Iowa Public Television

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The DTV Converter


Greetings from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. IPTV recently started airing some information announcement regarding the federal coupon program for the purchase of set-top DTV converter boxes. Since the program is currently taking coupon orders I have come here to look for the boxes to get an idea on what the consumer will be buying. My first stop was at the LG Electronics booth which was showing dozens of different HD televisions. After unsuccessfully searching for converter I found someone to ask. I was taken to a back room in the LG booth and there was an actual converter. The picture here shows the Zenith DTT900. When I saw the converter I was not able to actually see it in operation because it was not hooked to a television set or an antenna. I did get to look over the physical box. It is quite small, probably less than 10 inches wide and less than 8 inches deep. The back has one antenna input for a digital off-air receive antenna and an analog antenna output that would be hooked to the television. There are also a video and stereo audio outputs for hooking to the video and audio input of a television set. I am told it has a remote control but that was not present however, LG has agreed to send me one of the boxes for testing and evaluation so I will have more information after I receive it and try it out. I can tell you that according to LG, it will sell for $59.95.

I next went to visit Samsung to see the box that they will be shipping. After another unsuccessful search of the booth I again found someone to ask about the converter. I was told that they have a box in design but it was not at the show. I later heard from some fairly reliable people that the Samsung box actually failed to meet the requirements of the NTIA program and that they have subsequently pulled it from out of the program I was unable to confirm that information but I will try again.

The third and final place I stopped was at the Echostar booth where they were showing the TR-40 digital-to-analog converter. This is another NTIA coupon eligible product and was similar in size to the Zenith unit. The biggest difference in this device was the price. The price of this box will be $39.95 which is $20.00 cheaper than the Zenith unit and perhaps more importantly means that it will be free with an NTIA coupon. I was unable to get much more information or arrange for a unit to be sent to me for evaluation but I will contact them again to try and arrange for a unit.

So, although the boxes are not yet available to the consumer, they will be available soon and as soon as I have had a chance to try them out, I'll post the result.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

Many rumors are flying around about these converters. Is there a monthly charge connected with their use? I had heard once that all television will require a monthly fee, similar to cable TV, after January 2009.

Jennifer Konfrst said...

Once you purchase the box to convert your signal to digital on your analog set, there is no fee to watch over-the-air broadcasting using that box. Over-the-air broadcasting will not have monthly fees charged to viewers.

Anonymous said...

But if broadcasters choose they could add encryption that wouldn't allow recording or at least limit it.

Anonymous said...

We live in rural Lamoni (near the Missouri line in south-central Iowa). According to the coverage map, we won't receive a signal from ANY tower. What options, if any, do we have? We currently receive IPTV from channel 11 Des Moines, and receive all major networks.

Anonymous said...

We currently can receive the digital IPTV broadcasts with smaller UHF antenna. Which stations will move to the VHF band after Feb 2009? The larger VHF antennas are not allowed in our neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

How do I get these coupons that IPTV have been advertising for these converter boxes? and when do they come out in the stores?

Jennifer Konfrst said...

You can apply for the coupons at www.dtv2009.gov, and they'll send them to you once they're available in stores. We're hearing they'll be available in late Feb/early March. You have 90 days from when the coupons are sent to you to use them to purchase converter boxes.

Anonymous said...

Is there a limited amount of box coupons that are to be issued?

Jennifer Konfrst said...

The NTIA (the government organization issuing the coupons) says they have millions of coupons on hand, with an option to issue more coupons should they run out. Each household can have up to two coupons.

Anonymous said...

Would there be any advantage to wait until February 2009 is closer? What if you purchase a converter box and it doesn't work? Isn't this something you won't be aware of until the switch occurs?

Anonymous said...

Would there be any advantage to wait until February 2009 is closer? What if you purchase a converter box and it doesn't work? Isn't this something you won't be aware of until the switch occurs?

Bill Hayes said...

You would be much better off purchasing the converter box as soon as possible. The box can be installed and used now so you don't have to wait until the transition occurs.

Bill Hayes said...

Addressing the issue of viewer living near the Missouri border, if you currently receive service from IPTV analog service, it is most likely that you are currently receiving a digital signal from IPTV on channel 50 and will continue to receive the digital signal once we move the service back to channel 11 in February of 2009.

Anonymous said...

Do we have to buy a new antenna? Or will the old antenna work with the box? my husband thinks we need to buy a "digital" antenna.

