Digital television Q&A

Posted January 4, 2007 5:56 p.m. EST

What is DTV?

Digital television (DTV) broadcast technology means crystal-clear pictures and sound. It also means more programming choices and is more flexible and efficient than analog technology, which has been in place for decades.

DTV technology is more flexible and efficient than the current analog system. The switch to digital broadcasting allows television stations to offer crystal-clear pictures and sound, plus more channels and programming – all for free.

Going all-digital will also free up parts of the airwaves for future innovative services. TV stations can also improve their services with enhanced closed captioning, better pictures and sound, and offer several channels of programming at the same time, known as "multicasting."

For example, rather than being limited to providing one analog programming signal, a broadcaster will be able to provide a sharp "high definition" (HDTV) program or multiple "standard definition" digital programs simultaneously.

The number of programs a station can send using the digital spectrum depends on the level of picture detail, also known as "resolution," in each programming stream. DTV can provide picture resolution, interactive video and data services that easily surpass the capabilities of “analog” technology.

Converting to DTV will also free up parts of the scarce and valuable broadcast spectrum. Those portions of the spectrum can then be used for other important services, such as public and safety services (police and fire departments, emergency rescue) and advanced wireless services.

Will my TV still work?

If you purchased your TV after March 1, 2007, then it has a digital receiver and will work when the DTV conversion is complete.

If you subscribe to cable or satellite, your TV should work. Satellite service subscribers do not have to do anything additional to prepare for the digital conversion unless they are specifically informed otherwise by their service provider.

If you purchased your TV before March 1, 2007, then look for certain words on the set or in the owner’s manual to determine if you have a DTV tuner. If you have a DTV tuner, your TV will work.

If your TV equipment contains any of the following labels or markings, you should be able to view digital programming without the need for a digital-to-analog converter box:
- Integrated Digital Tuner
- Integrated Digital Receiver
- Digital Tuner Built-In
- Digital Receiver Built-In

Note that DTV, ATSC or HDTV might be substituted for the word digital.

If your TV is labeled with analog or NTSC and is not labeled as containing a digital tuner, then it only contains an analog tuner and will not work after June 12, 2009. For it to work, you will have to purchase a DTV converter box or a new TV.
What's a converter box?

A DTV converter box is an easy-to-install electronic device that connects to your analog TV set your outdoor antenna, or rabbit ears, and converts the digital television signal into analog. This makes digital television viewable on older, analog TVs after the DTV switch.

If your TV is connected to cable, satellite or another pay-television service, then you likely do not need a DTV converter box. If you have a TV with a built-in digital tuner, then you will not need a converter box either.

How do I get a converter box?

DTV converter boxes went on sale in February 2008 and can be purchased at many national retailers – including Best Buy, Circuit City, RadioShack, Target and Wal-Mart – as well as online retailers. (View a list of retailers.)

How do I install a converter box?

Follow the step-by-step instructions outlined on the FCC's Quick Start Guide.


Call one of the FCC-approved contractors who will provide free, in-home set-up and installation of your converter box:

R & D Training & Technical & Service, Inc. 1112 Jensen Dr., Virginia Beach, Va. 23451

What is the difference between a DTV monitor and an integrated DTV tuner?

An integrated DTV set is a digital television with a built-in digital receiver and decoder. If you have an integrated DTV and live in an area served by a DTV broadcast station, you only need an antenna (preferably an outdoor antenna) to receive over-the-air DTV broadcast programming. Integrated TVs also can receive and display current analog signals.

In contrast, a digital monitor is not capable of receiving and tuning DTV programming without additional equipment. A DTV set-top box must be connected between the antenna and the monitor to receive and display DTV programming that is broadcast over the air.

Also, if you are a cable or satellite subscriber, you may need a new set-top box to receive digital broadcast content. Confirm with your retailer that the DTV receiver or set-top box is compatible and has the proper connectors to interface with the DTV monitor that you are purchasing. Many monitors have a built-in analog receiver and can display analog TV programming. They also can display video from DVD players and VCRs through their connectors.

What is the difference between DTV and HDTV? Do I have to have HDTV?

DTV, or digital television, is not the same at HDTV, or high-definition television. Both are digital signals, but HDTV offers a superior picture quality. Both DTV and HDTV are much higher quality than the traditional analog signal. You do not have to get an HDTV tuner to get DTV, however if you are purchasing a new television you may find the increased cost for an HDTV worth the price.
Do I need a special antenna to get DTV or HDTV?

An antenna used for watching analog TV over the air can also be used for digital TV, including HDTV. Viewers in some areas, however, will find that a better antenna – a rooftop one, perhaps – is needed to ensure reliable digital TV reception.

However, digital signals do not work exactly like analog signals. Essentially, you will either get a perfect digital signal for a particular channel, or nothing at all. It’s what’s referred to as the “cliff effect,” which means you’ll either get the station, or you won’t. If you’re in an area with marginal reception, you may find it frustrating to watch – and may need to upgrade your antenna – or consider cable or satellite service.

What about digital receiver availability and FCC tuner requirements?

Remember, even with a set-top converter box, your current analog TV will not display the full picture quality of DTV. To enjoy the full picture quality, you must have a DTV set or a separate DTV receiver and a digital display monitor. The FCC requires that many new television receivers sold in the U.S. today include the capability to receive digital TV signals. By March 2007, all TVs (and other devices that are designed to receive broadcast television signals) were required to have digital tuners built in.

When will the DTV transition be complete?

TV stations serving all markets in the United States are airing digital television programming today, although some may also continue to provide analog programming through June 12, 2009. At that point, full-power TV stations will cease broadcasting on their current analog channels, and the spectrum they use for analog broadcasting will be reclaimed and put to other uses.