On Feb. 17, 2009, major U.S. television stations will stop broadcasting analog signals and send only digital transmissions.
Some questions and answers about the transition:
Why is this happening?
Stopping the analog broadcasts will free up a huge amount of airwaves. The government has auctioned off some of them for use by wireless broadband and cell-phone TV. There's also a drive to use some of the spectrum for a network that can be used in emergency situations by public safety officials.
Do I need a digital converter box?
If you have cable or satellite TV, only extra sets that are not hooked up will be affected. If you get TV over the air — which more than 19 million U.S. households do, according a survey by Nielsen Co. — your TV might not work come Feb. 18. Most new TVs sold today, including flat-panel sets, have digital tuners, sometimes called "ATSC" tuners after the technical standard they use, and won't need a converter box.
"NTSC" is the old, analog tuner standard. Retailers can still sell older TVs if they are labeled as being analog-only.
How much do the converters cost?
Go to http://www.dtv2009.gov or call 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009) to get up to two $40 coupons per household. The converter boxes generally cost $50-$60, so the final cost is between $10 and $20 per box.