Bill Hayes said...

If you are getting good analog service on your existing antenna, it will in all likelihood work fine for digital reception. Your husband is probably not going to like my answer but, there is no such thing as a "digital" antenna. In digital broadcasting we are using the same frequencies that we used in analog broadcasting, we're just putting a different type of signal on them. Since antennas are designed to receive frequencies and don't really care about the type of signal (digital or analog) that is carried on the frequencies, a standard television antenna will work.
Now having said that, if your existing antenna is in bad shape, it probably isn't working very well for analog and won't work any better for digital. The difference will be that while a poor antenna in analog may result in a noisy picture, in digital it may result in no picture.
My suggestion is hook up the box to the old antenna and see if it works. My guess is that it will.
Bill

Anonymous said...

I have not received my coupons for the digital converter and it is March 12. Has there been some sort of delay?

Anonymous said...

I have only indoor "rabbit ears" - will they be sufficient after the switch? Also, I assume my VCR will largely be unusable because I would have to have the converter set to the channel I want to record so I couldn't watch one show and tape a different show. Is that correct? And one last question, are there enough connections on the coverter to attach both an indoor antenna and a VCR at the same time? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

We hooked up a converter box that does not have analog pass-thru capabilities. Now we do not get the analog version of IPTV station and my family is missing out on programs that are aired only on that station (Ch 12 Iowa City/Cedar Rapids). Are there immediate plans to put those programs on the digital channel? (for example, Nova is only seen on the analog channel). Otherwise, using the converter box has been a wonderful enhancement for us in watching TV -- stations are very clear and there's an on-screen tv guide (we use the DigitalSTREAM box). One drawback is the pixelation that occurs occasionally during bad weather or when an airplane flys over and interrupts the signal -- we live near the CR airport.

Anonymous said...

In regards to which converter box to purchase...Do not waste your money on the RCA DTA800 sold at Wal-Mart. Too many people have been having problems with this in not pulling in certain local stations...and if you used your coupon, you're out of luck in getting it back. I've already filed a complaint with the DTV Coupon Program people and was informed there have been many complaints about Wal-Mart's policy and the RCA box.

Jennifer Konfrst said...

Thank you for your questions regarding our analog signal on the converter boxes. Hopefully within the next week we will be broadcasting our analog signal on our digital channel, on the .3 channel. So, for the viewers in Iowa City, you'll be able to see children's shows, etc. (our regular analog schedule) on 12.3. We're testing it right now, and plan to have it up shortly. I'll post a new entry when that has happened. thanks for your interest!

Anonymous said...

"Thank you for your questions regarding our analog signal on the converter boxes. Hopefully within the next week we will be broadcasting our analog signal on our digital channel, on the .3 channel. So, for the viewers in Iowa City, you'll be able to see children's shows, etc. (our regular analog schedule) on 12.3. We're testing it right now, and plan to have it up shortly. I'll post a new entry when that has happened. thanks for your interest!"

Super!!! But, since most of us are new at this, please bear with me and others on these questions! Do you know if this will mean we will have to "reprogram"/rescan our converter box to capture the new signal? Or is this up to each individual manufacturer?

Jennifer Konfrst said...

Hello there! We're all learning together so no worries.

You will not need to reprogram your converter box - it will "find" it when it searches for channels because the channel has the data the box needs.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

We noticed that the analog shows on local Ch 12 were shown in digital on 12.3 this past weekend! This is FANTASTIC! However, I heard too that this was just a test and it may go away! :( Please don't take away our 12.3 station! It seems to be working just fine in The Corridor area!

On another note, we did have to "rescan" our converter box in order for the 12.3 signal to be "captured" in the box. However, on our daughter's HDTV it just appeared when you went through channel selection or entered 12.3 via the remote.

Anonymous said...

I bought (with a coupon) a RCA DTA800 at Walmart, the only model available within 25 miles of Mount Pleasant. I have nothing to compare it to, but I was expecting a little better receiver sensitivity than what this unit provides. Engineer Bill Hayes said that if a viewer was getting an analog signal they would most likely get the digital signal. For me that is not necessarliy true. In Mount Pleasant with an outside antenna I can get Cedar Rapids commercial stations snowy but watchable but I can't get the digital signals at all. I also can't get WHBF digital from the QC like I can their analog, but I can get the other QC digital broadcasts, though KWQC breaks up to the point that it's not worth watching. One good news is that KIIN digital is rock solid and I like the three different channels. That alone is worth the cost of the converter. I am hoping for better digital reception with a different brand of converter or with a new digital set that would presumably have a more sensitive tuner.

