Consumers Have No F*&@#%! Clue What's Going On With The Digital TV Conversion

Consumer Reports tells us that according to a survey they commissioned, consumers have absolutely no f@#$@%$ clue what the heck is going on with the digital TV conversion.

What is the Digital TV Conversion?

Free over-the-air broadcasting will switch to a digital format on Feb 17, 2009. If you have an older (analog) television, and use an antenna, you may need to purchase a converter box in order to continue watching All My Children. Coupons for converter boxes are available from the FCC’s digital conversion website.

Consumer Reports says that this imfornation is proving incredibly difficult to convey:

Even among those who are aware of the switch to digital broadcasts, there is rampant confusion about what it will require of consumers. Among those consumers who are aware of the transition, over half (58%) believe all TVs will need a digital converter box to function, 48 percent believe that only digital televisions will work after 2009 and nearly one quarter (24%) believe they will need to throw away all of their analog television sets; none of which is true.

The main concern isn’t that a few people won’t be able to watch tv, but that a huge amount of consumers will be tricked into buying new TVs that they don’t even need. Consumer Reports says that large amounts of consumers who are completely unaffected by the switch think they need to buy new TVs, and that many people who are planning to buy converter boxes aren’t aware of the coupon program:

  • One-third (33%) of consumers completely unaffected by the transition also plan to buy a converter box and 31 percent plan to purchase a new digital television set with a built in digital tuner.

  • Although purchasing a converter box is by far the most popular action planned by those aware of the transition, a staggering 73 percent are unaware of the government coupon created to offset the cost of purchasing one of these boxes.


How to survive the digital TV transition [Consumer Reports]


Edit Your Comment

  1. B says:

    Finally, a place to get my VCR Fixed. I wonder if they do betamax.

  2. thrlsekr says:

    Wow, this is so true! The consumers confusion of digital anything is unbelievable! And wonder why with everything on the planet being called HD i.e. HD radio, HD Downloads, it’s just totally out of hand!

  3. cashmerewhore says:

    I know my main TV is fine.

    That’s all that matters to me. The one in our spare bedroom may just become another reason not to visit us for long periods….

  4. jerros says:

    The digital conversion was supposed to happen years ago and then the cable companies lobbied & got the date pushed back repeatedly.

    If you cry wolf enough times people stop believing you. This conversions taken so long that most consumers have either forgotten about it, or simply don’t believe it’s really going to happen.

    I’d bet those who “Think they need to throw their analog TV’s away” are simply looking for an excuse to get that new HDTV.

  5. Hanke says:

    Considering that I see a commercial advertising this switch, with a web site address, and a date, these consumers are MORANS.

    The only small print in the commercial is that LPTV stations will not be affected. And they are quite clear on what will happen if you don’t get informed.

  6. misterlivingston says:

    With this Digital TV Conversion thing, I’ve decided my TV will now be Jewish.

  7. jpmoney says:

    The Ministry of Truth does so much to impact what we hear and they can’t get TV straight? Fox News wont report it since its not sensational and they’re the megaphone for the government, so no wonder nobody has it straight.

  8. misterlivingston says:

    @Hanke: The consumers are MORANS? And do they perhaps worship SATIN?

  9. arch05 says:

    @jpmoney: Your tinfoil hat is cute.

  10. scoopy says:

    @Hanke: It’s not MORAN you MORON. haha

  11. jpmoney says:

    @arch05: You like it? Its Autumn Sunrise.

  12. ethanrik says:

    What is so difficult….if you have cable or sat you’ll be ok (if you are not sure call your provider).

    If you don’t, chances are you will need to get the new converter box.

    I think they made a mistake in call it a converter box, it should have been called a digital antennae receiver. That way people who use an antennae currently will figure it out.

  13. ancientsociety says:

    @Hanke: No everyone has access to the internet and, of those that do, not everyone has time to research the switch.

  14. fluiddruid says:

    @jpmoney: You are my new personal hero. Love, Orlando

  15. Ghede says:

    … This isn’t going to affect me for a few months. I don’t have cable anymore.

