1. News & Issues
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

A Guide to the Digital Television Transition

Are You Ready For the Transition?


UPDATED Feb. 4, 2009: Congress has passed and President Obama is expected to sign a bill delaying the nationwide conversion to digital-only TV transmission from February 17 until June 12.

If you own an analog TV -- generally, a TV without a digital tuner that is not connected to cable, satellite or other pay TV service -- it will stop receiving signals from all full-power TV stations in the United States at midnight on June 12, 2009. At that time, all U.S. full-power TV stations are required by federal law to switch to 100% digital broadcasting.

Owners of these analog TVs will have three options to consider in order to keep their sets working after June 12, 2009:

  • Keep your existing analog TV and purchase a TV converter box. A converter box plugs into your TV and will keep it working after June 12, 2009, or

  • Connect your TV to cable, satellite or other pay service, or

  • Purchase a television with a digital tuner.

Government Offers Coupons to Help
If you decide to purchase a converter box in order to keep your analog TV working after June 12, 2009, the government's TV Converter Box Coupon Program allows U.S. households to obtain up to two coupons, each worth $40, that can be applied toward the cost of eligible converter boxes. The converter boxes are now being sold in stores across the nation.

The coupons are available until March 31, 2009 and there are at least four ways you can get them:

  • Apply online

  • Call the Coupon Program 24-hour hotline 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009).

  • Mail a coupon application to: PO BOX 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000. Download a Coupon Application here.

  • Fax a coupon application to 1-877-DTV-4ME2 (1-877-388-4632).

  • Deaf or hard of hearing callers may dial 1-877-530-2634 (English/TTY) or 1-866-495-1161 (Spanish/TTY). TTY Service is available from 9 AM - 9 PM Eastern Time Monday through Friday.

Do You Need a Converter Box?
If your TV already has a digital tuner or you subscribe to a pay TV service, you will likely continue to receive TV programming as usual after Feb. 17, 2009. If you are uncertain about whether or not you need a converter box, the TV Converter Box Coupon Program offers an extensive Frequently Asked Question utility to help you out.

The following guidelines come from the Converter Box Coupon Program Frequently Asked Question utility.

A TV set made before 1998 was a traditional "analog" set. If you bought a big-screen, projection TV between 1998 and 2004, it may have a built-in digital tuner inside. But chances aren't great. Only a limited percentage of projection TV sets (and generally only those 42 inches in diameter or larger) included digital tuners before 2004.

If you purchased a new TV set since 2004, your chances of having a built-in digital tuner improve dramatically. Starting in 2004, many of the TV sets sold at popular electronics stores feature digital tuners that will work after February 17, 2009. But it's not a sure thing. Even some of the newer TV sets are purely display monitors that lack the internal circuitry needed to pick up digital broadcasts. Usually these sets have been advertised as "HD-ready" or "HDTV monitor" sets. That means they can display digital and high-definition signals, but they need help getting those signals in the first place. You'll still need a special converter or a cable TV connection.

Why is the Transition Being Done?
Congress passed the law requiring the digital TV conversion because digital TV transmission produces a clearer and more dependable picture than the old analog transmission. In addition, the transition will free up airwaves that can be used by emergency services. Once the DTV transition is completed, some television channels will be turned over to fire and police departments for emergency communication and others will be auctioned to companies to wireless communications companies for new services.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.