Anonymous said...

I'm the one from Mount Pleasant that bought the RCA converter box and wasn't able to capture the digital signal of several stations in which I can receive a decent analog signal. After looking at the FCC database I see that many commercial stations are currently running their UHF digital transmitters at low power, such as 67kw while many full power UHF analog stations run 1000kw or more. Since UHF signals don't propagate as far as VHF, that would explain why digital reception isn't too good for those 80 miles or more from a transmitter. Maybe once stations get up to full power and/or move back to VHF we'll get reliable digital signals. In any event, it is obvious that IPTV is ahead of the commercial stations in getting into the digital age. KIIN's signal is solid (it is great on analog too) and the picture quality is better than what I see on the few other digital stations I get with this converter box.

Anonymous said...

Update on the RCA DTA800 box. We called RCA and found out the set up instructions were misprinted. The instructions currently say on Step 4, #3, "Select INPUT". It should say "Select MENU". Also, DO NOT PUSH 3-4 times...just push MENU one time... The menu will come up and continue on from there. It took only about 90 SECONDS (instead of 45-60 MINS) to go through the channels (and NO STALLING around 73%). Hope this helps those of you who had problems. It definitely helped us and we are getting all the local stations now. We also purchased a new UHF antenna for the roof (the old antenna needed to be replaced anyway). This is helping with reception.

Anonymous said...

Viewers buying new antennas with the primary purpose of receiving digital should invest in an all-channel (VHF and UHF) antenna. All digital transmissions at this time are on the higher UHF frequencies, but many stations that currently operate analog on VHF will migrate back to VHF when their analog transmitters sign off for good on 2/17/2009. Those viewers in the fringe reception area will probably get better digital reception at that time. But since some stations will remain on UHF, make sure your antenna can receive both VHF and UHF.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know of a brand/model of TV that would be good for reception of over-the-air stations. We live in a fringe area with marginal DTV reception with our converter box. Eventually we will buy a new TV and would like one with a sensitive tuner - if any such brand stands out among the others.

Bill Hayes said...

I don't think the brand of television is really what you need to focus on. If you live at the fringe of a signal your reception will really be more of a function of the antenna you use. There is a website (www.antennaweb.org) that can help you identify the antenna that you need in your area for reliable reception.

The tuners in the converter boxes are very good so if you are not getting good reception with the box, a new TV will probably not do much better.

Bill

Anonymous said...

Is there any particular brand of converter box with analog passthru that stands out at being good ? Since we have DishNetwork in addition to our outside antenna, I think we would need one with analog passthru to still see the Dish with the converter in line.

Bill Hayes said...

Since I am not a satellite subscriber, I am not sure how they deal with the separate signals from the satellite antenna and the television antenna. Can you tell me the name and model of the satellite set top box you are using?

Bill

Anonymous said...

Bill...our Dish receiver is model 322. The over-the-air antenna is inputted in the back of the receiver which passes those signals. But since our RCA DTV converter doesn't have analog passthru, I use a splitter to feed the Dish receiver and DTV converter. I assumed it wouldn't pass the Dish signal going in to our TV on channel 4. We get good DTV reception with this setup, especially KIIN and a few commercial stations. But we do have problems when I have used that same DTV box on 2 other TVs. The Dish receiver sends the signal to the other TVs (ones not located by the Dish receiver) via channels 21-69 (currently set to 60). At the other TV's I can't get any over-the-air digital signals unless I bypass the Dish system, feeding the antenna directly to the converter. Since we are 50 miles or more from all DTV transmitter sites I know those signals are borderline anyway and perhaps any additional losses because of the Dish system could affect DTV, though we get good analog reception with the other 2 sets along with the Dish programming on ch.60. I could see a conflict if a local DTV station was on or near 60, but I know KIIN is on 45 which should be far enough away from the Dish signal on 60.

Anonymous said...

no comment just a question. I followed all instruction to connect the converter box and an icon reads NO SIGNAL CHECK ANTENNA.I did but no results. Can someone assist me? what is wrong.

