Pin Me

What You Need for Digital Television

written by: •edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 9/8/2009

There is no easy way to change something that has worked for decades. That said, the change to Digital Television (or DTV) only broadcasting is not all that complicated, though it might take a bite from your wallet.

  • slide 1 of 4

    You might have a lot of questions about Digital-only Television broadcasting and how it affects you. We answer them in the right order so that we can give you the all clear as soon as possible, and get you back in front of that TV before you know it.

  • slide 2 of 4

    Is Your TV Signal Cable, Satellite, or Over the Air?

    The FCC-directed change to Digital broadcasting only affects over the air broadcasting. That means if you get cable or satellite TV, you are in the clear even if you are on analog cable service. Some cable providers are switching their customers to Digital only at the same time as the FCC’s over the air change, but that is a different matter and the information below does not apply to you. Your cable company already notified you if they are making such a change.

    That leaves rabbit ears, loop, and roof antennas, or over the air broadcasting. If that is how you get your TV signals, Digital-only broadcasting will likely affect you.

  • slide 3 of 4

    How Old is Your TV?

    If you are lucky, your TV already has a built in Digital tuner. This depends on how new and pricey your TV is. A TV from 2007 or later probably has a DTV tuner, as do many nicer TVs from 2004 on. Only very nice TVs sold between 1998-2004 stand a chance of having a built-in Digital tuner. If your TV is from 1998 or before, it almost certainly does not have the ability to handle digital on its own.

    A Digital ready TV is usually labeled as such, or it will be listed in the manual. If your TV is labeled (or the manual states it supports) “DTV" or “ATSC" you are fine. There are other designations that might be used, according to a FCC factsheet: "These labels or markings may contain the words 'Integrated Digital Tuner' or 'Digital Tuner Built-In.' 'Receiver' may be substituted for 'Tuner,' and 'DTV,' 'ATSC,' or 'HDTV' (high definition television) may be substituted for 'Digital.'"

    An easy way to find out if your TV is ready, particularly if your manuals are not handy, is to visit this website. You can enter the TV’s make and model to see if it turns up on their exhaustive (but not quite complete) list. If you still are not sure, go straight to the source and check with the company that made the TV, either online or by phone.

    If you already have a tuner in your TV (or all your TVs if you have several), you are probably ready for digital. You may need to adjust your antenna, or in some rare cases, replace it. If your TV can’t handle digital, you will need a converter. In fact you will need one for each TV you have that gets an over the air signal but doesn't have a digital tuner.

  • slide 4 of 4


    Let’s make sure you know what you need to do next.

    If you have satellite or cable TV, you do not need to worry.

    If you use rabbit ears, a loop, or an outdoor antenna, and your TV has a Digital tuner, you will need to scan for channels, and may need to adjust or, rarely, replace your antenna.

    If you use rabbit ears, a loop, or an outdoor antenna, and your TV does NOT have a Digital tuner, you will need to get a converter. You will also have to scan for channels, and may need to adjust or, rarely, replace your antenna.

    We explain more about converters and antennas 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