  16. sharki3232 says:

    When I started working towards my degree in Media Productions back in 1998 they were just starting to talk about making the switch and how we could expect it within a few years, 2005 at the latest.

    Frankly, I’m surprised this is happening at all, let alone ten years to late.

  17. Mariajl says:

    I think the problem is, although the commercials are pretty easy to understand, people don’t know what “analog” is. And, the information keeps saying “if you get your tv from an analog signal….”.

    Even though the commercials then go onto to clarify about antennas, they obviously need to dumb it all down even more by saying something like “If you use rabbit ears or an antenna when you watch tv, you’ll need a converter box. If you have a cable tv or a satellite dish you don’t need to do anything.”

  18. noquarter says:

    @Hanke: I’ve seen that commercial as well.

    Interestingly, I’ve only ever seen it when I was watching a cable channel. So what are the odds that the people who actually need to make a change to their TVs have seen it? And what are the odds that it aired in order to inform the public rather than in order to sow confusion and reap TV sales?

  19. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    The real problem is that the Republicans always want the free market to make the decisions.
    So we have several different kinds of cellphone service, while most of the world has just one.
    There was an attempt at stereo AM broadcasting, but the FCC authorized four different, incompatible types.

    Now the FCC allowed the manufacture, importation & sale of analog sets to continue.
    It’s still legal to sell them as long as a warning is placed on the set.
    Analog only TV sets should have been totally banned at least 5 years ago.

    Which brings me to what I saw Saturday, January 26, 2008!
    The Place: Target, 2050 W. Peterson, Chicago.
    The TV wall.
    Five, count em, five different analog TV sets available for sale!
    Yes they had the required warning, in 12 point print, reversed white on black, almost impossible to read.

    Keep waiting for Feb. 17, 2009 folks.
    I’ll bet Congress has to step in & extend it at least a year & maybe totally ban the analog TVs!

  20. StevieZ83 says:

    the actually reason this seems to be so confusing is because they are not telling people where to go to get the questions answered, the only retails that possible have all the info are radio shack, walmart, and best buy because they are the retail stores the government chose to handle the rebate coupons…other retails don’t have a clue, because they don’t seem to be training there people on it. I am a retail manager for radio shack and we have done training on it at the store level, so are people should know what’s going on, walmart and best buy on the other hand don’t seem to have any training for there people, i ask someone in walmart just to see what they would tell me and was told i needed a new tv and then was shown an analog tv by this sales person and was told it would work with digital, at best buy i was told i needed a new tv, but they did at least show me a digital tv…the sad part is i don’t need a new tv because i have cable…i know this but the average consumer won’t…and it’s going to continue to be confusing as long as people can’t get correct info for the people selling things to them.

  21. hexychick says:

    @Hanke: And how many commericals do you think people actually pay attention to? How many people do you know that just hit mute or change the channel when commercials come on? That commercial is slow, makes little old ladies look like poor victims, and mentions nothing of a coupon or how simple the whole thing is, so don’t go calling people morons when you can’t even spell the word.

  22. noquarter says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: I just bought a new TV a few weeks ago. I wanted an analog set but ended up getting a digital due to the poor selection of analog ones.

    Why, in your opinion, should the sale of analog sets be banned? Do you understand that they will still work for the vast majority of Americans who have cable? Do you understand that they’re cheaper than a digital set? For most people, they’re a better option. And yet you want their sale to be banned.

    And this is why I’m glad that the free market continues to operate in this country, mostly. Because otherwise, people like you would get to decide what I could and could not buy.

