D-Day: One Year Later

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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.

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I think it's odd that the "analog to digital" switchover was mostly used to sell "converters".   It should have been used to sell HDTVs.

The digiatal HDTV over-the-air broadcast signals look terrific on HDTVs.  

The pictures are far superior to old analog broadcast, and usually superior to cable pictures (which are still often not HD).

I'm cheap and I refuse to pay for cable.  But I'm not stupid, nor blind, and I love watching my HDTV over-the-air broadcasts "for free".

The unfortunate thing about Digital TV, for viewers who live in rural areas, is that the outside antenna must be mounted high on a tower to capture the weaker digital signals. In my case I used to receive consistently good analog signal reception with a roof-mounted antenna. After the digital switchover I had a forty foot tower put up with a CM-3671 antenna and I still have problems with the digital signal fading in and out.  It seems to me that this is yet another situation where the cable/satellite TV industry has convinced goverment to follow an agenda that benefits only them and not the over-the-air TV consumer.

That switch was such a swizz...

The FCC rep met with our community well in advance, and when I asked about terrain shielding the moron could not answer. We live in a mountainous area, broadcast antenna are about 28 miles as the crow flies. I beefed up because I was worried they weren't telling us everything. Got a $178 uhf/vhf deep fringe antenna with a whopping 110 inch boom and range of 75 ilese supposedly...the switch came and no signal. Blackness. I had to order an amplifier and then still half the channels come in decent, the others pixel out and go away during cloudy or rainy days...not to mention snow storms. PBS is the best one...the commercial channels must be too cheap to pay for better equipment of get their gear high enough on the towers...

I am disgusted with the whole thing...

A booon to the city livers, but another story for those living 20-100 miles from any TV station no matter how good your attenna is.   Another case of big business favoritism.

I'm able to receive a station 30 miles with just a set top antenna, across hilly terrain.  The antenna has adjustable UHF, and I shortened & angled the rabbit ears to look like a bow tie antenna.  Some of the antennas that were suggested before the switch are not really the best for HD, because they are for multiple bands (like the CM-3671).

There is a great forum at www.avsforum.com. 

I forgot, tvfool is a great reference for checking your coverage and what equipment to use.  Has forums, so you can ask questions.

We gave up cable 25 years ago and have gotten our TV from an antenna ever since. When we made the switch to digital over seven years ago, it was a big improvement in both number of channels and picture quality. The first HD programs were high bitrate broadcasts and looked incredible, and even the SD programs, which was most shows at the time, looked way better because analog noise and ghosting were finally gone. But digital TV also came with plenty of dropouts and occasional no-signal days for some channels. I live 40 miles from the transmitters and am surrounded by trees so a new antenna and amplifier (for the attic) were necessary and even then there were often times certain channels were unwatchable. Things have gotten better over the years and now it is rare I even get a breakup.

For those who are not getting good reception, I would encourage you to visit the local OTA reception forum for your area at avsforum. People there are very helpful and might be able to help you with a tricky reception problem. Good luck to all in catching the waves. 

    I'm in the same boat as Bill, Ed1, and Astrobill... Except worse. Way worse. Before the digital signal "Age of Darkness", I had the full complement of good old VHF channels 2 through 13, plus I could get few UHF channels as well, (weather depending). I live on a remote island (and at sea level) in the Salish Sea, where cellular telephone signal is hit or miss at best, too. I can't access the geosynchronus DiSh network bird 'cause my neighbors 180' fir trees block the view to the south.

   l did have "DirEXtortionTV" for awhile, and was pretty happy with them for about three years. My monthly bill averaging around $80-$120 a month (depending upon my appetite for "pay-per-view" events), when they decided to throw me under the bus...  Allow me to explain...

    I had an opportunity to work in Mexico and spend the winter of '03-'04 doing "Gringo Dinner Theatre", (I'm an actor) November through March. So, I called them to pay my bill and put my account on suspension, until my return to the island the following spring. Which they assured me would be, "No problem." Taking them at their word, I flew down to my place in Puerto Vallarta, the week before Thanksgiving, confident in the knowledge that all was well with my "DirextortionTV"(name was changed to emphasize the guilty) account...

    Little did I know...  For the sake of brevity here, I'll leave "the rest of this horror story" where I posted it: On "Complaints Board". Or you can just "Google": DirextortionTV and find it that way. There's only one search result under that name (mine), but there should be hundreds of thousands...

    To sum up, I DON'T WATCH TV anymore, Period. I'd like to, though. Finding myself being hypnotized by the huge, new, flat screen HDTVs I see in electronics store windows, as I try to walk by them without stopping. When I first saw an HDTV picture, it was of a live telecast of a golf tournament somewhere. It looked like a "moving 35mm projected slide image" the color was so brilliant and the focus so crisp.

     Maybe someday my neighbor will harvest a little timber and I'll be able to get DisH network sat signal. Or, maybe the "broadband" (right) DSL internet connection they tell me I have will get a little faster than 190Kbps so that I might be able to strean video off the internet... Or maybe DirextortionTV will decide they liked me as a customer, and would have liked to have had the ~$8,000.oo +/- that they missed out on, that  I would have paid them the last seven years had I had any SERVICE (customer or satellite) from them.  Or maybe I should just forget about the whole digital HDTV thing...

So much for trying to watch "television in the 21st century", huh?