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US consumers play game of find the DTV converter

Written by Rich Fiscus (Google+) @ 08 Aug 2008 14:29 User comments (21)

US consumers play game of find the DTV converter If you are one of the millions of Americans who have received a voucher for a government subsidized DTV converter you may be thinking you can just drive down to the store and pick up the unit you want. As I've recently found out first hand it's not quite that easy. The availability and selection of converters isn't nearly as good as the public service announcements make it seem. In fact you might not be able to find what you need locally at all.
Let's start with supply problems. After spending the better part of an afternoon tracking down a store near me that actually had them in stock, I've been calling various local retailers weekly to find out if this was simply a fluke. It's not.

In fact when I've inquired at various Walmart, Target, and Kmart locations the answer has been that they're out of stock most of the time. In just a couple of cases they indicated that the units come in at least once a week. At the majority of these national chain stores they apparently only receive them sporadically, and most of the time they fly off the shelves, often in less than a single day.

The good news for me is that I was able to find one retailer that seems to have them in most of the time. Based on my admittedly unscientific research it seems that Best Buy is doing a much better job of keeping DTV converters in stock. Although there isn't one in the area, I've also been checking Circuit City's website and they also appear to have them in stock as a general rule.

I contacted Best Buy and Walmart hoping to find out if there's a shortage of coupon-eligible converter boxes. Best Buy's Brian Lucas was quite candid about the situation, indicating that they experienced a shortage in July, but have since dealt with the issue. He said the problem was a result of upgrading to newer models with more features.

He also assured me that even if they run out at your local Best Buy you can order over the phone and still use your voucher. Their DTV Hotline and Order Center can be reached by calling 1-877-BBY-DTV9 (1-877-229-3889).

Walmart was less responsive. Although a company representative told me she'd look into the problem and let me know if there's some sort of supply problem, after four days no one has gotten back to me with any information.

S-Video
Now for the really bad news. If you're looking for a box with S-Video support your choices are even more limited. The only store I contacted where a DTV converter with S-Video out was even sold was Best Buy. Even if one of the other stores happened to have a box in stock they would be unsuitable for my use since I would be forced to switch my home theater computer to a composite video connection.

Analog pass through
If you happen to live in an area where low power broadcasts are available you may find that not all the local broadcasters will be upgrading to digital. In order to receive both analog and DTV signals you'll want a box that can tune DTV broadcasts while passing analog signals untouched to your TV. This feature, known as analog pass through, is only available on a few newer converter boxes.

I found converters with analog pass through at both Best Buy and Circuit City. Of course if you want both S-Video and analog pass through Circuit City's boxes won't do the job.

Why the rush?
Maybe you're asking yourself why worry about it now? After all there are nearly 200 days until analog signals are turned off next February. You have all kinds of time right? In fact that depends on how confident you are about receiving the DTV signals in your area.

Unlike analog signals, DTV transmissions suffer from something called the cliff effect. While analog TV reception gets gradually worse as signal quality degrades, DTV reception goes straight from excellent to no reception. If analog reception is anything less than spectacular where you live there's good reason to be concerned that you won't be able to watch the same channels in digital form without upgrading to a better antenna; perhaps even to a roof mounted unit.

If you've ordered a voucher from the federal government the clock has already started ticking. Vouchers are only good for 90 days from the issue date. If you wait until the last minute you may have a hard time using yours before they expire.

The best advice right now is be prepared. There's no need to panic, but that doesn't mean the picture is as rosy as the FCC would have you believe. If you watch over the air broadcasts make sure you're ready to receive them well in advance of the transition and you should be fine.

Update: Hobbit112 correctly brought up my omission of Radio Shack as a national retailer carrying DTV converters. Like the majority of retailers it seems they often don't have them in stock, but unlike most they can and will order one for you at no charge. Like Circuit City's converters they feature analog pass through, but not S-video.

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21 user comments

18.8.2008 15:09

Nice, thats good to know.

28.8.2008 15:15

Go to Radio Shack. If they don't have one in stock they'll ship it to your home with free shipping. You can't use your coupon online with them.

