Using a Digital Converter Box

We're switching from analog TV to digital TV reception by way of those converter boxes that the government is advertising. It's a way of still using your old analog TV when the TV switch to digital occurs in Feb 2009.


I bought a converter box with a government coupon in the Spring of 2008 which is probably no longer available (the DTA800 by RCA). Plugged it in and it worked OK, then the next day I figured it should be programmed properly. Big mistake (channel changing was now via the volume button and it went down hill from there). Called Customer Service and was told how to reset the box. I am posting this re-set info, because I am thinking this is going to happen to a lot of people and this message may save some hours and needless aggravation.

To re-set the converter box: Push the STANDBY button for 15 seconds. Unplug the box from everything for 15 minutes and take batteries out of remote. Plug everything back in, put batteries back into remote.

By Holly from Richardson, TX

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We wanted to use our analog VCR with the new converter box (bought with a government issue coupon) for the analog TV. Had to call Customer Service for information as the TV would not communicate with the VCR no matter what I did.

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This is just a comment about the new Digital TV converter boxes. They're inconvenient for recording. To record using a RCA DTA800 converter box, you have to go to the unit and with your hand, change the channel. Suppose you want to record ABC TV at 7 pm, and then CBS at 8 pm and then NBC at 8:30 pm. You'd have to walk up to your converter box and manually switch TV channels 3 times that evening, at 7, 8 and 8:30 pm. At best, the TV converter box is as useful as your memory and the ability to be in the same room when you want to record.

The following is from RCA about the converter box:

"VCR's work differently with the digital box. When recording a program you will ALWAYS program your VCR to record on Channel 3 (the channel the switch on the back of the digital box is set to.) Then set the digital box to the channel you actually want to record and leave the digital box on.

For example: You want to record something on channel 12 at 2:00

You program your VCR to record from channel 3 at 2:00 and the use the channel selector on the digital box remote to set the TV to channel 12.

There are 2 inherent limitations in using your VCR with the digital box because of this:

1) You can not watch one channel while recording another, at all.

2) If you want to timer record two programs at different times on different channels then somebody will have to be there in between the two programs to change the channel on the digital box."

Source: RCA Assistance.

By Holly from Richardson, TX

Editor's Note: This is only for people who are using an analog TV and receiving broadcast television. Cable and satellite users and anyone who has purchased a television since May 25, 2007 should not be affected.


June 17, 20080 found this helpful

Having to buy new vcr/dvd recorders and tv's is annoying at best and un-affordable at worst.

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June 18, 20080 found this helpful

I have replaced one VCR with a Panasonic DVR/VCR because it has both a digital and analog tuner and I won't need a converter for it.
I will replace the other VCR with the new Panasonic DVR 48 something for the very same reason. This is really a major pain.
I had ordered the Echostar TR-40 which supposedly has VCR programming (who knows how it works) but the company I ordered from no longer has the coupon program and won't be handling the new DTV Pal which is the new name of the Echostar TR 40.


This is a major pain in the neck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anyone have a converter box they like and why?

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By Jan (Guest Post)
October 14, 20080 found this helpful

A Walmart electronics salesperson suggested I set my (Zenith) VCR to Channel 3 and the RCA converter to the channel that I want to record -- just as "Holly" says RCA Assistance suggests. Didn't work. All I got was static. Anyone out there know of a VCR I can buy that will let me program shows while using my new converter? Or maybe another brand of converter that will let me program shows with my current VCR? I've asked at several electronics stores and keep getting entirely different answers, even people in the business don't seem to have a clue.

I think it's outrageous that they couldn't have waited 10 years or so for most all analog TVs to die out before pulling this. Unfortunately, my old TV died about a year before they stopped selling analog TVs and the digital TVs were selling for thousands of dollars. So now I'm stuck with a perfectly good TV and VCR, but have no way to program shows while I'm out.

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By Marty (Guest Post)
December 19, 20080 found this helpful

This is another tax on the people who can afford it the least. This transfer couldn't have come at a worse time. $40 come on, it should of at least been $50 and what about all the vcr's that won't work now. They really thought this out. Stick it to the middle class.

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December 20, 20080 found this helpful

Analog vcrs and tv will work with cable, I have been told. Check it out before signing up for the service!

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May 13, 20090 found this helpful

I can't believe the TV industry or the FCC didn't anticipate this VCR/Converter problem. Do you suppose they want to sell more DVR's? Is the FCC really there to protect us from those kind of schemes, or did someone pay someone off. If they would have announced well in advance that VCR's would be practically useless after the digital change, people would be up in arms. Now there's no choice.

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I have been looking for ways to save money and decided to cancel my cable services. Please tell me how well the TV converter boxes are working.

I have 3 flat screen TVs and was wondering how well those converter boxes worked with flat screens and if they are difficult to install. Is the converter box the only component I need to buy? Please share your suggestions.

By Onesummer


August 13, 20090 found this helpful

I have one TV on a converter box and don't get all the stations that it scans in. Supposedly I have 11 channels but only 4 will actually show a picture. The antenna is very sensitive and moving it just an inch or two here or there makes a difference.

If I had it to do all over again I would have done a lot more reading at before purchasing a converter box and antenna.

There is a YouTube video that shows how to make your own DTV antenna. I haven't done this but apparently people swear by it!

