If you have an old television set built before the transition to digital, high definition TV, it won't work with an antenna without a converter box. There was a government program that would provide TV owners with a TV converter box free, but that program ended in 2009. You can still purchase a TV converter box, and you may be able to find an inexpensive used converter box as people upgrade their old televisions.
Free Digital Converter Box Program
U.S. television broadcasts switched from an old analog format to a new digital format in 2009. Since TV owners wouldn't be able to pick up broadcast signals without getting a new TV or a converter box, a federal government program offered a coupon for a free digital converter box. People who requested the coupons would get two $40 coupons, usable within 90 days toward the purchase of such a box.
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The program ended in July 2009, and according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, about 33,962,696 coupons were ultimately used. Unfortunately, it's no longer possible to get a free digital converter box through the government.
Do You Need a Box?
You'll generally need a converter box only if you have a TV made before the digital transition. If you buy a current HDTV, you won't need such a box. If you're not sure if you need a converter box, check your TV, its packaging or its manual to see if it's an HDTV.
If you're using your TV with a cable or satellite subscription, you may not need a box if your cable or satellite converter box is capable of outputting an analog signal itself. In that case, the set-top box essentially doubles as the converter box. Check with your cable or satellite provider to see if the company can provide you with a box that doesn't require a separate converter.
If you're using your TV only with older hardware, such as VCRs, older video game systems or other devices that work with an analog TV, you won't need a converter box.
Buying a Converter Box
If you do need a converter box to use your older TV, you can buy one. Some have additional features, like digital video recording capability or parental controls, built in. Others simply offer digital-to-analog conversion so you can watch TV. Shop around for one with the features you need or want. Keep in mind that you may be able to buy a cheap used or even new digital TV for not much more than the price of a converter box.
If you're on a budget, you might want to look for used converter boxes online or at a thrift store, since people upgrading their TVs may sell or donate their old converters when they no longer need them.