  23. Trae says:

    I didn’t have that “imfornation” either…

  24. thrlsekr says:

    Joel Brinkley published two books (actually one but revised it) called Defining Vision on the infancy through the start of the transition about the reasons for the switch. With the 9/11 events it really cemented the resolve of the government for the switch. For the unaware and correct me if I am wrong but one of the biggest issues during the 9/11 tragedy as well as Katrina was the inability of the first responders to communicate. The frequencies that the emergency services presently use do not have the ability to broadcast through walls. As we all know, the frequencies that the television stations broadcast do have the ability to broadcast through walls. In the 9/11 tragedy the towers were equipped with repeaters for emergency services to communicate through out the building. Once the towers lost power the repeaters were not able to transmit the signals and this is what happen in the Katrina tragedy as well. So not only were the signals unable to penetrate walls but they don’t travel as far as well. These are the reasons why with the switch the ability to receive the signal from a television station will depend upon where you live. Just think UHF and VHF. UHF will now be the frequency television will be broadcast on after 2-9-09.

  25. sharonlives says:

    Not up on your internet slang? Moran is a pretty common word. I see it all over. See the link…

  26. Islandkiwi says:

    I’m going to profess my ignorance here…I have an hd-ready tv, which means it can display a hi-def image but needs a tuner. Do I need to look into these converter boxes?

  27. Landru says:


    911! 911! 911!

    Cell phones go through walls. They aren’t that short on frequencies.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Helping people with tax payer money to purchase a converter box to ensure they can keep watching TV; this sounds like a great idea. I can’t think of a better way for Washington to spend our money.

  29. gnubian says:

    When I called Comcast about some “upgraded” charges on my bill (limited basic service was upped from $12.97 to $14.99/mo at the beginning of November, but I received no notification), the csr started to go off about digital and how the cahnnels I had were probably going to change .. blah blah blah .. HD .. blah blah .. The thing is, the digital conversion has nothing to do with anything other than over the air broadcasts. I’m pretty sure that if I were to hook up an antenna to either of my tvs (both are digital ready), I would be able to receive my local stations that are currently being broadcast in digital format.

  30. Nytmare says:

    They’re confused because there are multiple transitions occurring in the same time period: not just the over-the-air signal conversion, but also the upgrade from standard definition to HD, the aspect ratio change from 4:3 to 16:9, flat-panel displays replacing CRTs, new DVD formats, and the cable industry push to proprietary digital cable signals requiring their own converter boxes.

  31. CurbRunner says:

    Am I correct in assuming that my analog TV, that is currently hooked up to a Comcast cable (without a converter box), will be ok, or will I have to buy a converter or a new digital TV?

  32. Thaddeus says:

    @Islandkiwi: I believe if its “HD Ready” it will need the box but be in HD as opposed to a standard TV that converts it for the good ole tube.

    I really can’t wait for the day after the switch when people all over the place start thinking that their TV is broken and start phoning up Best Buy and Radio shack, who will be ready and waiting to screw them out of some cash.

  33. Thaddeus says:

    @CurbRunner: I think you’ll be fin, but here is a handy link from the FCC about the switch should I be wrong:

  34. noquarter says:

    @CurbRunner: You’ll be fine unless and until Comcast decides to switch their format to all-digital. And when that happens, they’ll be happy to rent you a converter box for a small fee. In fact, when Comcast switches to all-digital, I’d expect that even people with digital TVs will need the special Comcast converter box, as they do now.

  35. noquarter says:

    @Islandkiwi: If you have cable, then you are not affected by the upcoming digital broadcast change – no matter what kind of TV you have.

    If you don’t have cable, then it depends on whether your HD-ready TV has a digital or analog receiver/tuner in it. If it has a digital one, then the manual should mention it. TVs have to meet certain requirements in order to be certified “HD-ready,” but I don’t think having a digital tuner is one of them.

  36. StevieZ83 says:

    @thaddeus: how can you say radio shack is going to be screwing people, walmart is telling people right now that analog tv’s that they are selling will work for digital…i can’t promise that all radio shacks will be perfect but we did get corporate training for the switch and are telling people correct information as opposed to best buy and walmart.

  37. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    You fail to understand that most people will buy on price & that five years ago virtually no one knew a damn thing about the digital changeover coming.
    I thought I was well read, but I only heard about it around four years ago.

