Goodbye to Analog TV

Category: Gadgets , Television

Many television stations currently broadcast both analog and digital signals. However, the days are numbered for analog signals, picture and sound carried on electromagnetic waves. Digital signals are the way of the future, and if you have a trusty television with an antenna, you'll need to make some changes soon or the screen will go dark...

analog tv with rabbit ears antenna

The End Of Analog

It seems incredible, but some 19 million television viewing households still exist outside of the digital cable and satellite universe, where there are 500 channels and still nothing on TV. Plenty of older televisions with numbered channel knobs, UHF dials, and rabbit ears are still going strong. But changes, they are a comin'...

On February 17 June 12, 2009, the analog TV signal system will be turned off, and stations will transmit digital signals only. Televisions that receive only analog signals via the traditional rabbit ears or rooftop antenna and will no longer work. Households without digital cable or satellite will either have to go digital, buy a converter box or start enjoying radio.

It's a serious matter because most of the analog-only households are among America's poorest. They either don't want cable or satellite TV or they can't afford new televisions, satellite hardware, new antennas or significant monthly fees. If you are already receiving satellite or cable television, the switch will probably be purely academic. But in addition to the 19 million who still receive exclusively over-the-air analog signals, there are millions more who have digital cable but also own at least one analog television.

Digital to Analog Converters to the Rescue

Free over-the-air television broadcasting will continue. Nobody will be forced to get cable or satellite. The only change is that the signal will be digital, and some older TVs will need a converter box.

To help ease the transition, each affected household will be offered up to $80 worth of free government vouchers to buy converter boxes which will convert the digital signal to analog, enabling those older televisions to continue to bring you endless hours of courtroom drama and riveting talk shows. It is expected that the vouchers will cover about half the cost of the converters.

Anyone who needs one will be able to apply starting in 2008, and there will be a limit of two $40 vouchers per household. Eventually, those old televisions will cease to function and everyone will have to buy TV sets with digital tuning capability. It will still be possible to buy analog TVs for a while - and they'll probably be cheap - but they won't be called televisions. Legally, they'll be called monitors.

Why the Switch to Digital TV?

Why are they doing this? Digital signals allow for much more information, lots of metadata, such as programming info, language dubs, closed captioning and subtitles. The switch will also assist the other changeover - to high definition. Oh, and it'll also bring us in line with the rest of humanity, which has already begun to dump analog.

Proponents of digital say the picture and audio quality of the signal is significantly clearer and sharper than analog and that is most people's experience. There's no video noise on digital as there is on analog and no signal degeneration from dubbing to affect the production process.
However, there are those who prefer analog, especially for audio, and say analog gets a bum rap mostly because most stations don't service their analog equipment, so it's old, dirty and inefficient and puts out a lower grade signal than its capable of. The reality is that, ever since Congress passed the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005, analog was as doomed as the 8-track, Betamax and Laserdisc. The switch from analog television will free up much needed radio frequency spectrum for emergency services.

There's a lot that can go wrong with the switch, which will cost the US taxpayers at least $1.5 billion. The most likely snafus are that there won't be enough vouchers to go around and that $80 per household won't be enough to buy that nice old lady with the corner doublewide the new converter. Another strong possibility is that a tidal wave of publicity set to begin in 2008 still won't be enough and millions will learn of the change for the first time on February 17 June 12, 2009 when they tune into the Today Show and see just static. The timing of the switch isn't a coincidence, though. The government hopes a final publicity drive during the Super Bowl will reach most affected households - and they'll make the necessary changes before March Madness.

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Most recent comments on "Goodbye to Analog TV"

(See all 26 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

12 May 2007

I don't have cable TV or a satellite dish now because I can't afford it. I'm a firefighter and I do get to watch the cable at night while I'm at work when I have the time. There is only one channel that I would consider paying for and that is the history channel. I quess that when they turn off analog TV I will watch movies from blocbuster or nothing at all.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Don't misunderstand... the free channels will not stop broadcasting. They'll just be broadcasting in digital. If you get a converter, you can still receive them.

Posted by:

Denny Duplessis
13 May 2007

Consumer interest in free over the air digital- HD TV is definitely on the increase. The number of visitors to our web site has skyrocketed over the past year, mainly do to the introduction of free over the air digital - HDTV.

Choosing the proper TV antenna for a particular location is the main issue for most. Many consumer's have a tendency to purchase antennas that are to small to do the job, digital reception is an all or nothing proposition, you're going to want a strong signal. Also, there is a misconception that all digital - HDTV broadcast signals are on the UHF band (14-69) Currently it's true, many broadcaster's are transmitting their digital signals on UHF, because much of the VHF band (2-13) is currently being used to broadcast analog TV signals. However, when the digital transition is complete on February 17th of 2009, the date set when broadcasters will turn off their analog signals, things will change. There are only a handful of broadcast locations across the U.S. that have plans to remain 100% on the UHF band, most areas will have both VHF and UHF digital stations. This means if you purchase a UHF TV antenna now, chances are you may loose the ability to receive a portion of your digital channels in the future. Some areas already have VHF digital stations.

