Should I bother getting a digital TV converter?
September 21, 2008 5:18 PM   Subscribe

We get little to no analog TV reception. Is switching to digital going to improve things?

Even on the best of days, with the strongest of stations, and with an antenna, our TV reception is so fuzzy it's almost unusable. Is digital TV going to be any better? I'd rather not buy one of those converter boxes if it's not going to make any difference (or make things worse).

We don't watch TV that much, but it's pretty good for live events.
posted by oaf to Technology (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
If anything, it'll be worse. Digital looks great as long as the signal stays above a certain strength, but once it falls below that threshold, it drops off of a cliff.

Often, during the Olympics, I'd have to switch back to the only-slightly-fuzzy analog channels to watch evens that were a garbled mess in HD.
posted by Oktober at 5:27 PM on September 21, 2008


With rabbit ears and an analog signal, I can only receive a couple of stations with enough clarity to consider trying to watch. With a converter box I get about ten stations, some clear, a most with some minor glitching. I only use the TV to watch Lost and the converter box serves my purposes well enough.
posted by bunnytricks at 5:35 PM on September 21, 2008


I'd look into the $40 off coupon for the converter. Apply here. That should mean you'll be out only a few dollars, if anything, to get the update. Since the conversion happens in under a year now, I'd go ahead and give it a shot, unless you're considering getting cable or satellite in the next few months (which I wouldn't recommend if you watch TV lightly as you said in the OP).

I am not an engineer, but digital technology tends to either come in clearly or not at all, so if you do get signals, you should get them clearly. Since there's more resolution than your TV can display, any artifacts that do show up should be blurred out to a degree. I could be all wrong, but this is my semi-educated guess, and the first paragraph is just the stuff I'm sure of.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:37 PM on September 21, 2008


Antennaweb can help you determine for which stations you might get reception. AVSforum is a good source for DTV and HDTV calibration and other resources on figuring out if you can get reception.
posted by palionex at 5:37 PM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Our reception is better with the box.

The thing is, you will either have really good reception or none.
posted by konolia at 5:42 PM on September 21, 2008


We also went from a few analog channels to nearly a dozen watchable channels. We use a small table top antenna that has a amplifier built in. With analog, turning up the amp caused ghosting and made it very difficult to watch anything with detail. With digital, it's pretty great. The amplification certainly turns unwatchable into a perfect picture. The only caveat I'd throw out is that when digital is good enough you get a perfect picture, but when it's marginal, you get something much more unwatchable. Since it goes from one scenario to the other so drastically, we often tune into a perfect picture only to have it drop out completely now and then. In the analog days, you knew if the signal was marginal and could keep fussing with the antenna. With digital, you don't know how good the signal is until it drops out. There are some converter boxes that have signal meters, but the signal meter on ours mystifies me (and beeps in a very annoying fashion.) We have a Venturer we bought at Target.

(We're in south Minneapolis.)
posted by advicepig at 5:46 PM on September 21, 2008


I'd rather not buy one of those converter boxes

Are you aware that in the U.S. the government will provide you with a coupon toward the purchase of a converter box? (Your profile doesn't disclose your location, so it's hard to know how helpful that is to you, but if you're located elsewhere, check to see if a similar program exists.)
posted by Elsa at 5:53 PM on September 21, 2008


I get better reception with digital, in that the channels I get are perfect, where with analog they were very fuzzy. But I don't get more channels.
posted by smackfu at 6:27 PM on September 21, 2008


There's A LOT of misinformation in this thread.

Our experience here in Central Virginia is that DTV is a joke and worthless.

Worthless, how? Are you trying to receive UHF signals with a VHF antenna? The DTV rollout didn't start out on an all-or-nothing basis. In most markets, the main analog channel stayed on a full power transmitter on their VHF channel (which may or may not propagate better in your locale), and the digital signal started out on a lesser-powered transmitter located on a UHF channel. Folks with 'rabbit ears' need to upgrade their antenna to one that picks up UHF as well as VHF. In 2009, the digital transmitter will go back to the full powered, and in many cases, VHF channel. Reception will improve all around. Spare us the tinfoil hat act unless you're trying to catch a few more channels.

