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Tuning Into Digital TV

Lots of folks are confused about exactly how the February, 2009, conversion to digital broadcasts will affect them. Here's what you need to know

Achille Pollino writes: Many articles I've read say that if you have cable TV service, the change from analog to digital broadcasts in 2009 will not affect your analog TV set and you won't need to buy a converter box. If this is true, who converts the digital signal to analog for my analog TV? And what happens to my analog VCR?

The digital TV switchover has generated a tremendous amount of confusion. While the industry has launched a campaign to educate consumers, the evidence suggests that it's not working.

Depending on how you receive your television signals, one of three things will happen on Feb. 17, 2009, when most TV stations will cease analog broadcasts. (Note that the impact may vary by TV set, depending on how each analog TV in your house works. Sets with digital TV tuners will not be affected at all.)

If you get your TV signal through a cable or satellite box, the only change you may notice might be a shuffling of the channel lineup as the old analog channels go black. Your set will continue to work as before because cable and satellite set-top boxes are designed to work with both analog and digital TV sets.

If you receive your TV signals over the air, you will either need to replace the set with a new digital one or buy one of the converter boxes (, 1/28/08) starting to appear in stores. Most households will be eligible for one or more coupons worth $40 toward the purchase of a converter box. For more information or to apply for a coupon, see

If you have cable directly hooked up to a "cable-ready" analog TV, what will happen will depend both on regulatory actions yet to be taken and, more important, on your cable provider's plans. That's because analog, cable-ready sets are becoming less viable as more cable companies phase out their analog services.

What is true of your TV will be true for your VCR: If it gets its signal from a set-top box it will be fine.

Wildstrom is writer and editor of BusinessWeek's personal technology column, "Technology You," a position he assumed in April, 1994. Wildstrom joined BusinessWeek in 1972 as a correspondent in Detroit and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1974 as labor correspondent for McGraw-Hill World News. He was named economic correspondent in 1977, and covered fiscal policy and economic analysis. In 1985, he was named senior news editor of BusinessWeek's Washington bureau. He has received two National Magazine Awards and a McGraw-Hill Achievement Award. Adweek magazine named Wildstrom the U.S. technology industry's No. 1 media influencer in 2002.

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