    There are certain things where the free market sucks & this is & will continue to be one of them.
    Many of us don’t want cable or satellite TV, many can’t afford it either.

    There is also the problem of the vast number of TVs that will be junked & fill up the landfills when the slimy salesmen at Best But tell the elderly & the stupid that they need a new TV instead of the converter box.

    I don’t want it, I don’t miss it!
    But I do want to watch TV & this change has been done all wrong.

    And the reason the Republicans screwed this up is that:
    1. They’ve been in control of the FCC for the last seven years.
    2. They hate government so much that they have no interest or incentive to improve its operation. They want it to fail.

    If you’re so happy with the free market, then why don;t you have the government stop printing money & we all go back to using gold.
    And I’m sure you’re in favor of that.
    One little problem: There’s not that much gold on the planet & mining more will destroy enormous amounts of land.

  38. mbz32190 says:

    I don’t even understand why they are selling LARGE TV’s with built-in tuners….most people still need (expensive) cable/satellite boxes to receive all the content from their cable/satellite company regardless of having a digital tuner or not.

  39. wesrubix says:

    I’m glad consumer reports wrote that article and performed that survey. I’ve gotten so tired of relatives asking about HD TV, and all I can wonder is if they haven’t paid a god damned cent of attention to any news or articles. I don’t know about it just because I’m a nerd and read gadget/tech blogs; it’s been in the news for a few years now. I don’t know how people miss any of it.

  40. RvLeshrac says:


    The reason the repeaters were not able to rebroadcast emergency transmissions during 9/11 was NOT because the towers lost power. It was because the personnel who evacuated WTC-1 failed to engage the repeater. That’s right, the individuals working security at the WTC were too busy saving their own asses to bother enabling the devices. (Conveniently, this is the same reason the aircraft hit the building – too many people too concerned with saving their own lives to bother helping anyone else. Box cutters my aching ass. What were they afraid of? That the terrorists were going to give them an infection?)

    The reason emergency services were unable to communicate in New Orleans after Katrina is because the telecom companies failed to work to restore ANY service – and then sued the city when the city began setting up an emergency communication system.

    In all of the above situations, the *PEOPLE* failed. The electronics worked exactly as they were designed.

  41. noquarter says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: Good job anticipating and shooting down my “we never should have left the gold standard” argument before I even brought it up. Truly, you are a master debater.

    What I fail to follow in your convoluted logic is how banning the sale of analog TVs will prevent people who don’t need a digital TV from rushing out and buying one. I assume most people with no cable also have cheap and old TVs, so unless you want to make that analog-sales-ban go all the way back into the distant past to when that 13% of Americans last bought a new TV, it will not help at all.

    I’d be all in favor of laws preventing sales people from being misleading dicks, and of a better education campaign about what the digital transition means to the average person, but your solution would solve nothing.

  42. RvLeshrac says:


    Banning the sale of analog sets would save the free market from itself – completely eliminating the production of those sets would ensure that the production facilities were used for digital sets, and would drive the production cost down – thus driving down prices at retail.

    There’s really no logical reason to allow the sale of analog reception devices to continue. I’m a pure opponent of the digital switch – I don’t need it, don’t want it, don’t see any benefit for any consumer, anywhere, that does not already own a digital set – and can see that there’s no reason to continue selling the sets, so why can’t you? Why were you even expressly searching for an analog set? There’s no benefit to purchasing one over a digital set, except for price. Since you’re against removing the analog sets from market, you obviously aren’t concerned about driving costs down… so…

  43. noquarter says:

    @wesrubix: The mainstream press has been misleading about it. Plus, the coming of age of HDTV at the same time as this digital transition has been confusing for people. And don’t even mention HD-DVD Vs. Blu-Ray.

    There was an article in the Washington Post’s free edition earlier this year that gave the exact wrong advice. It was fanning the “analog TVs won’t work” flames and never once mentioned that huge caveat of “unless you have cable”. I think there’s been a lot of that in the news, as well as too many dumb journalists who don’t understand the issue giving second-hand information about it.

