Senate passes bill to delay digital TV switch

Posted on January 27, 2009. Filed under: Entertainment, Software & Technology, Utilities | Tags: , , , , |

Senate passes bill to delay digital TV switch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate passed a bill on Monday to delay the nationwide switch to digital TV signals, giving consumers nearly four more months to prepare.

The transition date would move to June 12 from February 17 under the bill that was fueled by worries that viewers are not technically ready for the congressionally-mandated switch-over.

It also would allow consumers with expired coupons, available from the government to offset the cost of a $40 converter box, to request new coupons. The government ran out of coupons earlier this month, and about 2.5 million Americans are on a waiting list for them.

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MSNBC.com Article: Converter-box program running out of money As many as 8 million households still unprepared for digital TV transition

Posted on January 4, 2009. Filed under: Entertainment, Software & Technology | Tags: , , , |

By Joelle Tessler

updated 2:38 p.m. PT, Fri., Jan. 2, 2009

WASHINGTON – The Feb. 17 transition from analog to digital television broadcasts looms and as many as 8 million households are still unprepared, but the government program that subsidizes crucial TV converter boxes is about to run out of money.

To subsidize the converter boxes, most of which cost between $40 and $80 and can be purchased without coupons, the government has been letting consumers request up to two $40 coupons per home. But any day now, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the arm of the Commerce Department in charge of administering the coupon program, expects to hit a $1.34 billion funding ceiling set by Congress.

At this point, Congress has two options: it could raise the $1.34 billion cap by waiving the accounting rules that require the NTIA to wait for unredeemed coupons to expire before issuing new ones. The NTIA estimates it could distribute up to 56.5 million coupons if those rules are waived.

Or Congress could approve more money for the program. The NTIA estimates it could distribute up to 56.5 million coupons with an additional $250 million in funding, or up to 60 million coupons with another $330 million in funding.

For the complete article click here

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DIY Build your own HDTV Antenna

Posted on July 29, 2008. Filed under: Entertainment, Home & Garden, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

Please Note:  on July 6, 2009  I posted an updated version of this article which includes the 4 key things every good antenna must have on LivingWellonABudget.com called The Post DTV Transition Explained Part 2:  How to Build Your Own DIY HDTV Antenna and Save Money

For additional background and information, read the blog posts:

The Post Digital TV Transition Explained Part 1: What’s in it For You? What You Need to Know Now covers why the Digital TV transition happened, how you can benefit, understanding the UHF/VHF channel reassignments, why you might be experiencing reception issues and which DTV option is best for you?

and also How to Recycle An Old Satellite Receiver Set Top Box instead of Buying a Digital Converter Box

Stay tuned and subscribe to the www.LivingWellonaBudget.com Part 3 of The Post Digital TV Transition Explained, is a work-in-progess that will provide details on how to build an easy, yet very unique,  compact VHF/UHF antenna (i.e.,  low SWR over a very wide band width, high gain, directivity and scalable).  The design is ‘out of the box’ thinking and is very different.

This is the original blog post from last July, 2008:

TV stations are now broadcasting both the analog (VHF) signals and the digital (UHF) signals. In February, 2009 analog will go away. Some of the stations will return to the old channel assignment which will be in the higher VHF range. TVfool.com will give you all the info for the stations, channels and signal ranges in your area. There are also some definitions and good explanations about antenna basics for beginners at HDTVPrimer

My very first post was about switching from cable television to free Digital TV and how I did it. In that post, I mention that I am currently using rabbit ears perched on top of my tv set. I also mention that my father, a true geek in the best sense of the word, has committed to building me a better antenna which I have yet to receive. I think he is contemplating design and packaging for shipping from Massachusetts to California, most likely with some assembly required on my part. He also works full-time as a sales executive in the IT industry, so his free time for his hobbies is limited.

Here is a photograph of one of the antennas my father made that he is currently using at home with a flat panel HDTV. He designed it for the UHF HDTV station spread in the Boston market (e.g. 500 to 650 MHz). He says it works like a champ and receives all the stations in the Boston area at signal levels of between 9 and 10. His house is at sea level, the antenna is indoors on the second floor, and the stations are 24 to 28 air miles away.

The antenna is 18″ long and has 7 elements, the longest being 15″ and it works as well (perhaps slightly better) than a db4 or the double quad he also made. My Dad made this antenna (elements and boom) from 1/2″ x 1/16″ aluminum stock that he bought at a Lowes home center for about $8. Construction is pretty straightforward. He used nylon screws and nuts to isolate and attach the 2 booms together. The elements were fastened to the boom with 4-40 screws and nuts. The piece that looks like a tail at the end of the antenna is called a coupler, which is an impedance transformer to convert from 300 ohms to 75 ohms.

The antenna shown above is based on a rather sophisticated LPDA (Log Periodic Dipole Array) antenna designed by the US government. The selection of design parameters to arrive at the antenna’s exact physical design specs needs to be customized to the task. It requires advanced mathematical calculations that my father used an online JAVA calculator to perform. Unless you’re an engineer or math whiz, it may not be for the novice antenna builder.

