When your local station makes the transition to all-digital TV broadcasts, any analog TV set connected to an antenna must be connected to a digital converter box to continue receiving free over-the-air broadcasts. More than 600 broadcasters have already discontinued analog transmissions, and others must do so by June 12—four months later than the original Feb. 17 deadline.
To help with the federally mandated switchover, the government is offering consumers coupons to defray the cost of the new gear. Each household can receive up to two $40 debit cards. (Go to www.dtv2009.gov for more information and to apply.) The program had run out of money but recently received additional funds to cover more coupons.
Converter boxes are available for purchase either online or at stores including Best Buy, Radio Shack, Sears, Target, and Walmart. Most stores have only a few models in stock; some online retailers have more of a selection. It might take some effort to locate a specific converter. A number of models were out of stock when we checked recently, but new inventory might arrive in stores this spring. Retail prices generally range from $45 to $80; online shipping typically adds $10 or so to the cost.
We've tested additional models and have updated our Ratings of DTV converter boxes, which now include 43 models, covering a broad swath of available units. (Many of the models on the market are related units that differ only in a feature or two, such as having different remotes, or in styling.)
Note: The government has mandated the end of analog broadcasts and transition to all-digital broadcasts. Consumers Union, parent company of Consumer Reports, has been critical of some aspects of the process, including the 90-day expiration dates on coupons and the inaccessibility of digital stations in some areas. For more information about Consumers Union's DTV transition advocacy efforts and to share your story about how the DTV transition has affected you, go to: www.hearusnow.org/tvradio/12.