  44. RvLeshrac says:


    Sales people aren’t generally misleading dicks about the HDTV switchover. They’re misleading, but they aren’t trying to *fool* you into buying an HD set.

    What most of us are aiming for is to prevent the consumer from coming back in a year screaming about how their TV no longer picks up any channels, and how we lied to them about whether or not the TV would still work in a year.

    Much like how we have to tell people that copying DVDs is illegal, despite selling software that will copy DVDs, and despite it not being illegal – we don’t want them coming back in a month screaming at us because they couldn’t copy ‘3:10 to Yuma’ with Roxio. The easiest way to do that is to just say that we can’t give them advice, instead of explaining the whole thing and then having them call us liars.

  45. noquarter says:

    @RvLeshrac: Dude, if you’re selling TVs and you don’t know the difference between an HDTV and a digital TV, then you are a misleading dick.

  46. glacier206 says:

    If you don’t even know that periods go inside closing quotation marks, how do you expect me to believe you know anything about TVs?

  47. dvdchris says:

    I was floored by this one.
    36% of TV households are entirely unaware of the digital switchover.

  48. econobiker says:

    Guess the spare and maybe the older bedroom set will be going on Craigslist soon before the masses freak out and start dumping non-digital tv sets. And then I’ll be ready to get a huge ultra cheap newer analog set from some poor unknowing sucka.

    Makes me want to start scalping digital converter box coupons also…

  49. AcidReign says:

        I might actually use one of the coupons. I have cable TV, but Charter has been punting channels like G4 and the Soap Net up to the digital tier. I’m getting fed up enough to consider cutting down some trees on the southern end of my property, and going to DirecTV. That would mean a satellite tuner on most of my sets. But, I’ve still got a working little TV I was given back in 1970. It’s a little 13-inch G.E. black and white thing, and I keep it in the basement. When I work down there, or cook out, I can watch NFL, college football, basketball, etc., in my basement. That TV STILL has a great picture, and works well. It would be a shame to throw it out…

  50. lapantz4less says:

    It’s not a problem, I think those that need to know will find out soon enough. Like the other guy said, if you have cable or sat, you’re fine. It’s those people with over the air antennas that will be affected, a very small number.

  51. krunk4ever says:

    @Trae: haha.

    I also wanted to point out there was a typo in “imfornation“. ;p

  52. quail says:

    The confusion was intended by the manufacturers and retailers was it not? They kept pushing that you need an HD TV and all of that. Plus they were slow in telling people about the cheap converter boxes that were coming. If it wasn’t for Consumerist I wouldn’t have known that the converter boxes were even available.

  53. flashing12 says:

    If you think that’s bad…most independant dealers don’t know that they only have until March 31st to register with the government to be eligible to even accept the coupons being sent to consumers now!

  54. jarchie219 says:

    I thought I understood the switch until I read all the confused comments. Now I am as confused as the rest of you. I am convinced that the real reason for the switch is to 1. Make a lot of money to fund the war and 2. To turn over the most valuable channels to the cell phone companies.

  55. univision says:

    You know what I love? When Comcast has ads saying there is this big conversion to digital TV going on, but Comcast has you covered. Dont worry, America, Comcast has taken care of everything for you. So if you are a Comcast customer, you are safe.

    I mean, they’re not lying, but I hate it when companies treat you like an idiot.

  56. forgottenpassword says:

    I think the problem is that the government is clueless as well …. on how to implement this whole converter box thing. I sent off for my coupons & have yet to get them. Did they tell me whether or not they will be sending them out at a specific time or immediately(like when converter boxes are readily available for purchase)? NO. They just gave me a number & that’s it. No other info. Its like they are a bunch of monkeys scrambling to get their shit together at the last minute & hoping that all will go well.

  57. edrebber says:

    A flat screen TV frees up at least one square foot of living space. Will pay for it self if you need extra space in a small room. Plus the HD picture and be viewed from further away.