By making it longer with more elements, my Dad says it will beat the pants off of anything you can make or buy. It can also be scaled to cover from VHF through UHF. He feels it’s his best effort to date, although he is constantly looking for ways to improve it or “build a better mousetrap.” To that end, my father has been scouring his local area for a discarded or unused Dish TV satellite dish to design an antenna around. This includes checking out the free “swap shed” at his town dump.

If you’re interested in learning how to build your own HD TV antenna and other DIY techie projects, a great resource is the forum on the LumenLab website. There are much simpler yet very functional designs, posted about in the HDTV antenna thread. For example, the double or quad array bow tie antenna (also known as DB2 or DB4) which can retail for $50+. Many of these design implementations could easily be built by the average person and use common everyday items and tools you probably have lying around the house or garage, such as glue guns, wire coat hangers, cardboard, scrap wood, metal screws, washers, and aluminum foil. There is a good video on how to build an HDTV antenna out of wire coat hangers on YouTube worth watching.


Here is an example of a DB4 posted by Squeeto on the LumenLabs forum made from copper wire, synthetic building wood and cheap cooling racks.

You can find my father’s posts there under the member name Serndipity (spelled as such). Also look for posts by Pitman2, along with various designs, modifications, and lots of good advice.

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Goodbye cable, Hello DTV!

Posted on July 1, 2008. Filed under: Entertainment, Home & Garden, Utilities | Tags: , , , , , , |

NOTE: This article has been updated on my new LivingWellonaBudget.com site, here:

I finally did it. Broke the cable habit and switched to free Digital TV. I was already at the lowest and cheapest cable package Comcast offered – limited basic (I downgraded right after HBO aired the final episode of ‘Sex in the City’ – one of my guilty pleasures). Canceling cable will save me $16.42 per month or $197.04 per year.  So far, my withdrawal symptoms are almost non-existent.  I get most of the same channels with DTV as with limited basic cable but I do miss Comcast’s more comprehensive online guide for tv programs. Here’s how I did it:

Step 1
I went to tvfool which allows you to enter your zip code to locate TV transmitters, look at coverage maps, and optimize your HDTV setup. I currently have a 6 year old, 25″ Symphonic SDTV, i.e., a  tv that only supports standard definition. tvfool.com is a good resource to learn about digital TV and how to incorporate it into your home theater system.

Step 2
I applied for a $40 coupon from the government toward a digital tv tuner at https://www.dtv2009.gov/ApplyCoupon.aspx . It took about 3-4 weeks for the coupon to arrive in the mail and looks like a credit or debit card.  Make sure to note the expiration date on the card and use it before it expires.

Step 3  Zenith DTT900 Digital TV Tuner
Meanwhile, I started researching DTV converter boxes. Luckily, I have a father who is analytical with a degree in electrical engineering and a HAM radio buff. He has expertise in these types of things. He owns and recommended the Zenith DTT900 Digital TV Tuner (if it’s good enough for him…).  I price shopped on and offline and found the best price (and in stock) at my local Frys Electronics store. My father told me to make sure I bought a unit with the box stamped Apr 08 or later. Apparently, there were some minor sound problems with earlier Zenith DTT900 units.  There were only 2 units left at that Frys, but they were Apr 08 so I purchased one.  With tax less the coupon, it cost me $11.87.  Click here for more info on the Zenith DTT900 Digital converter box.

Step 4
I went into my garage and dusted off my old rabbit ears antenna from when I used to live cable-free in Boston more than 11 years ago (sometimes it does pay to hang on to old stuff).

Step 5
I unplugged my cable box and plugged in the Zenith DTT900 and attached it and the rabbit ears to the back of my tv.  The installation process was very easy and straightforward, even for a non-electrical engineer.  Signal strength varies by channel and time of day where I live, so some adjustments need to be made to the “wabbit” ears frequently.  The Zenith tuner does have a tv program guide feature, but you can only see what the programming is for the current time and the next hour. I found a good Digital Television/HDTV Channel List for within 100 miles of San Francisco.

Step 6
I called Comcast and canceled my cable service. I returned the cable box and remote to the local Comcast office. They didn’t even put up a fight.

Step 7
My father, who lives in Massachusetts, said he will build and mail me a better antenna out of wire coat hangers, cardboard and tinfoil. I’ll give an update on that when it happens. He said it’s an easy DIY project and “even you could do it.” Thankfully, I won’t have to since he does this for fun.


Update on 7/29/08: I also had to get a two way tv splitter to connect both my DVD player and the DTV tuner/rabbit ears to my tv without having to swap cables around every time I wanted to watch a DVD – cost at Fry’s $1.89 +tax

Related articles/blog posts:

How To Recycle an Old Satellite Receiver Set Top Box instead of Buying a Digital Converter Box

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