Buying a DTV Digital-to-Analog Converter Box

If you have an older TV — one manufactured before March 1, 2007 — in order to pick up over-the-air digital television (DTV) signals, you'll need to purchase and install a digital-to-analog converter box. But don't worry: It won't be as difficult or as expensive as it may sound.

If you get your TV signal from either cable or a satellite dish, you don't need a converter box. The mandate to switch to digital signals involves only the free, over-the-air signals.

Keeping in mind that the forced switch to digital TV signals could be an economic burden on some, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) have created a coupon program whereby any family can receive up to two $40 coupons good toward the purchase of one converter box per coupon. Getting hold of these coupons is easy:

  • You can call the Coupon Program 24-hour hotline at 1-888-DTV-2009. Deaf or hard of hearing callers can access TTY services from 9am to 9pm Eastern time at 1-877-530-2634 (English) or 1-866-495-1161 (Spanish).

• Mail it to P.O. Box 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000

• Fax it to 1-877-DTV-4ME2 (1-877-388-4632)

Not all converter boxes are eligible for purchase with the coupon. Coupon-eligible converter boxes contain no features or functions other than those needed to convert a digital signal to an analog signal (but they can include a remote control). Electronics manufacturers want your business, so they will clearly mark whether a converter box is coupon-eligible right there on the box.

You can buy a converter box at just about any electronics retailer. Converter boxes run from $40 to $70; most of them are around $60. With your $40 coupon, that's only a $20 investment.

Converter boxes attach to your TV with basic coaxial cable, and your converter box package will likely include the necessary cables. Some of them can also connect with red, white, and yellow audio/video (A/V) connectors, which can be useful if you also want to connect your VCR to the converter box.

If your antenna connects to your TV with two flat, U-shaped connectors held down by screws, you'll need a small device that lets you turn that connection into a coaxial connector. They only cost around $5.

Television stations aren't required to start broadcasting a 100% digital signal until June 12, 2009. Most stations have already started their digital broadcasts alongside their analog signals, and a number of them have already made the switch, so there's no reason to wait to buy and install a converter box. Start enjoying digital television today!

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