Elves, Unicorns and Free DTV


In case you haven’t heard, TV-as-we-know-it in the United States will go the way of the dinosaurs after the Super Bowl next year.  I have an old TV in the basement that isn’t connected to anything but the antenna in our attic.  It comes in handy when tornadoes roar through the area (for some reason the roof mounted satellite dish seems to lose the signal in these moments of crisis).  My dad also uses an antenna for his televisions purchased sometime early in the Reagan Administration.

The government decided to sell the public airwaves about fifteen years ago, getting rid of so-called “standard television” in the process.  I don’t have a problem per se with privatization; look how well Fannie Mae is working out for all of us.  And the ruling really only affects people who still use an antenna to pick up television signals; you know, poor people and other folks who don’t have high priced lobbyists in Washington. 

To be fair, the government has coupons worth $40 off the purchase price of a “converter box”.  These boxes will be able to take the digital signal and convert it into something old TV’s can show.  I sent away for my coupons a couple of months ago.  The coupons are apparently shipped via Myanmar.  They expire after three months and my 90 days were already 30 days up by the time I received them in the mail.

The next challenge was to locate one of these boxes.  The DTV web site had a long list of converters, but a Google search showed less than ten that were actually available.  And there seems to be a direct correlation between how much the box costs and whether or not you can actually buy it.  Remember, these boxes are for people who can’t afford (or are too cheap) to buy new HDTV’s.  So, the $150 converter box is in stock at a number of locations.  The $50 boxes are a little more challenging to locate.  And the mythical $40 box which would have been “free” after the coupon… well, it’s still mythical. 

I have a couple of weeks left before my coupons expire but I’m still trying to find a converter box that will set me back less than $30 in cash and have a chance of actually working.  Based on the reviews for these boxes, a number of them seem to be less than quality products.  If I was a believer in government conspiracies, I’d have Oliver Stone looking into this whole DTV transition. 

Ultimately it’s just bothersome for me.  We have satellite service and our main TV is high definition.  I worry about my dad though.  He relies on me to do “technical” stuff like turn his computer on and set the time on the VCR.  He needs me to find a good converter box for him.  Otherwise come next March he may be forced to give up TV and go back to… reading books.

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