In this report
Overview
Buy a converter box?
Subscribe to cable TV?
Buy a digital video recorder?
Buy a new HDTV?
ELECTRONICS FORUMS
Get real-world advice from others about choosing a new TV, digital camera, computer or cell phone.


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DTV Transition
How the change to digital broadcasts in the U.S. may affect you

Starting June 12, 2009, U.S. television stations will discontinue use of analog signals and will broadcast only digital signals. This change is part of a nationwide technology upgrade that makes new services available to consumers. The federal government approved this change in 2005 with the aim of allowing stations to deliver more programming and to free up space on the airwaves for emergency services.

This will affect the more than 30 million analog TVs in households that rely on over-the-air broadcasts. It also affects the 40 million TVs in use for over-the-air broadcasts in homes that also have cable and satellite services. While the transition has some advantages, the bottom line is that many of us will have to pay money to keep perfectly good TVs working.

If you have an analog TV—likely to be an older set that is receiving signals through a set-top or roof-top antenna—you will need to spend at least $20 to keep your current TV capable of receiving “free” broadcasts after Feb. 17, 2009, or roughly $200 to replace it with a new digital TV.

When the only option offered is to buy something—a converter box, a new TV, DVD recorder, or antenna—it pays to know more about your options. Consumer Reports wants to give you the information you need so you spend only as much time and money on this decision as you think is important.


What kind of television do I have?

Your television has an analog tuner, also called an NTSC tuner, if it is a picture-tube TV bought before 1998, a smaller LCD set (15- to 18-inch screen), or is a set that was sold as HD-ready. If you have an analog TV and are receiving over-the-air broadcasts via an antenna you need to take action to continue to receive broadcast signals after Feb. 17, 2009.

Your television is more likely to have a digital tuner, also called an ATSC tuner, if it is a 25-inch or larger TV purchased since 2005. To confirm that your TV is digital, you should check the instruction manual for a statement that the TV has a digital tuner. If you don’t have the manual handy, look for a menu function that allows you to scan for digital channels; this is typically in a submenu sometimes called “set-up” or “channels.”


I subscribe to cable/satellite; what do I need to do?

Cable companies are required to carry both analog and digital signals until 2012. This means that if your analog set is connected to cable service, you have more time to make a change, but you will pay eventually, either in new equipment or higher service fees.

Your analog TV will not receive any over-the-air digital signal should your cable or satellite service go out, so you might still want to get a digital converter box now to be ready in an emergency.

If your set is digital, you might want to check that you can receive over-the-air signals in the event of a service disruption. Locate the antenna you would use to receive the over-the-air digital signals. (Your old rabbit-ears antenna will work if you have both the UHF and VHF components.) Also check that you’ve programmed your set to receive the over-the-air digital channels.


Considering throwing away an old set?
Reuse or Recycle.


American homes have an average of 2.6, sets and no one is suggesting it makes sense to upgrade them all. Those older sets will continue to be valuable for playing videos and DVDs or hooking up to game systems.

However, if and when you decide to discard your old set there are reasons to do so with care. Electronic products are the largest single source of lead in municipal solid waste. Older monitors can contain four to eight pounds of lead on average, while the plastics used in the housing of many television sets contain flame retardants that are toxic and persist in the environment.

Check whether your municipality offers recycling programs that accept electronic waste. The Electronics Industry Alliance’s Web site at EIAE.org can help you identify a program in your area. Alternatively, look for retailer in-store collection events. In many cases these services are free, but some retailers might charge fees or accept only certain types or brands of equipment.

For more information on the digital TV transition, see our June 2007 report, How to survive the digital TV transition.