Digital TV Converter Installation

Prologue
It is Halloween and I have set up my candy delivery station in the driveway. The station includes pumpkins, our dog dressed up in his Halloween costume, several well placed boxes to be used as tables, blankets, several layers of clothing, and, most importantly, my 30 year old TV so I can watch TV while delivering candy to the dwindling number of monsters, super heroes, cowboys and cowgirls, fairies, and walking dead coming by our neighborhood.
This Halloween, I’ll be golden, but, in 2009, my (then 32 year old TV) will need help decoding the new digital TV signal.
But….like a good Boy Scout / Navy Veteran….I am prepared, now, to continue my TV watching at Halloween. My TV is ready for the switch to digital!

Digital TV Conversion
As described in previous blogs and in the Tracy Press. Feb 2009 will see a dramatic change in the way the TV signal will be delivered to your television. It will be digital. This means that older televisions that do not have a “digital tuner” and that use an external antenna or rabbit ears will no longer be able receive the signal. To keep as many people as possible connected, the Government has a program in place that provides a solution. That solution includes a specially designed digital converter box that, when placed between your antenna and TV will allow you keep watching your favorite shows after the switch (and, as it turns, out before the conversion as well…like now!).

Contents of the Box: Converter Box, 3 foot long coax cable, remote, batteries for remote, a quick start guide, a user manual.

Back connections of the converter box
Result Summary
So you do not have to suffer thru the details if you do not want to, here is what I found out.
  1. Stations in our area (Sacramento stations) are transmitting digital TV signals.
  2. I get marginal reception in Tracy, CA with my rabbit ears. This means I get digital TV reception, but, it is not strong and I need to move the antenna around as I change channels. If you have a rooftop antenna….YeOldeTechy will go out on a limb and say that that antenna should work fine in the Tracy area, since it is much better than the rabbit ears I am using.
  3. I get more stations than I have ever gotten on my 30 year old TV! Channels that transmit in digital send multiple channels so I have more options. For example, KCRA transmits 2 channels and I can also call up a TV Guide for each channel…how cool is that!
  4. When I get a strong enough signal (the signal strength meter has to be “orange” to get a picture), the picture is the best I have ever seen on my 30 year old TV!
  5. I had a problem with the “auto sync” with the DigitalStream converter box during installation. You may or may not see this problem.

Advice
OK, if you were to ask me my opinion on what you should do to prepare, here is my best advice.
  1. If you can afford cable or satellite TV service…..get it.
  2. If you can afford to buy a new TV with a digital tuner included….do it.
  3. If you really want to keep your rooftop antenna ….make sure it is in good shape and the received signal is strong
  4. If you use rabbit ears and live in Tracy, CA…..switch to a rooftop antenna. We are in a marginal zone being between 40 and 60 miles from the antennas in Sacramento.
The digital converter box is a solution, but it is not an ideal solution. It adds complexity that you may not want. You need deal with yet another remote control, it adds wires and a box to the top of your TV, there is a new set of menus to go through, you may experience installation issues, and you may have reception issues. If your antenna is marginal now……it won’t work for the digital signal. The digital signal is either very good or it is breaking up badly or gone, there is no tweaking this box to find the best picture.

Cost
In January 2008, I applied for the Gov’t issued $40 digital TV converter coupon that allowed me to get $40 off the converter box. Radio Shack on 11th Street took this coupon and charged me $20 (well…..$19.99) for the converter box. If I did not have the 30 year old TV, all I would have needed to spend was that $20. However, since my 30 year old has other obsolete technology associated with it my total cost, to make everything work, was $53.00.
Ouch. I can buy a new small, non-HDTV, with a digital tuner at Best Buy for less than $100.00.

The Basics and Installation
I have two TV’s that would need a converter. My trusty Halloween partner and a newer 1996 TV I got for free after I bought something at Fry’s 12 years ago.
My 30 year old TV has internal rabbit ears and twin wire antenna connections. See the picture to see what the twin wire looks like.

Antenna connection for “30”

Since the digital TV converter box is based on the newer coax connector technology (see picture below of my newer TV, “1996”), I had to do some conversions to make the connection work on my 30 year old TV.
Antenna connection for “1996”
Here what I needed to do to make “30” work.
  1. Disconnect the rabbit ears from the TV’s input.
  2. Insert one end of a male-to-male coax adapter into a matching transformer.
  3. Connect one end of a short coax cable to the exposed part of the adapter.
  4. Connect the other end of that coax cable to the Converter Box “Antenna In” connector.
  5. Connect one end of another short coax cable to the “TV Out” connector of the converter box.
  6. Connect another matching transformer to the free end of that short coax cable.
  7. Screw the matching transformer tips into the TV input terminals.

