestBuy house brand)
Kingbox: K8V1
Lasonic: LTA-260
Magnavox: TB-100MG9 *, TB100MW9, TB100MW9A *, TB110MW9 *, TB110MW9A *
MaxMedia: LuTRO *
Memorex: MVCB1000 *
MicroGEM: MG2000
Philco: TB100HH9 *, TB150HH9 *
RCA: DTA 800B, DTA800B1 *, DTA809 *, STB7766G1 *
Sansonic: FT300A
Spica: AT 2018 *
Sunkey: SK-801ATSC *
Tivax: STB-T8 *, STB-T9
Venturer: STB7766G
Winegard: RCDT09A *, RC-DT09
Zenith: DTT900, DTT901 *
Zentech: DF2000, EZTV DF2000L *
Zinwell: ZAT-857, ZAT-950A *, ZAT-970, ZAT-970A *

Q: What are important features?
A: You may find some of these important:
1) Analog Pass-Through, so you can easily switch to low-power channels which can still transmit analog after 2/17, and to switch to stations which won't go digital before 2/17 if you install before then.
2) An improved Electronic Program Guide (EPG), so you can search for programs you want and find the channel they're on now, as well as find program details.
3) Resistance to interference from VCR, DVD player, and other electronics.
4) Remote control to let you switch in and out of 'letterbox' mode.
5) Complete with a coaxial cable from converter to TV, a 'balun' adapter from flat antenna wire to the cable TV-stype "F" connector on the back of the converter, and a video+stereo cable to attach to a VCR or TV video and audio in sockets.
6) A longer warranty with local or very fast exchange if it fails. However, buying an 'extended' warranty is not recommended, for most electronic devices, if they're going to fail, fail soon after installation.


Q: What are the converters with the best reviews?
A: Here's what I found in a search for reviews I thought were worthwhile reading.

The DIGITAL STREAM DTX9900 http://www.hdtvexpert.com/pages_b/DTVconverters.html remembers channels you scanned for before and was sharper than brand-name competitors.

The DISH NETWORK TR40-CRA http://www.dishnetwork.com/dtvpal/tr40CRA.shtml is $40, hass Analog Pass-Through, and was liked for its advanced EPG (Electronic Program Guide).

The INSIGNIA NS-DXA1 http://blogs.consumerreports.org/electronics/2008/06/dtv-converter-1.html was essentially the same than the DIGITAL STREAM DTX9900.

The MICROGEM MG2000 http://blogs.consumerreports.org/electronics/2008/06/dtv-converter-1.html was small but sharp.

The MAGNAVOX TB100MW9 http://reviews.cnet.com/tv-hdtv-tuners-receivers/magnavox-tb100mw9/4505-6487_7-33255284.html?tag=mncol;lst is a basic converter with good resistance to interference http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/electronics-computers/tvs-services/non-digital-tvs/digital-converter-boxes/digital-tv-converter-boxes-first-look-3-08/overview/digital-tv-converter-boxes-first-look.htm and is only $25.

The PHILCO TB100HH9 http://blogs.consumerreports.org/electronics/2008/06/dtv-converter-1.html is a simple converter with pass-through.

The RCA DTA-800 http://reviews.cnet.com/tv-hdtv-tuners-receivers/rca-dta800/4505-6487_7-32887593.html?tag=mncol;lst has good reception, respectable video quality, and a basic EPG.

The RCA DTA-800B1 http://reviews.cnet.com/tv-hdtv-tuners-receivers/rca-dta800b1/4505-6487_7-33280761.html adds its own remote control for analog pass-through switching.

The TIVAX STB-T9 http://blogs.consumerreports.org/electronics/2008/06/dtv-converter-1.html was praised for its clarity and an improved Electronic Program Guide which shows details abou each show, not just the bare listings.


Other reviews are at the very detailed review site  http://dtvconverterboxes.blogspot.com
and at  http://www.hdtvantennalabs.com/converters/reviews.php



My next post on this topic is an explanation of how anyone mechanically handy and a few hand tools can make Do-It-Yourself antennas from recycled or inexpensive materials that rival the reception from spendy store-bought antennas.

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