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DTV: What about me? I have an antenna.
If you stopped being able to watch TV over the air after the June 12 DTV conversion, you need new equipment. You have several options:
- Get an inexpensive converter box for your TV. This box hooks up between your existing TV antenna and your TV set and/or VCR. It automatically converts the new digital signals for your TV. Online retailers with $40 boxes include freedtvshop.com. Boxes are also available in local stores, generally priced at $60 and up.
The federal government set up a coupon program to make these boxes more affordable. These coupons are still available (as of June 17.) Order coupons by calling (888) DTV-2009.
- Buy a new digital-ready TV. Many new TVs are already set up to receive digital TV signals. New digital-ready TVs are available from $120 and up. Note that digital TV is not the same as HDTV, which is generally more expensive. Ask your local sales clerk to make sure. And if you buy a new TV, make sure you dispose of your old TV in an environmentally friendly way.
- You can also spring for cable or satellite service. If you get cable TV or satellite service, your provider will manage the DTV switch for you, in return for your monthly bill. Comcast is heavily promoting its cable service, suggesting that it offers an easy solution to the DTV transition. Those offers are a bit misleading, however--the company plans to make changes to its "expanded basic" service later in 2009, which will force subscribers to choose between losing channels or installing additional digital equipment. And introductory subscriber rates are likely to increase over time.
You may also need a new antenna. Digital TV channels broadcast in the UHF and VHF bands - that means you'll need a UHF (loop) antenna as well as a VHF (rabbit ears) antenna. It's possible that you already have all the antenna you need - but digital TV signals will be a little different from what we get now. If you live very far from a station's broadcast tower, or very close, or in a dense urban area, or in a remote rural area, you may discover that you need a new antenna. All the more reason to get set up before June 12, so you'll have time to experiment before the transition takes place.
One more thing: Order coupons whether you need them or not. You can give them to friends who are less on-the-ball than you, or donate them - People living in institutions, group houses or prisons may have difficulty acquiring coupons, and will rely on your generosity.