20 Apr 2008 12:00 pm   //   Filed under: No right to be good, Technology

My TVs are so converted

TV Converter box coupon

Since I don’t subscribe to cable, I’ll need a converter box to keep getting over-the-air TV when the digital switch happens next year. This has to do with making more spectrum available for big telecom companies that are paying billions of dollars to the government.

Throwing us a bone for this inconvenience, the government is offering $40 coupons to offset the cost of digital converter boxes. I got my coupons in the mail last week. I wondered: Would all my channels come in crystal clear? Or would I now get no TV whatsoever?

All the converter boxes on the market seem basically the same, and they all cost $60. I bought one at Circuit City (Zenith DTT900) and one at Best Buy (Insignia NS-DXA1). They are identical in every way except the badge on the front.

The boxes were packaged with cables and a remote with a battery. Setup was easy. My rabbit ears connect to the box, and the box connects to the TV. As for the reception, almost everything comes in much clearer. The exception is channel 13, the PBS station in Manhattan, which doesn’t come in at all. But somehow, I can pull in the PBS station from Montclair, go figure.

Apart from the clearer picture, digital TV offers a couple of nifty features. If a program airs in wide-screen, I can toggle between letterbox and full screen by tapping a button on the remote. I now receive a bunch of digital sub-channels, lonely outposts occupied by cheap filler programming. Some of them show endless weather loops, and some air reruns. I get a feed of traffic cameras, a scary religious station, and an array of international channels. There’s an on-screen TV guide, which isn’t flawless (you have to tune to a channel first to see what’s on it) but it’s better than nothing.

Switching to digital TV was fairly painless for me. But I wonder if everyone in America who still has an analog TV will bother to go through this unintuitive series of steps. (Applying for a coupon, taking the coupon to the store, buying the box, hooking it up, learning how to use it.) TV is supposed to be a passive experience, not something that requires actual effort.