What Do I Need to Know About TV Converter Boxes

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With the conversion to all digital broadcast television only weeks away, MrGumby59 asked the Answer Line forum what he needs to know about converter boxes.

If you get your TV signal through an antenna instead of cable or a satellite dish, and your television isn't already showing you digital as well as analog stations, you will need a converter box to continue watching TV. (Unless, of course, you want to buy a new TV or subscribe to cable or satellite service. But buying a converter box is a lot cheaper.)

It's probably too late to get government help with this purchase. The federal government was giving away $40 rebate coupons, but program has reached its funding ceiling. More coupons may be issued as already-issued coupons expire unused, but I wouldn't count on it.

What box should you buy? I can't personally recommend one over another, but forum regular Mphenterprises researched specific brands, and "The one that stood out the most is the Digital Stream DTX9900." Xaxo likes the DTV box is by DishNetwork, which has a TV Guide service, while Earthbru bought the Insignia and thinks "it is great."

Digital Stream DTX9900

Connecting a converter box is much like daisy-chaining a DVR or VCR. You disconnect your antenna from your TV, connect the antenna to the converter box's Antenna In port, use another cable (quite probably included with the box) to connect the converter to the TV, then plug in the power cord.

After February 17, your TV's built-in tuner will be unable to pick up channels, so it's important that it can pick up the converter box. Chances are your converter box will have a channel switch with options to output an analog signal as either channel 3 or channel 4. It really doesn't matter which you pick; just make sure you tune your TV to that station and keep it there.

The good news is you'll now get more stations. Some of those stations will probably be HD, and the converter box will downconvert them to work on your standard def TV. The box should give you several options for handling 16x9 signals on your 4x3 TV; I recommend letterboxing the image.

My thanks to all the folks on the Answer Line Forum whose suggestions contributed to this answer, especially Mphenterprises and Mjd420nova. You can read the original conversation at http://forums.pcworld.com/message/174571

Add your comments to this article below. If you have other tech questions, email them to me at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

This story, "What Do I Need to Know About TV Converter Boxes" was originally published by PCWorld.

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