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August 13, 20090 found this helpful

I have one installed at a cottage where reception is not the greatest! The old analog signals, while grainy, were watchable and I got all four of our local stations. Since the switch to digital, I now get only two. When I contacted the local 'digital questions' hot line, I was told that if you get a good signal, the picture will be great but if your signal is not good enough, the converter won't show it to you. Apparently the converter manufacturers have decided that you get great pictures or nothing. Bummer!

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August 13, 20090 found this helpful

Forgot to mention, I just ran the antenna wire to the converter box and from there to the TV. Very simple to set up and use.

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August 13, 20090 found this helpful

I haven't had cable since Nov. 1995 and while I still miss certain channels I don't miss the monthly cost. You figure that in that amount of time if the average cable or satellite bill is say $60, that's close to $9000. Of course recalculate your monthly bills x 153 months and there's the breakdown.

Anyhow, I got Insignia converters for both my TVs last October and get 15 channels total. Mix in some spanish language and a reading channel and I have 10 channels (two are strictly local weather channels but one does show regular TV programming in a little box sometimes) that I actually watch - my converter allows me to edit out the channels I don't want. I am missing one of the PBS stations as we are still on their analog translater (from Denver to Colorado Springs - KBDI).

I live in Colorado Springs, CO so all our towers are on top of a mountain and our city is closer to the mountains that much of say the Denver Metro area. People who live far distances from major TV markets have problems and some people on the eastern edges of places like the Denver metro area have problems.

Thus far my signal is so much better than with the analog signal so I can still continue to save money. I still have analog TVs but the picture quality is only limited by the screens instead of the analog signal and it's far superior than before.

As for what you need to know, you need to find out if your TV is DTV ready.

Here's the government's website on DTV:

Also check with your local PBS station. Both PBS stations in my market really went over and above to help those switch.

For my TVs I simply took the antenna out of the back of the TV, installed it to the converter and connected the converter to the TV. My main problem has been connecting the DVD player and the stereo with the converter. It's weird how I had it set up and I haven't been patient enough to sit down and hash through a move and just haven't been watching movies lately. :-)

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August 13, 20090 found this helpful

For duanedv: You posted "I was told that if you get a good signal, the picture will be great but if your signal is not good enough, the converter won't show it to you. Apparently the converter manufacturers have decided that you get great pictures or nothing."

This is untrue.

Having had to deal with problems after the switch even though things were working well prior to the official switch, it is the TV stations signal power that makes the difference. In addition, simple things like buildings, mountains, and such interfere with digital signals.

Here is an okay site to check your location for digital signal strength, what equipment you may need (antenna wise) and what they think those stations will show in terms of how they think the signal will carry: You only need to provide your zip code, then get as close as will help you determine what kind of antenna you need.

Good luck on getting better signals.

BTW - I am using the same antennas that I had prior to getting my converters. No special antennas needed and most people don't need super expensive ones.

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January 2, 2018

I have two small digital TVs connected to an external antenna. Neither works very well alone (3 or 4 channels). However, when the signal is passed through a converter box reception is remarkably better 35 to 40 channels). Does that make sense?

Does it mean that converter boxes are better quality? Are there small (12 to 15 inch) TVs that work as well as converters? I would gladly pay 2 or 3 times as much for a really good small TV, but can not find one.


January 2, 20180 found this helpful

The answer to your question is no. It doesn't mean they are better quality. It means that most channels today on the TV are for HD TV sets and your TV set is old and doesn't have this feature. Therefore, the converter box converts the signal from HD TV to a standard analog signal that your TV can understand and use. If you had a new HD TV you wouldn't need the converter box to watch the channels.

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January 2, 20180 found this helpful

I have a converter box for my 1987 TV. Once I got cable TV I no longer needed it. The box converts the analog signals.

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In canceling our cable TV, I see we need a converter box and an amplified antennae. Are all digital converter boxes the same? Any issues I should know about?

By ANNETTE from Cocoa Beach, FL


December 7, 20100 found this helpful

All converter boxes should be the same. I also have old analog TV sets and would like to dump cable. So I bought a converter and rabbit ears,hooked them up and got about 8 TV stations. But I didn't get some of the stations I wanted that available over theair. So I returned the items. Now I think I will break down and buy a new TV, rabbit ears and try it again. A new TV will have the requirements to recieve a TV signal without a converter box.

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December 7, 20100 found this helpful

You should be able to find a slightly used one cheap. Many were purchased when the government had the rebate program during the change over. Now persons have new TV that don't require the box. Only older analog sets need the box.
They all do the same thing, just that like anything else there are different features between them.
Ask around am sure someone you know has one.

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December 10, 20100 found this helpful

No, they are not all the same. There are two basic kinds. One, the kind the government gave out free coupons for - will work for any analog TV. It "dumbs" down the signal. The second is for TV's like mine which were sold as "HD Read" meaning they can display HD images but were not equiped with an HD tuner. These boxes were not eligable for the government coupon and were more expensive to begin with. The vast majority of boxes out there are the first kind. Again, they should work with any TV, even those that were sold as "HD ready". But, the ones specifically designed for "HD ready" tv's will not work on other tv's. Ask your friends/family if they have any extra boxes around. They may have gotten a new TV but not thrown out their old box!

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Any TV converter box brand or features you'd like to recommend or vice versa?

Holly from Richardson, TX


By vince (Guest Post)
June 7, 20080 found this helpful

I have a friend who has been a tv engineer for 30 years. He recommends the DTVPal by Dish. It will be out around the end of June and will sell for 39.99. Since you can get a free $40 coupon from the government, this makes it free! Check it out on

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