Many rush to buy digital converters

Published: Thursday, June 11 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

While others are rushing to the nearest electronics store to buy a converter for the digital TV switch on Friday, 26-year-old Trevor Woodford said he's going to wait.

The Salt Lake City resident works for a local Radio Shack and said he really wants to purchase a new digital television, but with limited funds in his bank account, Woodford will just rent movies for now.

"I probably will get one, but it'll be last minute," Woodford said. "I don't watch a whole lot of TV. My girlfriend used to watch 'Prison Break,' and when that was on she was religious about that." But since it's not on now, he said, he probably will not get a converter until she is angry enough to convince him.

Yet dozens of people are flocking to stores like Radio Shack and Best Buy to snap up converter boxes that hook into their antennas before the switch from analog to digital on Friday.

Best Buy home theater specialist Nate Hildebrand said 10 to 20 people come in every day to purchase either a simple $50 converter or a $60 type that shows viewers what shows are playing on each channel.

The switch, which only affects people using an analog television with an antenna, marks a move to digital television that is designed to offer viewers better picture and sound quality. Television stations will only broadcast digital, over-the-air signals starting Saturday, clearing up the airwaves for police, fire departments and rescue squads to use for broadcast capabilities.

And as of Saturday, people without cable, satellite or a converter box will not be watching the majority of channels.

To help mitigate costs, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is offering a $40 voucher to buy a converter. People were placed on a waiting list because of funding issues until Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and issued stimulus funds, which gave the Federal Communications Commission an additional $90 million for outreach, said Rick Kaplan, spokesman for the FCC.

TV viewers can still access the vouchers until July 31, but Hildebrand said many people have come into Best Buy and bought a converter without a coupon because they don't want to wait.

A few stations in southern Utah already have made the switch, and Hildebrand said the digital converters will offer more channels for antenna TV users.

"They added about 10 to 15 more channels," Hildebrand said. "But honestly, I'm a little surprised by how many people have been coming in to pick up converters. I've always used cable. Now they have more possibilities."

The DTV transition Web site says some viewers will lose certain channels, such as KSL, KSTU and KUTV. According to the DTV transition site, KSL will lose about 90,000 viewers and KUTV about 130,000 in the switch.

However, since Utah is a rural area and uses translators that rebroadcast signals on different channels depending on the area, KSL-TV chief engineer Brent Robinson said those numbers are incorrect.

"It's kind of a big error. The map shows most of the service loss on the Wasatch back and Cache County," Robinson said. "We have translators there."

There will be losses in the eastern part of Tooele County, but Robinson said there is little coverage there anyway.

For more information on the switch and local stores that will install digital converters for free, go online to www.dtv.gov.

E-MAIL: lgroves@desnews.com

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