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Survival guide to the DTV transition

How to make sure your old television set is ready to make the leap next year.

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Millions of Americans could flick on their televisions in February to find their regularly scheduled programs replaced by static “snow.”

On Feb. 17, all high-power TV stations will switch modes and begin broadcasting with an all-digital signal. While these new over-the-air signals are an improvement in many ways, antennas on older TVs cannot read them. Most people, whether they know it or not, are already prepared for the coming TV conversion. And even if you’re not, getting equipped only requires a small converter box. So, just in case, here’s a quick survival guide to make sure you’re ready for the end of analog TV.

Who’s affected?
If you have cable or satellite TV, you’re all set. The switch to a digital signal only messes with free, over-the-air broadcasts.

If you bought your TV in the past year, then you should be just fine. Federal law required stores to stop stocking analog-only television sets. The new models have a digital converter built in, allowing them to recognize the new airwaves. Pretty much every flat-panel or HD TV comes with this addition.

The only televisions that might hiccup come February are old tubes that are hooked up to an antenna and newer sets labeled as digital or HD “monitors.”

How to prepare (and not pay for it)
If you watch over-the-air programming and want to keep your aging analog TV, you’ll need to buy a digital-to-analog converter. These small set-top boxes take digital signals from an antenna and pass them along to the TV in analog form.

The boxes are available at most consumer electronics stores for about $40.

To help people recoup some of the cost of this move to digital, the government is issuing coupons for $40 off converter boxes. To apply for coupons, go to dtv2009.gov or call 888-388-2009.

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