CES Preview: TV Converter Boxes Offer Escape From Analog TV

Do you still get your TV reception via rabbit ears or a roof-top antennae? If so, you've got about a year to procure a digital-to-analog converter box and prepare your television for the impending digital TV revolution. As mandated by federal law, on February 19, 2009 over-the-air television broadcasts will switch from analog to digital.

If you're stuck with an analog-only TV, don't worry: Converter boxes will be available. LG and Philips will be showing off some of the first at this year's CES, and the boxes will go on sale for around $60 in the first quarter of the year. To help ease the transition, starting January 1, you'll be able to request a $40 coupon subsidy from the federal government. 

(Our Today@PCWorld blog has more information on understanding the analog to digital TV issues and getting the money-saving coupon.)

If you've already upgraded to a high-definition TV, you won't be affected by the coming transition. Nor will you feel an immediate impact if you receive you're a cable or satellite subscriber: The FCC requires cable and satellite providers to continue providing an analog signal until 2012.

The 2009 transition will impact only the small percentage of Americans who get their TV signal over the air using an antenna, explains Jason Oxman of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). "We call these "untethered" households--about 11 percent of the nation's households," Oxman says. "As of today, we estimate there are 13.5 million such households."

When the switch takes place in 2009, the analog signal--and these untethered households--will go dark.

Digital TV Revolution Starts Now

The coupon program is administered by the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and funded by $1.5 billion appropriated by Congress. The intent of the program is to subsidize the nation's transition to digital television by allowing consumers to continue receiving free over-the-air television. The program is open to all American households, and was established in the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005.

So how does it work? You can apply for up to two $40 coupons per household, either by visiting the official site launched on January 1, http://www.dtv2009.gov/, or calling 888-DTV-2009. Printed applications will also be available at post offices and at public libraries, in English, Spanish, and other languages.

Starting February 18, 2008, the government will send coupons by U.S. mail in the form of a gift card that consumers can use at electronics retailers that sell the digital-to-analog converter boxes. You'll have approximately three months to redeem the coupon.

So far, only Digital Stream, LG Electronics, and Philips have converter boxes that are approved by the NTIA, and only LG and Philips have announced actual products. The boxes are expected to cost between $59 and $69 dollars.

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