Cheap DTV
January 5, 2009 6:16 PM   Subscribe

Where can I get the cheapest possible DTV converter box?

I got my $40 TV converter box coupons. But apparently the boxes cost a little more than that. Since I pretty much use the TV exclusively to screen DVDs (I watched over-the-air programming once in the four months I have had it), and might get a new one someday, maybe I shouldn't use them at all. But I would do it if I could get a new box for only a few bucks cash expenditure. So where's the cheapest one I can get with my coupon? I'd prefer to order off the internet, but I could get one from a store in Seattle if it were convenient.

Am I going to need an antenna too? I don't have one of any sort.
posted by grouse to Shopping (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, you will need an antenna. It does not need to be any special kind of antenna, except that it ought to be good enough to receive the current stations mostly noise free. There is NO difference between a digital antenna and a regular one- the digital stations are broadcast on the same frequencies as regular TV. (Not at the same time, mind you. Just using the same frequency-space. They are on different channels, but your receiver will figure that out for you. It's confusing. The digital versions of the stations are broadcast on unused channels. So, for example, digital channel 2 might be on channel 3. But you don't need to know what, because the signal is encoded to tell your receiver it's really channel 2. Just hit scan and it will figure it out. Think of it like the telephone and computer modem- the channels are the phone lines. Some lines have digital information, some have analog.)

The converter box is basically like a cable box that you plug into the sky.

Radio Shack probably is the best option- not the cheapest, but possibly a little more reliable and helpful for the uninitiated.
posted by gjc at 6:32 PM on January 5, 2009

I believe $40 is the general starting point, leaving you with just tax. Check Wal-Mart, or check Google and you'll find sources easily enough in that price range. Be damned sure you check the list of eligible models, though. The government won't cover any and all models.

In answer to your second question, yeah, you have to have something to plug into the box to receive and pass on the signal. Plain old rabbit ears may work fine, but be advised that DTV is all or nothing -- you won't get a fuzzy picture if the signal is weak, you'll get no channel at all. So you might want to think about ponying up for a decent amplified indoor antenna.

On preview, you won't have to worry about virtual channels unless there's one that you can't auto-detect, which may be the case if there's a channel with a weaker signal and you're using rabbit ears. Adding weak channels manually requires you to know the real frequency that that channel is on.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:38 PM on January 5, 2009

Also, on the antenna side, I should add there are videos on youtube about how to make your own antenna out of coathangers and scrap wood. I did a similar thing with used romex cable, added an aluminum foil reflector, ran the thing up into my attic, and it works like a champ. The thing cost me just a few bucks in materials, mostly the coax cable to run down my wall and a wall jack to attach it to. But you may not have to go that far -- you might be able to just make the antenna without a reflector and shove it behind your TV, depending now reception is in your area.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:41 PM on January 5, 2009

Here is the list of boxes you can use the coupon with at amazon. There's one left thats 47 dollars and it looks like its free shipping. I just got a Lasonic in today and it works great. If you see that brand elsewhere I'd get it.

The mother lode of DTVs is at meritline. They have a bunch right at 40 dollars too.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:42 PM on January 5, 2009

Seconding Amazon.
posted by teamparka at 7:21 PM on January 5, 2009

TigerDirect has one for $40.01, plus shipping.
posted by Marky at 7:34 PM on January 5, 2009

In actual brick-and-mortar stores, I didn't find any for less than $50 in my city. You can use a regular antenna that has a coaxial cable coming out of it. These run really cheap new (I think mine was $10), and you could probably find one at a thrift store/Goodwill for a few bucks.
posted by fructose at 8:05 PM on January 5, 2009

Don't miss the fact that your coupons have an expiration date, 90 days after they were issued. You can't sit on them forever.

Also, the coupon offer doesn't last forever either. Now's the time folks, beat the rush. If you haven't ordered your coupon yet, do it NOW.

Here's an awesome comparison of converter box features from Wikipedia.
posted by intermod at 9:16 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I got the Insignia from Best Buy for 60% less coupon which isn't the cheapest but works great.
I am using the old $20 analog rabbit ears I used to use for regular TV and it works great (here in downtown SF).
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:33 PM on January 5, 2009

The Apex 502 at Tiger Direct also has an S-Video output. Costs .01 after coupon and instant rebate.
posted by Gungho at 4:19 AM on January 6, 2009

Also, the coupon offer doesn't last forever either. Now's the time folks, beat the rush. If you haven't ordered your coupon yet, do it NOW.

Looks like I was prescient. The Washington Post reports today that the coupon program is running out of money, as a lot of insiders had recently been speculating that would.

And that news has been posted to SlashDot, so the program actually is out of money in 3, 2, 1, now. Well, go ahead and apply anyway to get in line for when they get more funding.
posted by intermod at 1:04 PM on January 6, 2009

You can get this one completely free -- no shipping charges, no credit card needed, just input your coupon #:

If you have two coupons, you can get two of these completely free as well.
posted by Nerro at 1:16 PM on January 6, 2009

I ordered two boxes from freeTVsignal two weeks ago. They finally sent me an e-mail today saying that they had shipped the boxes.
posted by grouse at 3:41 PM on January 21, 2009

Both boxes arrived via UPS today.
posted by grouse at 11:05 AM on February 2, 2009

I hooked one of the boxes up, and without rabbit ears it only picks up the strongest nearby station, which it says is low quality, and the video is chunky. I think this is mainly due to my lack of rabbit ears or antenna.

Thanks Nerro, and everyone else.
posted by grouse at 6:30 AM on February 5, 2009

grouse, here's a link to the DIY coathanger antenna video I mentioned upthread. If you've already got the tools and most of the scrap, it works pretty well and is cheap-cheap to build, much cheaper than a $50 amplified set of rabbit ears.

I built one of these and got most of the channels in my area, which is hilly and covered in trees. I then put a reflector on the back made out of aluminum foil and cardboard, ran it up into my attic, and I got them all.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:40 AM on February 5, 2009

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