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On June 12, 2009, Americans watching over-the-air TV using a conventional set without a digital-to-analog converter box flash-forwarded into a world without reception. The DTV Age had begun in earnest as terrestrial broadcasts were now sent exclusively as digital pulses instead of analog waves. There was plenty of warning and even a $1.5 billion government-funded coupon program, now ended, for buying converters, yet some people didn't get the message.
A year later D-Day has become a footnote, a broadcasting milestone eclipsed mainly because the vast majority of viewers receive their TV channels from cable or satellite, systems which are unaffected by the analog shutdown. Still, even today there are plenty of households with second and third sets not connected to a pay-TV service, which are unable to do much more than play old tapes from an attached VCR.
For owners of those TVs, the one-year anniversary of D-Day seems like an ideal time to reassess your denial of the digital world. You could replace an obsolete set with a small, relatively inexpensive digital TV. Alternatively, you could add a recordable DVD player/VCR with a built-in digital tuner.
Since a digital tuner is embedded in every new TV, you won't need a converter box. That frees up shelf space and an electrical outlet and rids your home of one less remote. And if you have a portable TV that you belatedly discovered away from home has become a doorstop, a new portable DTV may fit your needs, too. Whatever you choose, the world of free over-the-air TV can return to the bedroom, kitchen, garage or den, or a battery-powered model can be used on the roof of your car at a tailgate party.
For those ready to embrace a small screen in-home HDTV at a small price, consider a 13-inch or 15-inch LCD TV from Coby. Both feature a resolution of 720p, contain digital tuners, and offer closed captioning. The 13-incher (TFTV1325) was priced at $138, and the 15-incher (TFTV1525), $134. Sharp has a 19-inch model, the LC-19SB27UT, available for $175. (All prices listed here are as of June 11.) Measured in inches rather than feet, the depth of each of these flat-panel TVs represents a small fraction of the thickness of your tube-type TV. That means more room in your home for other things. And the resolution of these LCD screens will be three to four times better than the picture quality on your old TV. Not bad for a new set that will probably cost you less than you originally paid for your old TV. For an even thinner, though more expensive set, see Samsung's 22" HDTV Set.
Perhaps you love your old TV so much that you'll never part with it until it implodes. If there's still life in that old set, consider hooking up a DVD/VHS recorder with built-in digital tuner. It's another way to get rid of a converter box. You'll be able to play your collection of DVDs and video cassettes and record programs from broadcast TV, too. An example is the JVC DR-MV150B DVD/VCR Combo Recorder (below), about $224. Yes, it has an ATSC (digital) tuner for receiving broadcasts, yet it can record to analog tape. And, of course, the player is compatible for your decades-old cassette collection and DVDs, too.
Whether you're using the digital tuner in a recorder combo or the one in a new TV, you'll need to attach an antenna to the RF input. Rabbit ears were retired long ago. Today's digital antennas look more like pine cones or rectangular plates. B&H stocks a variety of indoor and outdoor antennas, including the Terk HDTVa Antenna (left), which is an amplified indoor model. Since TVs have become too thin to accommodate anything on top, you may find that the best reception is found by placing the antenna on the floor. Passive models that don't need power are also available, including the Terk FDTV2 Omni Directional Flat Digital HDTV Antenna.
As for taking a battery-powered TV to the beach or ballpark, portable LCD TVs from B&H range in size from seven to 10.2 inches and in price from $79 to $130. These sets are meant for stationary use. See the roundup article: Portable DTV sets. However, if you want more resilient reception in a 3.5-inch portable that's more akin to wireless cable and can receive 17 nationally-distributed channels even while speeding in a car or train, consider Flo TV. Please read our hands-on review of Flo TV.