This is not a tragedy. The government giveth what it taketh away. Many manufacturers sell digital converter boxes that can catch digital ATSC broadcasts (which the TV stations are already transmitting) and output a signal suitable for your TV. Since Congress mandated the switch to digital, it has tried to compensate consumers, by making available $40 coupons, maximum two per household, which you can use toward the purchase of such a box.
So far, so good. Boston Brahmin does have an analog TV set, which gets used on occasion (for example, Barack Obama's presidential inauguration). Believing in being prepared, and not wanting my tax dollars to go to waste, I applied for one of these coupons. But I discovered a small and annoying hitch in the government's program.
The government's coupons cannot just be used for any converter boxes:
TV converter box models must meet technical and performance standards determined by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in order to qualify for the Coupon Program.And the NTIA has decided that if your converter box provides even a single high-quality output suitable for high-definition (HD) televisions, for example, HDMI or component video connectors, then your entire box does not qualify for the coupon and you must pay full price.
Their reasoning is understandable: Congress's program is targeted toward households that depend on their analog television sets to get important information over the air, and not toward consumers who have the money to shell out for an HDTV.
Understandable, but not valid. They are ignoring the economics of how rational consumers should actually buy components of a system. Today, a converter box that can output HD signals is no more expensive to make than one that outputs only standard definition (SD) signals. In fact, they have the same underlying electronics. In order to become an "eligible" converter box, manufacturers have essentially disabled their boxes so that they cannot output HD signals. Ideally, given a choice, you should always buy an HD-capable box, because when you get an HDTV, you could start using your box's HD outputs and enjoy the better picture and sound. In a few years, when your television can be expected to go kaput, you would probably have to buy an HDTV, anyway, since even if there were any standard definition TV's to buy, they would probably not be any cheaper.
Yet, because of this perverse incentive from the government, consumers are being forced to buy maimed technology that limits them to a standard definition picture, far into the future -- or waste lots of money, their own and the government's. Oh, well.
By the way, I bought the Insignia NS-DXA1 box, retailing for $60, which is the same device as the Zenith DTT900 except for the logo. It has an excellent picture, sound, and on-screen menu. When I hooked it up to my old rabbit-ear antenna, it discovered well over a dozen Boston-area broadcast channels in all their digital perfection.