  58. buzzinblair says:

    I suspect the government set up the converter box program because some people were threatening to just stop watching TV when their analog sets no longer worked. That would really get some of the powers-that-be’s shorts tied up in knots.

  59. synergy says:

    So, my t.v was made circa 1996. How do I know if it’s analog?

  60. dvdchris says:

    @jarchie219: HDTV has been discussed since the 70s and the digital switchover has been planned since the mid 90s at the latest. In 1996 the date was set in 2006; I specifically remember telling friends we have ten years before digital is mandatory. So as of the coming date it will have been 13 years. So it wasn’t invented to fund the war.
    The spectrum auctions will turn over parts of the reclaimed frequencies to the highest bidders, whoever that ends up being.

  61. dvdchris says:

    @synergy: Any TV that old is analog. Most TVs more than 2-3 years old are analog.

  62. thrlsekr says:

    @Landru: Actually, Europe is very advanced in the cellular technology and the reason is because the bandwidth used is the same that has been held by the television stations. The television stations gave up limited bandwidth (channels between stations) so the FCC would not mandate the allocation of the television stations frequencies.

  63. thrlsekr says:

    @RvLeshrac: I’m glad to see so many replies to my post! I did say correct me if I am wrong and if are correct those emergency services that were going into the building after the aircraft hit were surely NOT saving their own ass but trying to do their best with the limited resources they had to save lives of the people int the building. For you to say that someone forgot to turn them on is kind of unbelievable since I believe that the repeaters were required to stay on 24 hours a day for other communication within the building as well!

  64. vladthepaler says:

    I requested my coupons a long time ago but they never showed up. So I tried requesting them again and it says I already have them. Is this thing just a scam? Has anyone gotten any coupons out of this thing?

  65. StevieZ83 says:

    there not shipping the 1st round of coupons til the beginning of feb. sometime because the boxes aren’t available in stores til the 2nd or 3rd week in feb.

  66. dantsea says:

    I predict that on February 19, 2009, television stations and the FCC will be flooded with complaints from irate (read: stupid) people shrieking about not having any notice that this would happen. If there’s one lesson I took away from too many years in customer service, it’s that most people simply don’t pay attention.

  67. jjason82 says:

    I learned something about this the other day.

    C-SPAN’s bus was touring California to watch the primaries or something like that. One of their stops was California State University of Bakersfield, the college I attend. One of the representatives was talking to my business class about why this switch is happening in the first place. He told us that in Washington it’s being called a matter of national security. On 9/11 a lot of first responders were trying to use radios to communicate with each other, but they share the same wavelength as analog television stations, so it made it much more difficult to communicate efficiently. He says the whole reason this is being pushed is in case there is a similar emergency, those wavelengths will be free for use by first responders. Of course, he also said that once the government obtains the airwaves again, it will auction off a large part of it back to the market at a greatly inflated price, because they won’t end up needing 100% of the space. Anyway, I didn’t know any of this.

  68. RvLeshrac says:


    I was unaware that the rest of the people on this site were the people mentione in the article.

    If you know the difference, I shouldn’t have to explain it to you. The vast majority of consumers aren’t going to give a damn about whether you say “HDTV” or “digital TV,” because to them, they’re the exact same thing. Don’t niggle over the wording, the meaning doesn’t change appreciably when you strip out “HDTV” and insert “digital”.

    Next, you’ll be taking someone to task for saying “kleenex” instead of “facial tissue”.

  69. RvLeshrac says:


    That’s (mostly) crap. Yes, it will free up space for emergency personnel to communicate. There are currently, however, much BETTER ways to communicate that don’t involve using VHF bands. VHF is cheaper, however, and this is likely the driving factor.

    With regards to 9/11, as I’ve said before, the towers were well-equipped to repeat the signals from the emergency radios, but no one pushed the button to turn them on. If you don’t turn the repeater on, it can’t do its job.

    Emergency units are also able to force transmissions through at much higher outputs than anyone else in the country is legally able. If the police want to erect a gigawatt transmission tower, they can. They just can’t use it for daily operations.