First and foremost, we're not here to get you worked into a panic. Contrary to what some folks would have you believe, not everyone will be affected by the looming DTV transition. If you're one of the many Americans who receive their broadcast stations -- you know, the NBCs, ABCs, CBSs and FOXs of the world -- via a cable, satellite or fiber provider, you can wipe the sweat from your brow and enjoy the rest of your Sunday. However, if you've vowed to never spend a single red cent on a programming provider until everything is offered up à la carte, yet you still can't resist tuning in to your locals via the tried and true antenna, here's what you need to know.
The US government has set aside a hefty chunk of funds in order to dish out $40 coupons to any citizen that will be needing a DTV converter box to continue receiving digital broadcast signals after February 17, 2009. Essentially, the local broadcasts that you've grown so fond of will no longer be understood by your analog set (read: a TV that lacks a built-in digital [ATSC] tuner but includes an analog [NTSC] one) after the aforementioned date, thus, you'll need to either snag one of these fancy converter contraptions or cough up the coinage for an all new television that features an ATSC tuner internally. Also of note, this cutover has nothing to do with high-definition in and of itself -- even those hoping to tune into SD versions of their local stations 366 days from now will have to have a digital-to-analog converter or a TV with a digital tuner built-in.
Needless to say, the former option is much more cost efficient than the latter, and if you have absolutely no plans to ditch that dust-covered 1991 Magnavox for a swank new flat-panel (or similar), here's the long and short of making sure you 1) get your rightful coupon, 2) understand where to find a converter box and 3) don't miss a single second of your local news this time next year.
Steps to take
First things first: apply for your $40 government-issued voucher that can be used towards most every digital-to-analog converter box soon to be on the market. The only notable exception is high-definition set-top-boxes, and if you'd like our take on that, simply head here. Citizens have until March 31, 2009 to request a coupon, but we'd highly recommend doing it right now to ensure that totally unforeseen events don't subvert your plans to "do it later" -- things like funds running dry, aliens swooping in to steal them all or corruption in your Outlook calendar, for starters.
Once you've applied, you could simply kick back and wait for it to arrive. Instead, we'd recommend taking a nice long look at the full list of coupon-eligible converter boxes and picking out one or two that you wouldn't mind setting up in your den. If you're just looking for what retailers will actually be stocking these oh-so-important boxes, look no further. At least a few of 'em will soon be available at Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Circuit City, Kmart, RadioShack, Target, Sears and Sam's Club. If you somehow aren't within driving distance of one of these mega-stores, about 100 smaller retailers have been certified to stock them, so give your local mom n' pop electronics outfit a call and make sure one will be waiting for you.
Once you've done your duty and selected the store you'll be heading to the moment that coupon arrives, you're almost ready to wash your hands of this mess. Upon receiving the coupon, simply bolt out to one of the previously mentioned locales and fork over the difference (it shouldn't be much) between the cost of the unit and your voucher, and head on back to your domicile. From here, we'd recommend putting the converter box in a safe place so you aren't scrambling to relocate it when your locals make the leap to digital. Remember, these boxes won't be required at all until that jump is made (but can certainly be used now), and while we don't envision too many areas making the cutover before this day next year, the FCC has established rules that enables stations to do so early "if doing so is necessary to achieve their transition." Bottom line: you're better off snagging a converter box now and sitting on it until switchover day arrives than rushing out with every other person in your community to
Looking for the Cliffs Notes version? Here goes:
1) Acknowledge that you own a television that lacks a digital (ATSC) tuner.
2) Apply for your $40 government-issued voucher here.
3) Take a look at the full list of coupon-eligible converter boxes here.
4) Scan the list of certified retailers and make sure you have access to one.
5) Upon receiving your coupon, dart out to your local certified retailer and come away happy.
6) On the day of the DTV switchover (or now, if you'd like!), hook up your converter and continue to receive local broadcasts sans issues.
Feel free to keep an eye on our coverage -- past and present -- of the impending 2009 analog shutoff here.