Update 01 April 2013: After years of watching television over the air, and less and less over time, around April 2011 I gave away my television, antenna and the very converter box mentioned here to a physically and financially disabled friend whose TV had gone the way of all things. I have yet to secure a replacement. After nearly five years of regular use, the converter box is still working. The 2002-model TV is also working. The buttons on the front are not as effective as they once were, but the remote has yet to be lost. To whoever made this humble converter, you did an excellent job.
Update 04 February 2011: This entry is still getting hits, but is hopelessly out of date. Please regard the following as sort of general principles to tuning digital TV.
Update 25 June 2009: If you are in Austin, Texas, KTBC, the Fox affiliate, is not yet operating at full power. Until November (est.) they are protecting KLRN channel 9, broadcasting on channel 8, out of San Antonio. Near Zilker Park with a not-so-bad antenna, they barely come in. The reception is somewhat better north of the river. If you are not in Austin proper, you may as well forget about them for a few more months.
I broke down, and sent away for my coupon. On the next trip to Target getting Pepsis, toothpaste and a soft six-inch Domokun in a Santa hat, I picked up a Venturer/RCA/AVC Multimedia (depending upon the side of the packing box at which you look) STB7766G1, “Digital-to-Analog Converter Box”. It was $39.99 and the coupon covered everything but sales tax.
This unit includes a remote control and an RF Cable, a coaxial cable you don’t have to screw into position, to connect the box to the TV. As you might imagine, you connect your antenna directly to the box’s F connector. Most folks would opt to use RCA-type audio-video plugs, I would think, but they do not have a TV purchased at the Fry’s Boxing Day sale many years ago.
The installation was idiot proof.
- Little end of the power supply into the box.
- One end of the included RF cable into the box’s connector labeled “out”.
- Unplug the antenna from the TV, then attach the other end of the RF cable to that hole.
- Connect the antenna to the only connection on the back of the box which fits it.
- And I almost forgot this when I installed it, plug the big end of the power supply to the mains.
I now want to stop hearing about how confusing and difficult this transition is going to be. Most of the rest is not unlike setting up your television in the first place.
My converter box uses channel 4, not unlike an Atari, Nintendo or Commodore. Because I cannot leave well enough alone, I went ahead and cleared the TV’s memory of all stations and manually added channel four which is not used in this area. I presume reasonable people will not do this.
Switching it on, I hit the menu button. All the defaults are acceptable, but the broadcasters are doing some funny things. Basically, you scan for channels and tell the machine whether you want closed captions and you’re done. The default aspect ratio is “auto”. That is, the box decodes whether the signal if 4:3 or 16:9 and sends the signal to the TV in either letterbox or full-screen mode.
The broadcasters around here have a nasty habit of transmitting 4:3 shows with black bars on the ends to make a 16:9 image. This means leaving the converter box in “aspect ratio: auto” means most channels during most of the day are seen with black bars top, bottom, left and right. You do see the entire image, but at about 50% size in the center of the screen. I fear I may have to consistently change the aspect ratio settings for a satisfactory image. Then again, based on a few hours of viewing, true 16:9 channels are quite rare.
This box has a built-in signal meter. Because of the nature of the digital image, you cannot simply watch the screen in order to point the antenna properly. Thanks to AntennaWeb I know that all my regional digital-television stations are on the same hill and less than six miles away. With AntennaWeb’s information I tuned to my weakest signal, KTBC-DT whose analog station is by far my strongest signal, and watched the signal meter while I fiddled with the UHF antenna until it peaked. This was not difficult because all the digital stations blast into my part of town.
Although we have had digital television in Austin for ten years, the adoption rate has been quite slow. Most televisions around here are attached to some kind of subscription service. During this same time, the number of low-power stations has exploded. These stations are home shopping services, Spanish-language networks, and Christian programming. Until recently I did not know LPTV stations are not required to shut down their NTSC transmitters in February. Here is the rundown of stations I can receive in my home in both formats. This is not expected to change any time soon.
|Before or Analog||After or Digital|
|KQUX-CA||11||MTV Tr3s [sic] (see 32)|
|local weather “WeatherVUE”|
|KGBS-CA||32||MTV Tr3s [sic] (see 11)|
|off air, until recently NBC Weather Plus|
|KNVA||54||CW, MyTV on delay||KNVA-DT||49
|CW, MyTV on delay|
|KAKW-TV||62||Univision. Poor signal due to distant transmitter.|
6 primarily English
5 primarily Spanish
10 primarily English
2 weather maps
The old pinko in me cannot help but to see a cultural divide. Since it’s been a while since I’ve actually gone channel surfing, I do not know what happened to our Telemundo affiliate. In strong contrast to the hype surrounding ATSC, I have gone from 11 television channels to 10. Of course, among stations I can both watch and comprehend, I have gone from 6 to 8.
I cannot help but notice nine vacant channels. The subchannels of almost every broadcast channel are either filler or vacant with the exception of our PBS and CBS stations, and each of those have at least one unused co-channel. Univision, allegedly on channel 13 (maps to 31.1 Edit 7 January 62.1, thank you Jason.), is completely gone. Why isn’t Telemundo on a co-channel of our NBC affiliate? (Edit 11 Feb: Telemundo is now on LPTV 31; 31 and 62 no longer co-broadcast. Thank you, Noah.) I cannot work out what would be a good match on the unused spectrum of the other channels, but like RTN a number of “networks” intending to be used as subchannel filler programming are either newly broadcasting or will be available before the end of the year. What little I have seen of these imply they are broadcasting reruns from the late fifties to the middle seventies, with token amounts of original programming.
In fact those second-tier channels may become the new UHF … horror hosts anyone?
How about a subchannel dedicated to the inexplicable Austin Music Channel or ACTV, our local analog to public access cable, since they are always moaning about the cable company which gives them clearance?
You know, I think I’ve had enough of the future for a while.
EDIT 20 December: The major flaw in my coupon-eligible converter box is the program guide. It displays only the present program and the next program for the presently tuned channel. This is acceptable to me. Other boxes provide up to seven days of information, if provided by the channels, and have a mode through which you can several, channel listings together.