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Finding the right TV converter box

December 2, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Next February, televisions will have to broadcast with an all-digital signal. For those with an analog television, that means purchasing a converter box or signing up for cable or satellite.A converter box is a cheaper option than signing up for cable or satellite service.

Consumer specialists teamed up to find out which box is the best.

Last December, Terry Linkowski was stunned when she learned her analog TV would not work by February 2009.

"I don't believe it," said Linkowski.

She doesn't want to pay for cable or satellite. So her son is getting her something that costs a lot less.

"He promised that he would get me one of those converter boxes," Linkowski said.

Consumer Reports has tested two dozen converter boxes. They cost from around $50 to $80. However, you can get a $40 coupon from the government.

Tests found all the boxes produced picture quality ranging from acceptable to outstanding.

One of the best boxes is the TIVAX STB-T9, which costs just $10 with the government coupon. Even though it is one of the best converter boxes tested, consumers should be aware that there is a number of factors that can affect performance.

"Where you live, the local terrain, the number of stations that are broadcasting in your area, signal strength, and the type of antenna that you're using," said Consumer Reports' Jim Wilcox, who described how those factors can affect how each box performs.

Digital converter boxes all come with the same basic features, including a remote control.

"But some boxes also have buttons on the unit itself so you can operate them in case you lose the remote," said Wilcox.

Some boxes also provide a comprehensive program guide, with details about upcoming shows. You may also want to look for a box that lets you adjust the closed captioning, so you are able to make the text bigger and easier to read.

Converter boxes do not work with old-fashioned televisions with a "rabbit ear" antenna. In order for the box to work, the antenna should receive both UHF and VHF signals.

This story originally aired on Sept. 9, 2008.


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