6 Ways Your Favorite TV Show Might Disappear

The road to digital broadcasts is full of potholes.

Television, uncropped

The switch to digital broadcasting in February 2009 is a complex process with many potholes. If you watch over-the-air TV through an antenna, getting a digital converter is only step one. Here are reasons that you might suddenly find it hard to watch CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Gone digital: Most channels will broadcast only in digital format after the deadline. You must get a digital converter, also called a digital tuner, for each of your old, analog televisions.

Weak ears: Even with a digital tuner, some stations won't come in at all. That's a change from your old analog set, on which some channels were watchable, if a bit fuzzy because of bad reception. Digital signals travel differently from analog. And if the digital signal is weak enough, it "falls off the cliff" and can disappear altogether. You may need a new antenna, too.

Stayed analog: Adding to the confusion, some low-power stations will continue broadcasting in analog. They include religious and shopping channels. If you're a big fan of one, you'll want to buy a converter box that will pass the analog signal through to the TV. Only some do, including the Philco TB100HH9 ($70).

Weak tuner: Many flat-panel TVs have been shipping with both digital and analog tuners built in. But sets that are more than a year or two old might have a digital tuner that's too weak to pick up some digital broadcasts. That means you may need a new digital tuner to get your favorite channel, or a new antenna.

Recording wreck: If you've been recording TV through an antenna, your older TiVo or VCR probably won't work without a new digital tuner attached. But then the recorder won't be able to change the tuner's channels, making it difficult to catch new episodes of American Idol. Many new DVD recorders and TiVos come with digital tuners.

Late to digital: Some channels will make the switch so late in the process that satellite TV companies have said they may not make the transition on their systems, says Phillip Swann of TVpredictions.com Satellite systems take longer than cable systems to incorporate new digital signals coming from broadcast stations.