DTV Countdown: Three Months to Go



With only three months until the transition from analog to digital broadcast television occurs on Feb. 17, industry expert Stephen Effros recommends that TV watchers not wait until the last minute to get ready.

Effros says viewers have three options to consider when preparing for the transition:

First, if they have an older analog TV set, viewers can buy an analog-to-digital converter box to connect to their television. (These converter boxes are generally available at major TV and/or electronics stores. The federal government has set up a coupon program for households in need of this type of device.)

Second, viewers might consider purchasing a more recently manufactured TV set that has a digital tuner already built-in.

Third, they can connect all TV sets to a cable or other TV service provider.

While Effros recommends that all TV viewers prepare early for the Feb. 17 transition, he believes advanced preparation is especially critical for people who select the first option: a converter box.

“The federal government has a limited supply of coupons to help with the cost of those boxes,” he said. “Meanwhile, demand will be high for these boxes, so stores may not always have them in stock.”

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently announced that 17 million households had requested more than 33 million converter box coupons and redeemed more than 13 million to date.

An early digital transition test in Wilmington, N.C., suggested other reasons to prepare early.

“Some people in Wilmington waited until the last minute and had difficulty installing the converter boxes,” Effros said. “Other households found that, after installing boxes, they needed better set-top or rooftop antennas, in addition to the boxes, to get the new digital signals.”

A proprietary industry study conducted after the Wilmington transition found that about one in five converter boxes did not work as advertised. Also, about one in four people found they needed to adjust or replace antennas, and about one in three needed additional converter boxes.

“While issues like these demonstrate that early preparation is wise,” Effros said, “the inconvenience of the converter boxes may prove to be too much for some people, convincing them to select one of the easier options, such as purchasing a newer set or signing up with a cable or other TV service provider.”

Suddenlink is providing online information to help its customers learn more about the transition, with links to relevant third-party and government Web sites. Since March, this information has been viewed more than 10,000 times and is currently averaging around 1,200 views per month. Suddenlink has also been televising public service announcements about the transition and started printing information on customers’ bills April 1.

Any TV set (old or new) hooked up to any level of Suddenlink cable TV service should not be affected by the transition. Suddenlink customers do not need to buy additional equipment to keep their TV sets working after the transition.