The Digital TV Transition

Posted By BrokenClaw on March 8, 2008

By February, 2009, all television stations in the US are required by federal law to convert their over-the-air analog broadcasts to digital television (DTV) broadcasts. However, there is a lot of misinformation going around with regard to what that transition means to the consumer.

First of all, the transition will only impact free over-the-air broadcasts via an antenna, and only if you have an older model TV that does not have a digital tuner. That is to say, the digital transition will have no impact on your television equipment and service if you subscribe to cable TV or satellite TV or telephone Internet TV. It doesn’t matter to you how your provider gets the broadcasts because they will still be sending it to you the same way as they have been.

In fact, satellite TV and Internet TV are already digital, so if you have it, you already have a digital converter. Regular cable service is analog, and the cable companies are required to continue analog service at least until 2012. Cable companies also offer digital service, and that is not affected by the transition, either.

Unfortunately, a lot of retailers, and even the television services themselves, have been using the impending digital broadcast transition to misrepresent products and services that you don’t need. The important points to know are:

  1. You do not need an HDTV just because of the DTV transition. Digital broadcasts and high-definition television (HDTV) are not the same thing. You have to have a digital source for a high-def picture, but you don’t have to have a high-def TV to receive a digital broadcast.
  2. You do not need to upgrade to digital cable service just because of the DTV transition. As explained above, the cable companies will continue to provide analog service.

There are certainly a lot of good reasons to upgrade to an HDTV and to digital cable TV, but they are not mandated by the digital broadcast transition. Although cable companies are required to continue basic analog service, some analysts are concerned that the cable companies will use the digital transitions as an excuse to reduce their basic cable offerings, which would make digital service more desirable for most subscribers.

The people who need to be concerned about the conversion are those who only have antenna reception with an older TV set. Of course, even if you have a subscription TV service, you may have other TVs in your home (garage, patio, cabin, etc.) which are not hooked up, which would be affected as well. The options for you are:

  1. Purchase a new TV that has a digital tuner, or
  2. Purchase a converter box for each TV which will convert the digital broadcast to an analog signal, or
  3. Subscribe to one of the television services.

Here are a few recommended websites which provide accurate and up-to-date information for those who need to make the switch:

  • has been set up by the National Association of Broadcasters.
  • has been set up by a coalition of interested parties such as television stations and consumer advocacy groups.
  • The FCC finally set up their own website: The Digital TV Transition.
  • On the National Telecommunications and Information Administration website you can apply for a $40 coupon toward the purchase of a converter.

Compare digital TV to High-Definition Television.


In January, 2009, the final date for the mandatory transition was delayed again. The new drop-dead date for all broadcasters is June 12, 2009.


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