February 17 may still seem distant, but consumers should be preparing for the day's dramatic switch from analog to digital TV broadcasting. Here are 10 reasons that the digital transition could be a mess for many households:
Too late. The $40 federal coupons for converter boxes can take six weeks to arrive after consumers apply. Then viewers need to travel to stores to buy the converters and leave time for installing and configuring them. Smart consumers will have applied by next week for coupons to ensure they have enough time to get ready.
Surprise victims. Some digital TVs have tuners that don't work as well as more recent versions. Viewers may not realize it yet because they're relying on built-in analog tuners for some stations. They may need converter boxes or new antennas to get all their digital stations.
[See more on the digital tuner crapshoot.]
More surprise victims. Homes with cable or satellite service may feel safe from the switch. But consumers may be forgetting other TVs that still depend on broadcast, such as the old set in the shop or garage. They'd be wise while they still can to get the $40 government coupons for converter boxes.
[see more on getting digital converter coupons.]
Broken recorders. Even savvy consumers may have overlooked TV recorders that won't work after the switchover. Old VCRs and digital video recorders such as many TiVos operate with analog tuners and need converter boxes to receive digital TV signals.
[See how new recorders have digital tuners.]
Early switches. Some markets are experimenting with the transition, or making it early altogether. The deadline is just that, and stations can save money by making the switch earlier. It is costing stations extra cash to broadcast signals in both analog and digital formats.
[See one market that's already made the switch.]
Not switching. Thousands of smaller TV stations aren't changing to digital in February. Nearly 3,000 low-power stations operate under different rules, and typically carry religious programming or shopping channels. Getting their signals requires converter boxes that allow "analog pass-through," or TVs that have both digital and analog tuners.
[See more on stations not going digital.]
Added costs. Some basic cable subscribers could actually save money by dropping their service for the crystal-clear picture that comes with digital broadcasts. But it's likely that more viewers, unprepared for the transition, will panic and start paying $15 or more a month for satellite or cable service.
[See one consumer's experience with digital TV.]
Missing stations. Even with converter boxes or new digital TVs, some consumers will no longer get a favorite channel or two. Some stations have moved their towers, or digital signals travel differently and won't reach some places covered by old analog broadcasts. Consumers may need a new antenna to get all their stations.
[See how TV antennas are sprouting anew.]
Broken mobiles. Besides the living room set, many consumers depend on handheld TVs that also will go blank in February. A few techies might find battery packs that can power a digital converter, but the set up is hardly mobile. A few companies are releasing pricey handheld TVs that can get today's digital signals.
[See how digital mobile broadcasts are under development.]
Missing satellite channels. Some channels are making the switch so late in the process that satellite TV providers have said they may not have time to enable the new digital versions on their systems. Satellite systems take longer than cable systems to incorporate new digital signals coming from broadcast stations.
[See how analog cable systems will switch.]