Anonymous said...

i just received T3aPRO digital to analog converter box. after connecting RFin/out still no signal.it was unable to find any channels. when i checked on the converter box it showed the signal was good. then i tried AV cable..still no channels or signal.
what are my options.are ther any converters with antennas already installed.

Bill Hayes said...

Well since you can see the messages and menus that are generated by the T3A, you obviously have the box hooked up to the set correctly. The next question is about the signal being good. If the signal indicator coming from the box indiscates a good signal then that means that when you scanned for digital channels it found some otherwise the meter shouldn't show any thing. When you change channels do you see a visual indication of the stations as you tune through them? That would at least tell you that you are receiving the station's PSIP data. A couple of things to try would be hooking the box to a different television and see if you get the same results or take the box back to the store and exchange it for another one. I haven't had a box not work when I turned it on but that certainly doesn't mean it doesn't happen and you may have one with a manufacturing defect.

Bill

Anonymous said...

Live near Biggsville, IL and Burlington, IA. I also bought the RCA converter box from Wal-mart and used very old rabbit ears from an old TV set I was able to get 9 channels with those. I thought I would buy a newer antenna which was the Philips Mant410 model also from Wal-mart. After playing around with it quite a bit I was back to my original channels (old rabbit ears) and picked up the 3 PBS stations. However I can't hit WHBF for the life of me with any antenna or setup. The outside antenna would pick up WHBF but was very fuzzy. Currently I have KWQC 6.1 and 6.2, WQAD 8.1, 8.2, and 8.3 (MYTV 16), PBS 12.1, 12.2, 12.3, Fox 18.1, CW 18.2, KWKB 20.1, CW 26.1. A total of 12 channels but no CBS. Has anyone been able to get WHBF 4?

Anonymous said...

I live in Los Angeles. After the RCA DTA800 converter box is connected to my rabbit ear indoor antenna and TV, I can not receive channel 7 (ABC) which I normally I get clearly. The RCA converter does not have channel edit feature that I can manually add the missing channel. I also miss channel 2 (CBS) and Channel 28 (PBS). Does anyone know how I can get these channel back? Thanks!

Janet said...

I enjoy the DTV Converter...however, my issues with it happen to be when I am enjoying a movie or a show, sometimes the station blacks out (sound and all). As I flip through stations, it isn't the only station that is loosing signal. Why is it doing this and is there a way to prevent it? I am sick of stations blacking out for 30 min. or so because I miss my program. This problem is happening to us in Iowa, near Des Moines.

Bill Hayes said...

Greetings Janet,

Regarding you reception questions and what can be done to improve it, I need some more information regarding how you are receiving the signals. Are you using an indoor antenna like rabbit ears or an outdoor antenna?

Initially it sounds like your receiver is right at the edge of where the decoder within the receiver runs out of information for decoding the signal and stops trying. On most of the boxes I have tested when this happens I see a black screen with a message that says weak signal.

Depending on the type of converter box you are using, they all have a signal strength meter that you can put on the screen to see how good the signal is. Some of the boxes have this right on the remote control and on some you have to go to the menu and select it. Since I don't know what type of box you are using, I am not sure where you need to look but assuming that you can find it, the meter gives you a pretty good indication of how strong the reception is and how stable it is. Most of the meters are either labled "Bad" on one end of the scale and "Good" on the other or they may have a three color scale with red, yellow and green where red is bad, yellow is questionable and green is good.

If you look at the meter and the signal is closer to "Bad" or red than "Good" or green, you are probably dealing with a signal that is close to failing. If the signal strength is moving around a lot, that means that there are a number of things changing or moving that are disrupting the signal and may also be causing it to fail. This is especially common when using indoor antennas.

I hope this helps.

Bill

Anonymous said...

I have a Zenith circa 1995. Is it possible that this is too old a set to convert to digital? I purchased a GE converter box, and it doesn't have any input or output holes.

Bill Hayes said...

All of the converter boxes have an antenna input, and RF output and video and audio outputs so that they can be connected to a television. It really doesn't matter how old the television is since the purpose of the converter box is to convert the digital signals so that any analog television can be used to view and listen to them. On the GE box, if you look at the rear of the unit on the left side you should see two 'f' connector fittings labled "ANT IN" and "TV OUT", a small switch that has "CH 3 CH4" and three RCA connectors (red, white, yellow) labled "Audio" over the red and white ones with "R", "L" and "Video" in that order under the RCA connectors.

Bill