Do I Need A DTV Converter?

I have written extensively about the February 2009 Analog Broadcast cut off  and the Set Top DTV Converters that are now available to allow you to continue to use your analog TV sets – yes, even the old black and white model in the basement – after the analog channels go away.  In light of the misinformation that is being distributed on radio and TV and in newspapers, I thought that I would take this opportunity to go over the basics again.


First a definition.  A Set Top DTV Converter is a device that connects to your analog TV and allows you to watch programs being BROADCAST locally over-the-air in the new Digital format.  These devices are NOT used with cable or satellite services.  Those services have specialized set top boxes.

I received a series of questions from John, a regular reader. I think they are representative of some of the most often asked.

 John writes, “I have analog cable; will I need some sort of converter box for my new digital HD LCD TV?” 

You have two choices if you want to get the digital channels.  You can upgrade your cable service to digital with a HD Cable box and get all the digital and HD channels including the cable-only channels, e.g. ESPN, HBO, etc., or you can attach an antenna to your new set and receive only the local digital channels broadcast over-the-air.  You do not need a Set Top DTV Converter for the new digital TV set. You will no longer get the analog channels from cable on this new set without upgrading to digital cable.

 “What about the old TV’s?  Will they still work with basic analog cable?”   

Yes, you will get all the channels that you get now without any converter.  If you want to watch all the new over-the-air digital channels, you will need a converter connected to an antenna for each TV. If you want to get the cable digital channels you need to upgrade your cable service and connect the old sets to cable using a digital cable boxes.  There are two types of Time Warner digital cable boxes.  One connects to your regular analog set and provides all the non-HD digital channels.  The other is an HD box and it provides all those channels plus the HD channels and can be used only with new HD sets.  Currently Time Warner charges the same for the standard digital box and the HD box.

 “I have several VCRs that are not digital; will I still be able to record and time shift?” 

As long as they are connected to either the cable or the converter, they will work as they do now.

   The bottom line, everything you now have by being connected to basic cable will continue to work after February 2009. If you want HD on your new set you must either subscribe to digital cable with an HD Cable box or install an antenna on the HD set to receive local the local Digital channels (both HD and Standard Definition.) “Do you have some suggestions for finding good unbiased reviews of DTV sets? 

Consumer Report® magazine is always a good place to look.


The converters are now available in stores and most are priced at $59.99.  The local Radio Shack® store now has then in stock.  With the $40.00 coupon applied to the purchase price you are looking at $20 bucks each for the devices.  If you have not already done so, you can request coupons from Uncle Sam on line at or by calling 1-888-388-2009.


Next week I’ll discuss the various types and models of converters that are available and how to connect them.


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