Get $40 and HDTV on Your Old TV

We don’t have cable or satellite at our house, setting us apart from the majority of the US population, but that’s fine by me. We barely watch any TV, certainly not enough to warrant paying $50 a month. On the rare occasions we do watch, our powered indoor antenna gets around 5 clear channels. That has reduced our TV watching because you can only cycle through five stations so many times before you decide nothing’s on. With hundreds of channels it could take hours to determine nothing’s worth watching.

There are times when I’d like to watch sports or a TV movie that’s been edited, but it hasn’t been worth it to us yet. Until I found out more about the transition to digital.

On February 17, 2009 all analog signals will replaced by digital signals. If you use an antenna and don’t do anything, you will no longer get any channels. This is actually good news, because the US Government is giving out $40 coupons (limit of two per household) to subsidize your purchase of a digital signal converter. The converter will let you watch digital channels on your analog TV. There are several reasons you’ll like digital more than analog. The first is there are more channels coming online so you’re likely to get more stations over time. (Antenna Web will show you what channels you’ll get). There’s also a big quality improvement. The channels you get will look much better than before. No more snowy channels, laden with squiggly lines. If you get the channel, it will be crystal clear.

Most of the eligible digital converters cost around $50, dropping the out of pocket price down to a reasonable $10. Authorized retailers include Wal-Mart, BestBuy, RadioShack and Circuit City along with several online retailers.

The steps to upgrade are simple.

1. Apply for a coupon online or call 1-888-388-2009 to request one. 1

2. Use the coupon to buy a TV converter from an authorized retailer.

3. Hook it up and watch digital TV for free!

If you have any questions, check the FAQ.

1 I requested two coupons for our household on 5 April 2008 and the status page says they should be mailed out on 9 May 2008.


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  1. I get all my TV over the air, and digital reception is great. The converter boxes you speak of are perfect for old TVs, but it must be noted that they output analog, standard-definition signals. If you hook one up to an HD-ready TV expecting an HD picture, you’ll be disappointed. From what I understand, the cheapest way to get an HD tuner these days is to buy a DVD recorder that has a built-in ATSC tuner. The gov’t coupon won’t apply, but they’re not terribly expensive and you’re probably not *that* poor if you’ve purchased an HD-ready screen in the past. :)

    Comment by Levi on April 29, 2008 @ 12:32 pm
  2. Yup, the converter will let you watch digital channels on your analog TV. When you sign up for the coupons they point that out too. Thanks for the tip on the DVD recorder to get an HD tuner. My plan is to wait for the analog TV to bite the dust before upgrading to a 42″ LCD HDTV. Of course, that will take years, so I may spring for one if I find a fantastic deal.

    Comment by Dan on April 30, 2008 @ 3:29 pm
  3. This past week I went out and bought my DA converter box. I did a little research and it appears a lot of people are waiting for the Echostar box for features and price (essentially free with Fed coupon). The problem is it isn’t out until June or July (which probably means Aug), and the Fed coupon is only good for 90 days. So, I bought the RCA one and with the exception of a weak remote, it works great. I can watch all the broadcast channels now with great pictures (couldn’t do that before).

    Comment by Cameron on May 3, 2008 @ 12:11 pm
  4. Cameron: I’ve looked around and read reviews to see which one I should get (having not received my coupons yet). I hadn’t heard about the Echostar one, but I’m glad to hear the RCA works.

    Comment by Dan on May 3, 2008 @ 1:22 pm
  5. I finally got my coupons today and from the research I’ve done, it looks like the RCA DTA 800 is the best one out there right now. Walmart had it for $49.87 but it looks like they’re sold out (their site says it’s not available in stores or online). You can get one online for $54.99 plus shipping at BSAT. Best Buy has the Insignia NS-DXA1 for $59.99, Circuit City has the Zenith DTT900 for $59.99 and Radio Shack has the Digital Stream DTX9900 and Zenith DTT900 for $59.99.

    I’m going to hold onto my second coupon for what used to be the Echostar TR-40 but has been renamed to DTVPal.

    Comment by Dan on May 22, 2008 @ 9:56 pm
  6. Don’t believe what the Walmart web site says. I just got back from one and am now a proud owner of an RCA DTA 800 (there were over a dozen on the shelf). Oddly enough I went to Radio Shack first to get the Digital Stream DTX9900. Their site said it was in stock but the guy told me they were all out. What’s the point of having stocking information if it’s not accurate?

    Comment by Dan on May 23, 2008 @ 2:01 pm

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