DTV Conversion and VCRs
December 15, 2008 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Help me help my wife's parents make this DTV conversion work with their VCR

So my wife's parents live out in the country where cable is not available. They watch TV OTA off an antenna. They use their ancient VCR reasonably much.

They got a converter box coupon and have the box.

Am I right in thinking that they'll have to:
1) Ditch the old remote and use one that controls the converter
2) For the VCR, have another box and manually control the "recording" channel and if you want to record something at 7 on NBC and then 8 on CBS while you're out that night, you can't anymore.

Is there any better way to fix this? A newer VCR that can tune digitial things? Will a newer TiVo work over the air for them?

I assume that building a Windows Media Center or some other computer solution will be too much for them (and too much of a long distance maintenance nightmare for me).

It seems like this problem would be all over the place, but maybe cable is that pervasive now. Are people just sucking it up and dealing with two converter boxes and losing the ability to program the VCR for stations?
posted by cmm to Technology (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Combo DVD Recorder / VCR w. ATSC & QAM tuner.

Basically you need a VCR with a digital tuner. There are a few out there but most people are probably using Tivos and such. The old VCR isn't good for recording much anymore as you've discovered.
posted by GuyZero at 2:01 PM on December 15, 2008

Holy jesus the converter boxes suck. I live about 1 mile from the broadcast location of a major network television station. The signal freezes and jitters all the time. Since I hooked up the box, I've lost half the channels I used to be able to get in and have pretty much stopped using my normal TV.

I haven't tried using a digital antenna, I still have the rabbit ears, but that would be the first place I would start if I cared.

1) They will still need to keep their old remote but the converter box's remote will be the one used to change the channels.
2) I don't have a solution for you.
posted by 517 at 2:03 PM on December 15, 2008

And an even cheaper one at Wal-mart.
posted by GuyZero at 2:05 PM on December 15, 2008

Best answer: I have a Series 2 Tivo with the Insignia DTV box and it's working great for me. In my case the quality of my signals has improved significantly and we have many more real channels than we had before.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 3:38 PM on December 15, 2008

also the high power analog stations may not be pushing their digital signal yet. A friend of mine who is second generation TV service person said "wait to February" when the "conversion" takes place. At that time they will crank up the watts on the digital signal. A outside antenna is a must where i live. I am making the switch by dumping comcrap & setting up a tower that will include a weather station & MarineVHF antenna.
posted by patnok at 4:02 PM on December 15, 2008

They'll want to keep the old TV remote for turning the TV on and off.
They'll want to use the remote for the new box to turn it on and off and select the channel.

They could hook up the old VCR as follows:

Antenna --> New Box --> VCR --> TV.

This setup requires that they turn on the new box and select the channel before recording with the VCR. Yes, you're correct, they couldn't record more than one channel while they're away. Also, they couldn't record one channel while simultaneously watching a different channel.
posted by exphysicist345 at 4:56 PM on December 15, 2008

I just set up my equipment as above. works great! Tower will be up by this weekend. free tv!
posted by patnok at 8:13 PM on December 15, 2008

Best answer: This is a solved problem. Some of the CECBs have timer capabilities for exactly this purpose -- decoding a digital channel and then feeding it in analog to a VCR or other analog device. So they would program the VCR to record on channel 3/4 (or from a video input if it can do that) at the designated time, and the CECB would tune to the desired digital channel at the same designated time.

In this CECB comparison, you want a CECB that has "other feature" T (last column):

T -- Schedules programs at desired times so they can be recorded unattended to TiVo, VCR, DVD recorder or other recording media.

This will work great for regular repeated recordings. For lots of one-off recordings, it's going to take a while for them to get familiar with the remote control contortions to set up the CECB timer, but it can totally work.

Alas, you say they've already bought the CECB, and I don't know what the return policies are on these things. Might need to go apply for their second coupon ...

Boom, best answer, yo.

Over the air digital is f a n t a s t i c, highest quality TV in the world.
posted by intermod at 8:22 PM on December 15, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all for the help.

I can still ask for coupons if getting them a different converter is the answer. I can always take the box they already bought as a backup for myself.

Right now, I'm leaning towards an HD Tivo which will get dual OTA signals and deal with the tuning. I'm assuming guide data is available for OTA channels. The downside will be getting them to learn how to use the Tivo and the large initial upfront cost plus monthly charge.

From everything I'm reading, I'm fairly convinced that this will be an improvement for them no matter what as long as we can get the "I want to watch channel 5 while channel 11 is recording" and "I need to record channel 2 from 7 to 8 and channel 4 from 8 to 9 on Friday since we're going to be out" resolved. These both seem convoluted with the converter boxes.
posted by cmm at 8:46 PM on December 15, 2008

Oh yeah, certainly a Tivo HD is the way to go if you can afford that. I got one last August (strictly for OTA HD) and it is great. And it's dirt simple to use.
posted by intermod at 6:21 AM on December 17, 2008

I want to watch channel 5 while channel 11 is recording

THAT you won't be able to do with the CECB/VCR setup. Get the Tivo.
posted by intermod at 6:23 AM on December 17, 2008

Oh, and after they've had the Tivo for a week, go through the channel listing and remove (hide) the channels they don't care about. There will be all sorts of oddball channels (religious, Latino, etc) that will show up in the digital lineup, and the novelty of those will wear off after a week or two. Removing the clutter of those unwanted channels will make both the onscreen guide and plain old channel surfing a more pleasant experience for them.
posted by intermod at 6:33 AM on December 17, 2008

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