Increasing wire mess

Final look
After this was complete, I was rewarded with a “Welcome” screen from the digital converter box. You could, using the remote control, select the language (English or Espanol), then move to the next screen and run an “auto scan” to find the digital signals. I found ZERO stations.
Yikes!
I then spent the next 30 to 45 minutes testing every part of my installation…all was fine. I turned off the converter box and then got a “Weak Signal” error message. Arrrghhh. I finally was able to get into the “Menu” where, after a few more minutes figuring out how to navigate through it, I ran another “auto scan”. Finally, that one worked…Yippee…..and the digital TV converter box started to find TV channels. Whew. See the picture of Dirk Verdoorn from KCRA Channel 3 below.
Screen shot
Okay…..was this worth all the extra cost and effort??? Not really.
Would I pay someone to do this for me, if I were technologically challenged??? No, I would buy a new TV for $100 or so.
Here is the installation process for my newer 1996 TV with the coax antenna connector:
  1. Connect the included coax cable from the converter box “TV out” into the coax connector on newer TV.
  2. Connect my new $19.00 rabbit ears antenna (which works terribly by the way) into the converter boxes “Antenna In” connector.
Is this worth the effort? Yes…but now I have that extra remote control and a box sitting on top of the TV, and a badly operating pair of rabbit ears on top of all that.

Moral of the Story: If you have a really really old TV….time to buy a new one. If you have a newer TV, you can spend the $20 on the converter box and have a decent experience…maybe.

Summary
Transitions to new technologies are not easy. I know from experience as an engineer when we transitioned customers to IP videoconferencing and many years ago to ISDN. It took a year, or more, to get everything right. The digital TV conversion is a much larger scale…..so the issues are, and will be, daunting.
Is the switch to digital needed? Yes.
Will it be “painful” to some customers? Yes.
Is the digital TV converter box solution ideal? No.
Does the converter box solve the problem it was intended to solve? Yes.

Update Feb 1, 2009: KCRA TV in Sacramento, CA has an ad stating that their digital signal will not reach everyone getting the current analog signal. They are building a new antenna and when that is complete the new digital signal will reach more people.

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About Mike Pihlman

I am the Director of ForCarol.com a 501c3 non-profit that awards college scholarships to Tracy, CA scholars in honor of my daughter's best friend, and our part-time daughter, Carol Phan who we lost on Sept 18, 2010. I am a: Book Review (TracyReaderDad.com), Technology (TechyMike.com), and Movie Review (ForCarol.com) blogger.

Posted on April 27, 2008, in Digital TV Conversion and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. My digital tv converter remote does not work with my tv. I tried everything it said to try. Do you have any suggestions on how to make it work?

  2. Not sure I can help (it depends on how much functionality you want from the remote). I just use it to change channels. I set my old TV on Channel 3 then used the remote to change channels via the converter box…it worked fine. Forgive this as I am sure you checked, but, make sure the batteries are in correctly. I actually did this wrong one time….so that is the first thing I check.

  3. I am using the Radio Shack converter in this article. I am 5 miles from the Tv transmitter antennas and I get weak signal messages off and on.
    I took my rabbit ears off of the TV and raised them a foot higher.
    I still have to manually reposition my UHF antenna depending on which channel I want to see.
    Some previous out of town channels about 25 miles out I used to see are now gone. I tried signal boosters, they were worse than none at all. I am very pleased with the remote, it was programmable for my old TV.

  4. Thanks for commenting. I suspect the results will vary. Is there a hill, or large buildings, or dense forest between you and the 5 mile away transmitter? Just curious.

  5. I have 3 tvs fed from a single antenna by using a signal splitter. Do I need to buy a converter for each tv or can I install a converter on the antenna coax cable in front of the signal splitter?

  6. The guy at best buy told me I needed to buy an antenna wire along with the converter box which would cost me another $30 over the cost of the converter box. I said “what”? The ever informational government help cite with the coupons never mentioned that! I asked if I could use my rabbit ears antenna and he told me no, I couldn’t. I said “forget it”. It’s just not worth it and after reading what you’ve been through, I think it was a good decision. I could never figure how to wire it. I can do without TV and when I decide I can’t, I’ll worry about it then. They got ya comin’ and going! good information…thanks.

  7. I know transitions to new technologies are not easy and from my engineer experience while we transitioned customers to videoconferencing to Digital TV

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