Everything You Need to Know About the Coming Digital TV Switchover

By Andrew Eisner

Will you need to replace your TV in 2009 or will you be able to use a government issued coupon to purchase a digital TV converter box?

Just about one year from now on February 17, 2009 analog TV signals will be turned off and only digital TV signals will be transmitted over the air. This is the biggest change to standard TV signals since color TVs were introduced over 50 years ago. What does this mean for you and other TV owners? Retrevo.com offers this overview of what you need to know and just in case you want to use this event as an excuse to bring your TV or Grandma’s TV up to 21st century standards, Retrevo has recommendations for the best values in TV sets and DVD recorders including HDTV LCD TVs, DVD recorders, and Digital Video Recorders (DVRs).

It's All in the Tuner

NTSC tuners take an analog signal from an antenna, cable, or other connection and turn it into something that you can see and hear on your TV. NTSC or analog tuners are usually connected to external rabbit ears or rooftop antennas. Many TV sets hooked up to a basic cable connection also use an analog TV tuner to display all the non-premium channels.

On February 17, 2009 analog signals will not be available over the air and all tuners getting signals over the air will need to be ATSC tuners which accept digital signals. TVs can receive digital signals over the air, often using the same external antennas but they’ll need to have an ATSC digital tuner in order to hear or see anything. Cable-based systems should not be affected since cable companies should continue to offer analog signals for most basic cable channels. Satellite systems already transmit digital signals and should not be affected either by the switchover.

If you happen to have a TV or device with an analog tuner you have two choices. You can buy a converter box and possibly use a government issued coupon to get a discount or you can replace the old analog-based TV with a brand new digital one.

Converter Boxes

A converter box will most likely be the cheapest solution especially if you use a $40 coupon for a $60 converter box however it could make for a few hassles. For starters, you’ll have another remote to deal with. If you’re lucky, your universal remote will work with your old TV and the converter box but Grandma will have to figure out how to switch devices on the remote to raise the volume. You’ll also have something else to plug into an outlet and fit on the shelf.

Some DTV converter boxes are already available like the Insignia Digital to Analog Converter Box which costs around $60. The recently announced EchoStar TR-40 which is expected to sell for $39.99. Expect to see a much wider selection as the months go by. Some estimates claim there are 30 million analog sets that will require converter boxes or will need to be replaced.


Insignia NS-DXA1 EchoStar TR-40
Insignia Digital to Analog Converter Box EchoStar TR-40


DTV Coupon

The federal government is offering $40 coupons that consumers can use on a basic converter box. You can request up to two coupons per household now through March 31, 2009 . Remember the coupons are only good for 90 days so make sure there is something available to purchase before requesting a coupon. DVRs or DVD Recorders come with digital tuners and are reasonably priced, but are not eligible for the government coupons.

Retrevo recommends you use this opportunity to buy a new TV. Unfortunately you won’t get the $40 government subsidy and you may have to pay $10 to recycle the old TV but you should be able to get a more energy efficient flat screen TV and move up to HDTV for under $500. Bruce Berkoff, Chairman of the LCD TV Association offers this suggestion, "Why not get a converter box for the old set, move it into the guest room, and buy a new LCD TV for the livingroom?"

Good Values in LCD TVs

The Syntax Olevia 527V can be purchased for just a shade over $500 but it offers 720p HDTV in a big 27 inch LCD TV. The Samsung LN-S1951W is a 19 inch LCD TV that gets good user ratings and costs around $400. The Toshiba 20HL67 is a 20 inch HDTV that gets good reviews and will cost you around $450. The Sharp AQUOS LC-19DV22U is a 720p LCD HDTV that you can buy for under $500.

Syntax Olevia 527V Samsung LN-S1951W Toshiba 20HLK67 Sharp AQUOS LC-19DV22U
Syntax Olevia 527V Samsung LN-S1951W Toshiba 20HL67 Sharp AQUOS LC-19DV22U

Time to Replace That Old VCR

If you haven’t made the switch to TIVO or DVR and still have an old VCR between your cable box and TV set, chances are it won’t work either when the digital change takes place next year. You can still put a converter box in front of the old unit but you might want to take the opportunity to upgrade the old tape-based VCR to a DVD recorder. You can purchase a DVD recorder for under $200. Retrevo can help find some good values based on DVD recorder reviews, features and prices. Here are a few top picks.



Toshiba D-R400

Panasonic DMR-EZ27

Panasonic DMR-EZ17
Toshiba D-R400 Panasonic DMR-EZ27 Panasonic DMR-EZ17


Digital Video Recorders store programs on internal hard drives. TIVO is the most popular brand. You can also rent a DVR set top box from cable companies like Comcast or Satellite providers like DirecTV.

Tivo Series 2

Tivo Series 3

DirecTV HR20-700
Tivo Series 2 Tivo Series 3 DirecTV HR20-700

Use Retrevo to See If Your Set is Digital

Misplaced the manual to your TV? Retrevo has manuals for most popular TV sets going back many years. You can use Retrevo to help find out if your old TV is digital or analog. Use the Retrevo search box to enter your make and model number along with either the word “manual, ATSC, QAM, or digital channels.” You can also browse for a manual on Retrevo by clicking here.

Don’t forget, you can find manuals and reviews for all popular gadgets and gear including GPS , Digital Cameras, Camcorders, Printers, and more from manufacturers including Sony, Panasonic, Canon, Nikon, and more.


Find a TV recycling center

DTV Facts site

DTV Answer Site

Government Site on DTV

Consumer Reports Site on DTV

DTV Converter Box Reviews

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