My best advice is to purchase a TV antenna that is large enough to be certain it can easily receive all of the digital broadcast signals in your area, even during poor reception conditions. The antenna should be VHF/UHF capable, unless you are absolutely certain all of your stations are currently UHF, and will remain UHF after the digital transition is complete. To determine the channel number your area digital stations currently broadcast on now, and the channel number they plan to broadcast on after the 2009 analog shutdown date, visit http://hraunfoss.fccgov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-06-1082A2.pdf. When you visit this site, start by finding your state and then the city where your area stations are located. The channel number that appears in the first column is the current digital channel number of that station, the second column is the current analog channel number, and the third column is the tentative final channel number destination. The third column is the channel number where the station plans to permanently broadcast their digital signal. VHF channels are 2 - 13 and UHF are 14 - 69. If your not sure where or what stations are available in your area, visit This is a great site to visit, it will provide the city location of the stations in your area and much more.

Posted by:

14 May 2007

I think Nancy has a point. All channels may be going digital in 2009, but if you have basic cable (non-digital) now, guaranteed that when the switch comes our bills will go up and we will be paying just what current digital cable customers pay. I'm with Wayne, when the switch comes I'm going back to radio. I'll still have my DVDs & videos. It should be my decision if and when I want to move into the "technology era" I shouldn't be forced by the government. Especially for TV...

Posted by:

25 May 2007

I'm very confused. Will the antenna we have right now be totally unusable? In other words, if we want to watch any TV at all, will we be forced to subscribe to cable or satellite?

EDITOR'S NOTE: No, you just need to put a digital to analog converter between your antenna and the TV.

Posted by:

06 Jun 2007

The TVs will go into America's basements or the side of the road or the lakes and rivers. My city along with others no longer takes anything electronic because of lead cadmium etc. I do not own any HDTV's, there is nothing on worth paying $1,000 each TV.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The switch from analog to digital broadcasting really has nothing to do with when or how your TV gets recycled. You CAN continue to use your existing television, but you will need an A/D converter.

Posted by:

Desert Hawk
11 Jun 2007

Why is everybody saying that cable subscribers will not be affected? It is true that the FCC mandate does not apply to cable, but eventually cable systems will discontinue analog cable service and go digital only. Those of us who currently subscribe to analog cable will be required to rent converters from the cable company or buy digital tv's with QAM tuners (the QAM tuner option will not work if you subscribe to expanded basic and your cable company decides to scramble all channels above the limited basic tier). I subscribe to analog expanded basic and have a strong preference to use cable-ready tv's and not converter boxes. I have one HDTV, which can receive a few digital cable channels including 4 in high definition. The overwhelming majority of my cable system's digital channels are scrambled, including the digital simulcasts of channels available on analog such as USA and ESPN. I hope that when the cable system goes all digital that they leave all tiers of basic unscrambled. I would then go buy a few more digital tv's, but that would be a waste if I am going to have to use stupid converter boxes anyway because they insist on scrambling all channels above the limited basic tier!

Posted by:

06 Jul 2007

Okay, right now we watch very little TV. The news, stuff like 60 Minutes, and sometimes PBS offerings. I don't mind paying whatever I need to pay for a more powerful outdoor antenna and I wouldn't mind paying for a converter of some kind. But I absolutely refuse to subscribe to either cable or satellite. I think a lot of the confusion is that most of us have been told, (or have read), that there will be no more "free" TV. It will all be by subscription to cable or satellite. Can you absolutely confirm that that won't be a necessity?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes. Free over-the-air broadcasting will continue. The only change is that the signal will be digital, and some older TVs will need a converter box.

Posted by:

12 Aug 2007

Since there are 13" digital TV sets at Wal-Mart now for $95 (Not HDTV but with the same tuner as the boxes probably will have) I see no reason for the converter boxes to cost more than $40 in December of 2008 if the manufacturer has an almost certain market of $1.5 billion.

Posted by:

02 Sep 2007

Question by "RWRABINOWITZ 10 May 2007": where does one apply for the two $40.00 vouchers per household.