Oaf, without you telling us where you are, what kind of antenna you have, where it's located (on your roof? in your basement?), where it's pointed, how you have it connected to your TV, what kind of TV you have, whether or not you have trees near you, etc, there's really no way anyone can answer your question in any useful way.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 6:35 PM on September 21, 2008


I'm in New York, in a basement facing away from the Empire State Building (which I believe to be the source of a lot of signals in this area; perhaps some come from New Jersey?), so we don't have much going for us. I wasn't sure the TV even worked until I bought some rabbit ears for it—it's that bad. It's in the closet right now, so I can't check, but I'm pretty sure that I can't even hear WABC (maybe it's WCBS). I think WNET also doesn't reach. The rabbit ears have a UHF ring, but I haven't been able to get any UHF stations.

I'm guessing that most of the converter boxes are about the same.

At least I can send the TV back to Canada, where it came from, and it can have another three years of usability.
posted by oaf at 7:39 PM on September 21, 2008


Find a local independent TV guy. Mine hooked me up for $300 on my tower 30+ channels here in southwest Florida. he also does a $150 install deal where you pay $10 a month ($150 up front) & he owns & maintains the equipment. way better than cable.
posted by patnok at 8:12 PM on September 21, 2008


We had terrible analog reception and now we have terrible digital reception. Except with digital it's even more annoying because the flow is actually interrupted, so you don't even get fuzzy information, you just get no information. You can try to figure out where the bulk of the signals are coming from, and orient your antenna in that direction, but I suspect you've already tried that. Not to be unduly paranoid, but frankly it'sjust more legislation, written by industry supposedly for the consumer's good, that is really just a way to make you spend money on something you don't really need. I'm planning to go back to reading come February.
posted by nax at 12:49 PM on September 22, 2008


Except with digital it's even more annoying because the flow is actually interrupted, so you don't even get fuzzy information, you just get no information.

This is particularly frustrating with the audio. In my experience, a low-quality analog signal will still have perfectly good audio. I've "watched" Simpsons episodes that were so snowy that I could only follow along because of the audio track. A low-quality digital signal will just have audio drop-outs which are impossible to ignore / watch through. Even on a good signal, the occasional audio glitches are much more annoying than video hiccups.
posted by smackfu at 1:20 PM on September 22, 2008


I know several people who could use a converter box in case their cable goes out. If I couldn't use it, it wouldn't be a total loss…
posted by oaf at 3:36 PM on September 22, 2008


I work at a small tv station, and just asked our engineer for you. He said that in general, we are told that people who are not receiving our analog signal clearly will have a better chance of receiving our digital signal clearly, but there are so many reasons that a signal might degrade between you and the tower that there are no guarantees.

That was not as helpful as I had hoped.
posted by blackunicorn at 4:56 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oaf, without you telling us where you are, what kind of antenna you have, where it's located (on your roof? in your basement?), where it's pointed, how you have it connected to your TV, what kind of TV you have, whether or not you have trees near you, etc, there's really no way anyone can answer your question in any useful way.

That, in itself, is kind of an indictment of the product, isn't it? Do you need this much info to use a cellphone? If you did, you'd demand your money back.

The short answer is, if your setup isn't picking up any UHF channels, there's a fair chance your digital reception will really, really, really suck.

(Me: Northeast Minneapolis, just a few miles from monster TV transmitters along I-694, and I have problems unless I aim the antenna exactly right. In certain kinds of weather, like if there's a slight breeze outside, I have to hold the antenna in the middle of the room while doing tai chi exercises. This is with a brand-new digital set and a brand-new made-for-digital UHF antenna. For anything I actually want to sit and watch, I default back to cable.)
posted by gimonca at 8:49 PM on September 22, 2008


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