Digital TV Gets Less Painful

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Finally, it's becoming less painful to get digital TV. As of March 1, TV makers are no longer shipping dead-end equipment that can get only analog signals–the government is forcing them to ship only televisions with digital tuners.

Those tuners pull in the sharp images now being broadcast by most U.S. stations–that most consumers don't know about. I'm a fan of digital broadcasts and have abandoned cable and satellite altogether. We're saving money, and we're happy enough with the programs we can get over the air, now that they arrive in quality that's as good as cable or satellite.

But digital works only for some of our sets, including an HDTV that came with a built-in digital tuner. We also have an external tuner that we can use with another set, but it's a bit of a hassle, adding yet another remote to the mix.

The long-awaited March 1 milestone is key to the gradual transition to digital signals that was mandated by Congress and is scheduled to finish in two years. After that date, if it isn't delayed again, analog tuners won't work, and anyone wanting to use an older set for broadcast TV will have to get an external tuner.

The feds will give each household up to two coupons for $40 each toward external tuners. Of course, tuners now start at about $150, and even with price drops, consumers will be forking over some of their own cash for an external box. So the March 1 change doesn't remove the pain of switching to digital, but it does dull it for anyone buying a new set.