"Between January 1. 2008. and March 31, 2009, all U.S. households will be eligible to request up to two coupons. worth $40 each, to be used toward the purchase of digital-to-analog converter boxes. As described above, these converter boxes are designed to make over-the-air digital television signals viewable on analog-only TVs. and thus are not intended for analog-only TVs hooked up to cable or satellite service. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is running the coupon program. For more information, visit the NTIA website at http://www." from

Posted by:

Dennis Anthony
16 Sep 2007

I have a digi box to view digital TV on my analogue TV, here in the UK, via a freeview VCR with Video Plus.However except for the five terrestial analogue channels for which Video Plus works OK, the digital channels having Video Plus numbers indicate 'Invalid Channel' when setting up although the date,time and length of programme are all correct. So it is still useful but why does this anomaly occur - any ideas?

Posted by:

19 Sep 2007

How do I know what type of tv I have as one is 13yrs. old and the other 5, plus my mothers is less than a year. How do I know which ones will work and what type of tv should I go buy,are all tv's on sale now able to handle the switch in 2/09>

EDITOR'S NOTE: You only need to be concerned if you are currently getting your signal via antenna. As mentioned above, NOBODY NEEDS TO GET A NEW TV. If you have an older TV with an analog tuner, and you get your signal from the antenna, you will simply need to add the A/D converter box. Older TV's with cable or satellite service will NOT need to change anything. It's safe to say that any TV set purchased in the last couple years has a digital tuner.

Posted by:

22 Nov 2007

I have six older(non-digital) TV sets connected to an outside antenna which receives analog broadcasts from stations no closer than 80 miles away. I find it down right communistic that the U.S. government will reqire that I subsidize makers of converter boxes in order to continue using these sets! NO THANKS!

Posted by:

Dave in Indy
07 Dec 2007

I also mentioned this in your HDTV via PC article you also need a GOOD antenna. Most of my local VHF's are actually transmitting on UHF. My channel 6 is broadcasting it's "Chanel 6" programming on Channel 25.

Those old rabbit ears may not cut the muster. visit to see what antenna that you may need.

Also, supposedly the FCC is getting manufactures on board to offer cheap ATSC converter boxes, where you may only have to put $20 with your converter "coupon."

Posted by:

24 Jan 2008

Since they will be changing transmission frequencies, my antennas for the present frequencies of transmission will not be suitable for the new frequencies. The stations I receive are over 50 miles and 110 miles away and my antennas are on a 70 ft. tower. So I will require more than just a analog to digital converter, I presume.Won't I need new antennas as well?

EDITOR'S NOTE: The FCC says "A special antenna generally is not needed to receive digital signals. You may have antenna issues, however, if your current antenna does not receive UHF signals (channels 14 and above) well, because most DTV stations are on UHF channels." See

Posted by:

25 Mar 2008

There is a major flaw to this new system, right now. For people that live in states that always lose power, sometimes for weeks at a time, having a converter box that runs on electricity, is rather stupid! Our "BIG BROTHER" govt. missed the mark on this one big time. They didn't plan ahead for the necessary implementation of battery powered converter boxes, to go along with the analog battery powered TVs

that are already out there. The folks in the flood zones, tornado zones and hurricane zones I guess will be out of luck when the power goes down. Good luck! :(

EDITOR'S NOTE: Are you sure there will be no battery powered converter boxes?

Posted by:

01 Apr 2008

This is the answer FROM:

What about my portable, battery-powered analog TV? Will I be able to use it to watch broadcast TV after February 17, 2009?

Portable, battery-powered analog TVs may be able to receive over-the-air programming after February 17, 2009 if they have the necessary plugs to allow them to be connected to a digital-to-analog converter box. Because it is not anticipated that battery powered digital-to-analog converter boxes will be produced, an external power source would also be required.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Then it seems your best bet is a portable battery powered DIGITAL television.

Posted by:

21 Sep 2008

Hi, I tried connecting my coaxial from my antenna to the An RF In of the converter box. but it wont fit. What am I doing wrong?

EDITOR'S NOTE: That's hard to say without knowing what kind of converter box you have. Can you give us some additional info?

Posted by:

15 Nov 2008

I am using a WinTV-HVR hybrid stick to receive TV on my laptop. What I am puzzled by is that as soon as I switch from an analog to a digital channel, the whole TV program crashes. I am using my laptop on my boat and am connected to a little round antenna mounted on top of the mast.

EDITOR'S NOTE: That sounds like a bug in your program, sorry.

Posted by:

30 Mar 2009

Re: Battery Powered Digital TV Converter. I looked all over for a digital tv antenna. I found a battery operated digital TV converter kit that is available at . It seems easy to set up and easy to use. Has anyone ever had any experience with this before? I'm buying one tonight to try it out. Please post if anyone ever used this kit before.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I have not used this kit, but it sounds like a good idea. BTW, you do NOT need to replace your existing antenna. There are some people selling "digital antennas" and telling people they need to junk their old antenna. Not true... all you need is the converter.

Posted by:

wells carey
13 Nov 2010

bob...can I use a set top box like a cable box with
a digital tuner for over the air signal for my analog tv without converting the signal to analog?

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