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Cable TV digital converter box

Do I really need a digital converter box for my TV?

Cable tv digital converter box

You might think that with the switch to digital television you need to buy a new, expensive high-definition television (HDTV) set. You can do that if you want to, and you'd have many good reasons to do so. HDTV offers better sound, a larger picture and a higher resolution. But despite the drop in prices that has come with more players in the market, these machines are still out of range of many household budgets.

So do you have to buy a fancy new TV and junk the old one? The simple answer is no. If your television has a digital tuner - the component that helps you tune into TV stations - already built in, you don't need a new TV. However, if you're still using an older TV with an analog tuner built in, like millions of people, the switch didn't make your TV obsolete. In fact, it should clean up your reception, but it won't make your television show look like high-definition programming.

The difference in analog and digital is pretty simple. Unlike digital broadcasting, which is either off or on, an analog signal can waver in relation to factors such as the strength of the signal. If you've ever had to get up to play with the antenna on your TV to get a better picture, you'll appreciate digital broadcasting. If your digital TV is getting a signal at all, you're getting clear audio and video.

­That said, if you have a TV with an analog tuner and a terrestrial antenna - not a satellite dish antenna - you need a digital-to-analog converter box to continue watching TV now that the deadline for conversion has passed. You need a converter for every tuner you have, whether it's for a TV or for the videocassette recorder or digital video recorder you use to record shows. So if you have a second TV in another room, you need a box for that one, as long as it has an analog tuner built in.

Televisions with digital tuners built in will probably be labeled as such. If you aren't sure about yours, check your owner's manual or contact the manufacturer for more information. The Web is a good place to look; many companies keep information on older models online for reference.

Do you subscribe to digital cable or satellite TV? If you do, the box that goes on your TV handles the conversion for you. In fact, the analog-to-digital switch really affected just local broadcasters. Satellite and cable stations don't use the same frequencies that your local network affiliates do. So if you're not using an antenna to watch TV, the switch didn't affect you.

Are you an analog cable subscriber? Here's a clue: If you plug the cable directly into the back of your television, your cable company might be offering you analog service. The FCC requires cable companies to provide analog signals for local stations that have switched to digital signals as long as they offer analog feeds for any other channel. You may be fine for now, but if you're concerned that your TV will go dark in the future, you should contact your cable provider.

There are a few exceptions to the conversion rule, though. Low-power, Class A and TV translator stations don't have to make the switch to digital just yet. These stations are usually rural or local community stations, and while they didn't have to switch in June 2009, they'll be required to switch over in the future [source: FCC].

If you watch one of these stations regularly, make sure to get a converter box that has analog pass-through capability, and you can continue to receive those channels. Otherwise, you'll have to get a signal splitter and divide the signal from your antenna for digital and analog stations.

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