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Deadline for switch to digital television is this Friday

Sharon Hayes • Jun 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM

If you’re one of the 3.3 million U.S. households still unprepared for the switch to digital TV, you’re almost out of time.

This Friday, June 12, is the final deadline for the nation’s full-power television stations to begin broadcasting exclusively in digital format.

As of Wednesday, 42 percent of television stations across the country had already transitioned to digital.

For most of the region’s TV viewers — who subscribe to either cable or satellite television services — Friday will come and go with no noticeable changes.

But for those who currently receive their TV through free over-the-air signals on an analog set, you’ll need a digital converter box starting Friday, or a television set with a built-in digital tuner.

Lots of folks have already taken advantage of a government coupon program that provided $40 toward the purchase of a new converter box. All U.S. households are eligible to request up to two converter box coupons until July 31.

Others have opted to upgrade their TV sets altogether.

At Target in the Kingsport Pavilion, Mike Bennett, who oversees the electronics department, said TV sales were strong during the first part of this year.

“Probably up until March, we saw more people buying the TVs. It got to a point where we couldn’t keep TVs in stock. Actually we ran out of TVs for about a week and a half,” Bennett said.

Lots of folks have also purchased converter boxes, he said.

At Wal-Mart on Fort Henry Drive, Co-Manager Tony McMillan said he believes the economy has affected consumer spending on new TVs, regardless of the impending switch to digital.

“With the economy, a lot of people are just getting the least they can get by with. Unless you have to change, why would you change unless you have the money,” McMillan said.

Still, area electronics retailers say now is a good time to buy because prices for digital television sets have been on the decline.

“What you could have gotten three years ago, you’re saving thousands of dollars on that now,” McMillan said. “We got some 50-inch plasmas that are $1,000 cheaper than they were two or three years ago.”

At Target, Bennett said he’s also noticed a drop in prices.

“Like a 57-inch that we were carrying last year. Right now it’s $1,799. Last year it was running about $2,400,” Bennett said.

Most new TVs contain a digital tuner. If they don’t, they should be identified as not having digital capability.

TV sets labeled as having a digital monitor or HDTV monitor or those identified as digital ready or HDTV ready aren’t necessarily ready for the digital switch. Consumers need to make sure the set contains a digital tuner. If not, you may still need a set-top box with tuner to view programs in digital TV mode.

Consumers with digitally equipped sets who don’t subscribe to either cable or satellite services should contact their local broadcast stations to determine the channel numbers for local digital programming. TV sets should then be set up to receive over-the-air programming and tuned to the local digital channels to make sure they’ll receive programming.

In addition, you may need new connectors to make sure that other equipment, such as DVD player, DVR, VCR, and video games, works with a digitally equipped TV.

Ask your electronics retailer what you need to connect the components.

For more information, visit www.dtv.gov or www.dtvanswers.com/.

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