Picked up a Digital Stream 9950 with analog pass-through myself that way.

38.8.2008 15:29

Originally posted by hobbit112:
Go to Radio Shack. If they don't have one in stock they'll ship it to your home with free shipping. You can't use your coupon online with them.

Picked up a Digital Stream 9950 with analog pass-through myself that way.

Thanks for the tip. I'll give them a call and see what I can add here. Do they have converters with S-video?

48.8.2008 17:49

Not that you can use a coupon on that I know of.

58.8.2008 19:11

Just go here= https://www.dtv2009.gov/VendorSearch.aspx Use this site to pick an online retailer. I looked at them all and picked the best at the cheapest price after the code.

68.8.2008 22:39
cousinkix
Inactive

Quote:
DTV reception goes straight from excellent to no reception. If analog reception is anything less than spectacular where you live there's good reason to be concerned that you won't be able to watch the same channels in digital form without upgrading to a better antenna; perhaps even to a roof mounted unit.
Forget that antenna in an apartment building. You will become a captive of the cable TV provider with some help from big government's stupid regulations.

The same thing is true of radio communications. That's why you hear so much static, when you tune into the LAPD and other major networks on line. What works for TV doesn't work so well for first responders in a dire emergency. The 9/11 attacks resulted in communications chaos in New York city. Digital Project 25 radios aren't much good in high rise buildings either. That's why some cities just south of San Francisco went back to using their analog FM radios which rarely cut out on them...

79.8.2008 15:21
fgamer
Inactive

It's so funny because allot of these networks like NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX are gonna lose allot of viewership if they don't make this issue known. You'd think those major networks would be on top of this subject a little more than what they currentyl are. Because Feb, 2009 is not that far off. I just feel bad for the elderly and poor that'll probably suffer the most from this conversion.

89.8.2008 16:11

Originally posted by fgamer:
It's so funny because allot of these networks like NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX are gonna lose allot of viewership if they don't make this issue known. You'd think those major networks would be on top of this subject a little more than what they currentyl are. Because Feb, 2009 is not that far off. I just feel bad for the elderly and poor that'll probably suffer the most from this conversion.

I find that interesting as well. Maybe they're saving it all for the end of the year when it's too late to make any difference. There are too many public interest stories to waste time on something that actually affects people's lives.

99.8.2008 16:14

I did not have any problems signing up for the cards online or receiving them. I found the boxes at the second place I went Sams-Wally world did not have them. They had the magnavox TB100MW9 on sale for $45- with $80 worth of rebates it sill cost me almost $20 out my pocket becasue Sam's charges the TAX before the rebates kick in. Got them home and neither would turn on. Plugged them in and remote would not turn on. Read up and heard a lot of the boxes are not turning on--WRONG- they work just fine if you finally get out and pour thru the instructions and notice the on/off switch on the side concealed in the rear. Once you turn that on the box does come on. READ- I plead guilty. LMAO

Edit maker FUNAI: on their web site is no help at all. I'm syre they are getting a lot of these units back just because the switch was not in the on position from factory OR warned of on a first step page in manual!

This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 09 Aug 2008 @ 16:16

109.8.2008 16:50

Originally posted by fgamer:
It's so funny because allot of these networks like NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX are gonna lose allot of viewership if they don't make this issue known. You'd think those major networks would be on top of this subject a little more than what they currentyl are. Because Feb, 2009 is not that far off. I just feel bad for the elderly and poor that'll probably suffer the most from this conversion.
The changeover doesn't really affect the nationals, it affects the local stations that rebroadcast the nationals. In my area all the local stations are running informational spots about the changeover plus any store that carries tvs also has information posted.

Quote:
Forget that antenna in an apartment building. You will become a captive of the cable TV provider
It's my impression most people in apartment buildings are already subscribing to cable. But if you're not, and you are currently using an antenna you should be ok, unless your stations broadcast from more than 20 miles away. Go to www.antennaweb.org, put in your address and it'll show how far away the stations are and will also give recommendations for antennas.
This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 09 Aug 2008 @ 16:53

119.8.2008 18:31

Quote:
The changeover doesn't really affect the nationals, it affects the local stations that rebroadcast the nationals. In my area all the local stations are running informational spots about the changeover plus any store that carries tvs also has information posted.

