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Choosing and Buying a Digital TV Converter Box

written by: •edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 5/19/2011

So that old TV will not do the trick when it comes to receiving Digital channels and you are going to need a converter. Here is what you need to know about buying and installing one.

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    Don’t Forget Your Coupon

    Having read the last article, you found out that you are going to need a converter box. If you need to spend money to get a converter box, it is good to consider your options. Depending on where you live and how much your kids/grandkids are bugging you, getting satellite or cable TV service might be attractive.

    If you are thinking of doing it anyway, do it instead of buying converter boxes. The equipment you will use for cable and satellite is unaffected by the change to digital in free, over the air, broadcasting. Whatever you do, do not buy converter boxes now if you are planning on getting cable or satellite in a few months or you will probably be buying new equipment again soon.

    If you are not tempted to buy pay service but were thinking about getting a new TV, now might be the time. Almost any TV you will find for sale in the US will be Digital ready, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure. The way I am trying to talk you into a new TV or pay package, you might think I was on commission. However, I am simply pointing out that you do not need to go buy converters if you are going to be buying a new TV soon.

    What someone on commission would be crazy to remind you of is that the $40 coupons you can get from the government are only good for converter boxes. That pretty much covers a converter, so Digital TV does not have to break the bank.

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    Basic Converter Box Features

    There are differences from one to the next, but some features will be found on any converter box. Its main function is essentially to translate the TV signal from digital to analog, so that your existing TV will be able to display it. It has inputs where you can connect your antenna, where the digital signals come in, and outputs where you connect your television, where analog signals go out. We’ll talk more about the connections in the next article, which covers installation.

    The converter should include a remote control and a cable or two to help you hook it up.

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    Low Power and Border Channels

    Another feature you should be aware of when choosing a converter is analog pass-through. While all standard over the air stations are going digital, low power, which includes Class A and translator stations, can remain analog. If you watch these channels, you might want to choose a converter with analog pass-through. This will allow you to watch both digital and analog channels through the same cable connecting the converter and TV.

    Otherwise, you will have to use a splitter, an extra cable, and possibly a switch to watch both analog and digital broadcasts without having to unhook the converter box. The need for a switch depends on if your TV or VCR has the RCA inputs described in the next article. If it does, you will only need a splitter and an extra cable. In addition, you will be able to switch from watching digital to analog and back with the remote control of your TV or VCR.

    If your TV does not have RCA inputs, you will also need a switch, and you will need to physically flick it to go back and forth between analog and digital. You will not be able to do this from the remote. If that does not appeal to you and you do not want to give up hockey, Mexican soaps, or low-power channels, choose a converter with the analog pass-through feature. It is quite common.

    You can tell if a channel is low-power by its call sign. If there are numbers in with the letters (letter number number letter letter) or the letters –CA or –LP appear at the end (letter letter letter letter – CA or letter letter letter letter –LP), it is a low-power channel. Canadian channels start with a C, and Mexican channels start with an X.

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    Watching and Recording Different Channels

    Your VCR will only be able to record the channel you are watching on the converter. To watch one channel and record another, you need to buy two converter boxes, one for the VCR and one for the TV. If you want to watch and record analog channels as well, then the analog pass-through feature becomes even more attractive to avoid the extra wires you will need with two converter boxes, splitters, and so on. Remember that each household is eligible to receive two converter box coupons

    There are some other features of a converter box, but we will discuss these in our article on setting up your Digital Television channels. First, let’s get the box hooked up, which we do in the next article.

How to Get Digital TV Broadcasts

This simple guide starts off by finding out if your equipment can receive and play digital signals. If it can't, and you don't have cable or satellite TV, the guide goes on to explain everything you need to know about getting and installing a converter box and finding DTV channels.
  1. What You Need for Digital Television
  2. Choosing and Buying a Digital TV Converter Box
  3. Hooking Up Your Digital Converter Box
  4. Set Up Your Digital TV or Converter Box