Answers to 10 common questions about DTV

January 22, 2009

CyberSpeak with Kim Komando

Unless Congress delays it, the transition to all-digital television broadcasts is just weeks away. Many Americans are confused about the switch. Each week, I receive many questions about DTV. Here are answers to the 10 most-asked questions:

Question:  When will broadcasts go digital?

Answer:  Unless Congress extends the deadline, all full-power, over-the-air broadcasts must be digital by Feb. 17. Some consumer advocates have called for a delay. They say the transition was poorly managed and underfunded. At the time of this writing, there are no plans to delay the transition. Prepare now, and you're ready no matter what.


Q:  A clerk at Wal-Mart said radio stations will also go all-digital. Will I need a new radio?

A:  Your current radios will continue to work. Digital TV has nothing to do with radio.

However, digital radio broadcasts are becoming common. Most major stations broadcast in both digital and analog. Digital radio, known as HD Radio, is free. Digital satellite radio requires a paid subscription. Both require special radios. (HD Radio is a brand name. It doesn't stand for high definition or anything else.)

Q:  How can I tell if my televisions have digital tuners?

A:  Virtually all HDTVs have digital tuners. The problem lies with older standard-definition sets.

You need an ATSC tuner to receive digital signals. Do not confuse ATSC with NTSC tuners, which only receive analog signals. Check the back of your TV, the manual or the manufacturer's website to find out what kind of tuners are in the TV. If you don't have ATSC tuners, you'll need DTV converter boxes.

Q:  My converter box coupons expired. Can I get new coupons?

A:  The government is subsidizing DTV converter boxes. Each household is eligible for two $40 coupons. The coupons are valid for 90 days. Lost or expired coupons won't be reissued. A friend or family member may have unused coupons. You can use their unexpired coupons.

Q:  What type of antenna do I need to receive digital TV?

A:  Your old antenna should work with digital broadcasts. That's true for both indoor and outdoor antennas. Antennas optimized for DTV and HDTV may help with bad reception. However, some dispute the efficacy of these antennas.

Q:  I installed my DTV converter box. Sometimes the set freezes into blocks. Will a new HDTV solve the problem?

A:  I've seen what you're describing. The converter box and TV are fine. A new HDTV won't solve the problem. You're experiencing bad reception. Blockiness is the digital equivalent of snow on an analog set. Adjusting your antenna should help.

Q:  What will happen to my VCR?

A:  Your VCR will still play movies. However, you may need a converter box for your VCR to record shows. Connect the converter box to your VCR. Then, connect the VCR to your television. Only one converter box is needed.

Q:  How will the transition affect cable subscribers?

A:  Cable and satellite subscribers shouldn't worry about the transition. You can watch television as you normally would. Some providers may migrate channels to pricier digital tiers. In that case, you may need to upgrade your service. Your provider can tell you more.

Q:  Can I get cash instead of a converter box coupon?

A:  No. There is no cash option. Funding for the transition is limited. The coupons are for those who need help.

Q:  Where can I get more information and apply for a converter box coupon?

A:  You can learn more at the official site. You can also apply for a coupon directly on the site. There is a waiting list for coupons, though. As unused coupons expire, new coupons will be issued.

< p class="inside-copy">Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about computers and the Internet. To get the podcast or find the station nearest you, visit To subscribe to Kim's free e-mail newsletters, sign up at Contact her at

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