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Digital TV Conversion: Are You Ready?

Friday, 21 Nov 2008 | 9:15 PM ET
Digital Deception
Helping you avoid getting ripped off on digital TV conversion, with CNBC's Carmen Wong Ulrich.

In February, all broadcasters across the country will move to digital signals, affecting millions of people with televisions that will need converter boxes to continue to work after the switch. But who needs what? A recent Consumer Reports poll shows that nearly two-thirds of consumers are confused about the conversion and what it means to them.

Scott Friedman, a reporter for the NBC-owned station in Dallas-Ft. Worth, brought a hidden camera with him to some major electronics retailers to find out if the sales staff knew the facts about the upcoming conversation.

It turns out that not even those in the business always had the right answers. Friedman found that he was given wrong information about everything from which cable and satellite services require converter boxes to how many government coupons people can apply for if they need to buy boxes.

Everyone is confused about this, said Joel Kelsey, a policy analyst with Consumer Reports. But here’s what you need to know:

If you have an older analog television set that receives the picture through an antenna on your roof or a ‘bunny ears’ antenna on the top of the set and it’s not hooked up to cable or satellite, you must do something before Feb. 17, 2009, when the transition takes effect. Your options include buying a new television with a digital tuner, signing up for cable or satellite service, or – the cheapest option – buying a converter box, which will translate the digital signal into an analog picture.

If you decide on the box, the federal government offers a $40 coupon to help offset the cost. Every household in the country is allowed up to two coupons, although they are distributed on a first come, first serve basis. If you’re in the market for a new converter box, Kelsey suggested applying for the coupon now. You can do that at DTV2009.gov or by calling 888-DTV-2009.

Of all the converter boxes Consumer Reports tested, Kelsey said that the Alpha Digitalbox performed the best and also happened to be the least expensive at $55.