The first step in my attempt to convert to digital televisionâ''use my coupon card to buy a converter at Wal-Martâ''went smoothly.
Since then, Iâ''ve hit a few bumps in the road. I wanted to buy a different brand of converter with my second coupon; I have two TVs, and I wanted to see if there were any differences between brands. I thought Iâ''d try Radio Shack. They were sold out.
I took a brief trip to New Jersey; while I was there, I thought Iâ''d trade in the converter coupons Iâ''d had sent to my mother and my aunt and hook up their boxes since I was on this converter bandwagon. There wasnâ''t a converter to be had on store shelves. Not at Radio Shack, Wal-Mart, Kmart, the three of the seven official converter program retailers with stores in town.
Back at home, I hooked up that first converter I bought, an RCA branded box. I normally get all the normal networks and a few UHF stations from my rooftop antenna. The local DTV guides tell me I should be picking up 44 digital stations. I got a tiny subset of that, essentially, 7, 11, and 54. Only 54 (and three substations using the same frequency) came in without horrendous pixilation and freezes. This was not an auspicious beginning.
I went back to Radio Shack to make another attempt at buying a converter, and to ask why the heck I was only getting in a couple of channels in this supposedly signal-laden environment. The store was still sold out, but with my coupon due to expire in three days, I took the salesmanâ''s advice to pay now and have my converter box shipped to me in a few days. I should have gotten it by now. I donâ''t have it yet. I also asked him about the channel problem. He said the RCA converter I bought at Wal-Mart wasnâ''t any good, and the new second-generation converter (second generation? These things havenâ''t been out that long) he was selling me would do much much better. Truth, or opportunity to badmouth a competitor? Weâ''ll see.
While I giving the salesman my shipping information, a big guy walked in with a pile of long boxes. I idly watched him stack them on the floor, and then realized that they were antennas. UHF antennas, to pick up those digital signals that are decidedly not getting to my digital converter via my decades old VHF antenna. Hmmm... Iâ''m thinking I need one of those, but had better check with my husband about how he feels about venturing up on our very steep roof.
Back at home; I called Mike Sherman, who represents Antennas Direct. I asked him if my problem could indeed be my old VHF antenna. Most likely, he said, but possibly also my ancient antenna cable. Heâ''d send me an antenna and cable to try, and my husband agreed to make the climb up onto the roof when it arrives.
I thought, at this point, Iâ''d be reporting on a successful conversion to digital television, perhaps a brief struggle to figure out which cable plugs where into the converter box/tv/dvd player; and that Iâ''d now be happily watching all sorts of new digital channels. But instead, it looks like my adventures in digital conversion continue.
For more tales from the digital television transition, as well as links to in depth coverage about digital television technology, see IEEE Spectrum's Special Report: THE DAY ANALOG TV DIES.