Of course it affects them. How do you think they get their programming to OTA viewers if not through the local stations we're talking about?
Quote:
It's my impression most people in apartment buildings are already subscribing to cable. But if you're not, and you are currently using an antenna you should be ok, unless your stations broadcast from more than 20 miles away. Go to www.antennaweb.org, put in your address and it'll show how far away the stations are and will also give recommendations for antennas.

That's simply not true. There are many things that affect reception besides distance. I live in a house within 20 miles of several transmitters, but I barely get any reception because of the power lines right outside my house. Receiving digital broadcasts here requires a serious antenna upgrade because of that.

I'll repeat what I said in the article. If you have problems tuning in analog channels expect to have worse problems tuning in DTV. I'd also add f everything comes in beautifully you shouldn't have to worry about it. If your situation is somewhere in between the two extremes the only way to be sure is to try it out yourself. That's true whether you're 20 feet or 200 miles from the source.

This is complicated by the fact that not all DTV broadcasts are at full power right now, and in fact some aren't even on the same frequency they'll be using after the transition.

1210.8.2008 4:06

Quote:
Quote:
The changeover doesn't really affect the nationals, it affects the local stations that rebroadcast the nationals. In my area all the local stations are running informational spots about the changeover plus any store that carries tvs also has information posted.

Of course it affects them. How do you think they get their programming to OTA viewers if not through the local stations we're talking about?
Quote:
It's my impression most people in apartment buildings are already subscribing to cable. But if you're not, and you are currently using an antenna you should be ok, unless your stations broadcast from more than 20 miles away. Go to www.antennaweb.org, put in your address and it'll show how far away the stations are and will also give recommendations for antennas.

That's simply not true. There are many things that affect reception besides distance. I live in a house within 20 miles of several transmitters, but I barely get any reception because of the power lines right outside my house. Receiving digital broadcasts here requires a serious antenna upgrade because of that.

I'll repeat what I said in the article. If you have problems tuning in analog channels expect to have worse problems tuning in DTV. I'd also add f everything comes in beautifully you shouldn't have to worry about it. If your situation is somewhere in between the two extremes the only way to be sure is to try it out yourself. That's true whether you're 20 feet or 200 miles from the source.

This is complicated by the fact that not all DTV broadcasts are at full power right now, and in fact some aren't even on the same frequency they'll be using after the transition.

Im no engineer, but i believe its the way traditional antenna's receive signals, traditional antenna's actually bounce the signal off the antenna where as Digital antenna's do not. digital antenna's absorb the signal received.

like i said this is just pure speculation on my part.

1311.8.2008 9:00

You can also order converter boxes using the coupon program through online dealers. The coupon program website lists all of the online dealers certified to sell the boxes via web order. What is interesting is that none of these are "well known" dealers. For example, I was disappointed to see that NewEgg was not listed. In fact, most of these "dealers" appear to be shops that were set up specifically to sell converter boxes - most have amateur-ish created websites and checkout systems. Once the program is over, you'll never hear of these "companies" again. At first you look at the long list of suppliers and think you're gonna be all set to find and order what you want online, but once you filter through all of the sites, decide upon the correct product, find a place that won't gouge you on shipping, and then find someone who can actually take your order, your options become quite limited. It leads me to wonder why there are no major online retailers like NewEgg, TigerDirect, oetc part of this program?

1411.8.2008 12:01

Quote:
Im no engineer, but i believe its the way traditional antenna's receive signals, traditional antenna's actually bounce the signal off the antenna where as Digital antenna's do not. digital antenna's absorb the signal received.

like i said this is just pure speculation on my part.

