DTV: What about me? I live in an apartment building.

If you don't have cable or satellite service, your old TV no longer get channels by itself since the DTV conversion on June 12.

If that describes you, you will need new equipment to keep watching TV.

In some apartment buildings, nursing homes or other institutions, residents connect their TVs to a shared rooftop antenna array. If this is your situation, you will be affected by the DTV switch.

Once the switch is made, current stations will go blank - or only show a message telling you to switch to digital. The time to get ready is now. 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 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, but the program effectively ran out of money in early January. You can still 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.

Check with your building manager to find out whether s/he or other residents have already installed their digital equipment. They may have discovered useful information which can help you make the switch.

If you reside in a nursing home, intermediate care facility or assisted living facility, you are eligible for a $40 coupon for a DTV converter box, but you must apply using a special form. You or a family member can apply on your behalf--be sure to apply well in advance of when you will need the box.

Prisoners are not eligible to receive the coupons. Many prison systems do not have cable TV, and may be unwilling or unable to purchase converter boxes for existing TVs . However, the convert box coupons are transferable, so any friend or family member may donate his or her extra coupons to be used by prisoners or prison staff.

One more thing: everyone who is eligible should 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.


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