Many people are unaware that as part of the “digital TV transition,” stations will be cutting off their traditional analog over-the-air broadcasts on February 17, 2009 in favor of digital signals. That’s why it’s good to see this article in the New York Times that gives a good overview of the changes. It’s the first article I’ve seen in a major publication that actually gets the details of the transition right.
Luckily, most of us have cable or satellite service, both of which will be unaffected by this change. What most people don’t think about, however, are the TVs in the garage or the basement that just have a set of rabbit ears. Without purchasing one of the new converter boxes that were finally introduced yesterday (and will be available in January), these TVs will show nothing but static after the cut-off. The government will be providing $40 coupons that will offset some of the cost of these devices, but there aren’t nearly enough coupons to cover every family in the country.
I’m going to be sure to request one of these coupons when they first become available even though I have cable TV. If there were ever some disaster where the cable service went out but the power stayed on, we’d be cut off from our main source of information if we didn’t have one of these new digital tuners in the house.
For this reason, I recommend everyone get a coupon and use it to buy a converter box, whether you have a TV with rabbit ears or not. Also, whatever you do, do not buy a TV over the next two years that doesn’t have a digital tuner built in. Its usefulness will expire on February 17, 2009.