There's no such thing as a digital antenna. Radio waves are radio waves, and they're all analog. Having said that, it's a lot easier to find a good antenna than just a few years ago because the availability of broadcast DTV has made them popular among enthusiasts who avoided broadcast TV in the past. Those same antennas should also improve reception of analog signals.

1511.8.2008 12:22

Quote:
There's no such thing as a digital antenna. Radio waves are radio waves, and they're all analog. Having said that, it's a lot easier to find a good antenna than just a few years ago because the availability of broadcast DTV has made them popular among enthusiasts who avoided broadcast TV in the past. Those same antennas should also improve reception of analog signals.
Alright.

1613.8.2008 1:09

BSAT e-shop has a really good deal on the RCA DTA800B1 and DTVPAL. They have them listed for $47.99. BSAT website is http://dtv.bsat.net
and they are a certified NTIA online retailer.
Hey I can pay for shipping anytime insteadof paying for gas driving around town to find a converter box!

1715.8.2008 11:03

What can I do to replace my gov coupons after they expire if I didn't use them yet?
birdaug

1815.8.2008 21:40

Originally posted by birdaug:
What can I do to replace my gov coupons after they expire if I didn't use them yet?
birdaug

That's actually something of a contentious issue right now. They FCC has basically said they plan to wait and see what happens even though they know many vouchers have expired. In fact reading this I'm reminded I have one that expires after today and I won't have a chance to use it today unless I do it on the internet or over the phone.

I wouldn't hold your breath on getting replacements. At least not if you want them before D-Day (or DTV-Day) next year.

1916.8.2008 0:22

I bought an apex converter at best buy (dallas) last week that had analog pass-through and an s-video out.. it was 59.99

2018.8.2008 6:59
zorb43
Inactive

Originally posted by BobL:
You can also order converter boxes using the coupon program through online dealers. The coupon program website lists all of the online dealers certified to sell the boxes via web order. What is interesting is that none of these are "well known" dealers. For example, I was disappointed to see that NewEgg was not listed. In fact, most of these "dealers" appear to be shops that were set up specifically to sell converter boxes - most have amateur-ish created websites and checkout systems. Once the program is over, you'll never hear of these "companies" again. At first you look at the long list of suppliers and think you're gonna be all set to find and order what you want online, but once you filter through all of the sites, decide upon the correct product, find a place that won't gouge you on shipping, and then find someone who can actually take your order, your options become quite limited. It leads me to wonder why there are no major online retailers like NewEgg, TigerDirect, oetc part of this program?
I am thinking it might be because only 10 to 15% of the population uses Over the Air TV so they might think that people don't really need them. I got mine to use as backup after the cable might go out after another hurricane. Anyone who can't spend $20.00 per month on basic cable has to really be a cheapskate or a miser. I really do believe it is a sickness...

2118.8.2008 9:02

Quote:
Originally posted by BobL:
You can also order converter boxes using the coupon program through online dealers. The coupon program website lists all of the online dealers certified to sell the boxes via web order. What is interesting is that none of these are "well known" dealers. For example, I was disappointed to see that NewEgg was not listed. In fact, most of these "dealers" appear to be shops that were set up specifically to sell converter boxes - most have amateur-ish created websites and checkout systems. Once the program is over, you'll never hear of these "companies" again. At first you look at the long list of suppliers and think you're gonna be all set to find and order what you want online, but once you filter through all of the sites, decide upon the correct product, find a place that won't gouge you on shipping, and then find someone who can actually take your order, your options become quite limited. It leads me to wonder why there are no major online retailers like NewEgg, TigerDirect, oetc part of this program?
I am thinking it might be because only 10 to 15% of the population uses Over the Air TV so they might think that people don't really need them. I got mine to use as backup after the cable might go out after another hurricane. Anyone who can't spend $20.00 per month on basic cable has to really be a cheapskate or a miser. I really do believe it is a sickness...

I would say someone insisting that I owe a cable company $20 a month for the privilege of watching free TV stations (which probably look better as OTA DTV) is the one with a problem. There are a lot of people who can't afford an extra $20 a month and/or don't get $20 worth of value from watching TV.

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