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Making the jump to digital TV

June 2, 2008 | 12:30 pm
Charles Wolfe is running into problems during the digital TV transition

Remember how your parents used to tell you, "No TV until you do your homework"? Well, you're never too old to relive those good old days, thanks to the federal government.

Washington has dictated that TV broadcasters must stop transmitting their old-fashioned analog signals on Feb. 18. And if you rely on an antenna to get your TV (and in some cases, even if you don't), you've got some homework to do before the digital TV transition to make sure your set doesn't go dark. Or that you don't run into the problems that Charles Wolfe of Sylmar, above, encountered when he made the switch to digital recently. (Hint: that blue box on his TV screen that says "weak signal" is not good, and it's something that many people in Los Angeles could experience, as I noted last week.)

Here's some more digital TV homework: a story we ran Sunday that can help you make the transition. It covers such tips as how to figure out what your pay-TV provider has planned for you and how to land two $40 coupons from the federal government to help purchase digital-to-analog converter boxes (on that other common parental theory that it's never good to wait until the last minute).

I'll be doing an online chat, archived here, at 1 p.m. today to answer questions about the conversion. But several readers already have e-mailed with an excellent one about whether their VCRs and DVD players...

... will continue to work after they hook up an analog-to-digital converter box to their TV. After checking around, I can tell you that the answer is, well, "sort of." The converter box will allow you to record a program you are watching or even one airing when you're not home, as long as the converter box is tuned to the channel you want to record.

Here's some info the National Assn. of Broadcasters sent today from a FAQ that it's been handing out (but isn't yet posted online.)

Will my VCR or DVD player still work after I plug a converter box into
my TV?

Yes. However, after the digital transition, the analog tuner in your VCR
will not be able to pick up over-the-air programs for recording.
Instead, the input to the VCR must be connected to the output of the DTV
converter box. You must set the converter box tuner to the channel you
want to record prior to the start of the timed recording programmed in
the VCR.

But that means that recording one show while watching another, or programing your VCR to record shows from different channels, won't be possible after the analog signals are turned off. About.com also offers some handy advice on using a VCR with a converter box. The DVD question is a little trickier. Newer DVD players have a tuner inside that allows them to receive the digital signals, so they should be able to record two programs at once. But you'll need to check your manual to see if your DVD player has a digital tuner. If not, then the DVD player will have the same limitations as a VCR.

-- Jim Puzzanghera

Puzzanghera, a Times staff writer, covers tech and media policy from Washington, D.C.

Photo: Charles Wolfe, 65, holds a converter box that he purchased for his analog TV that allows him to receive the new digital broadcast signals at his Sylmar home. But after installing it, he now receives fewer TV stations than he did without the converter box, often getting instead a "weak signal" message. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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