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Step-by-Step DTV Conversion - How to Set Up Your DTV System

posted on January 9, 2009 at 12:14 PM

The new world of digital television (DTV) is here. Your stations have already begun broadcasting in DTV, so get your digital system set up now.

Some people have been lucky enough to just plug in their new televisions or tuners (DTV converter boxes) and have everything work perfectly. But, for many of us there's more to DTV than plug-and-play.

We suggest that this could be a 2-week process, although it may take you longer, especially if there is some antenna installation needed. Good luck and contact IPTV for more help if you need it!


Step-By-Step Digital TV

Step 1: Assess your TV needs and decide how many DTV tuners you need:

  • How many TVs do you have, and do they have digital tuners?
  • Those purchased before 2005, even if they are HD, might not have a tuner for broadcast signals.
  • Your local stations are broadcasting in digital right now, so you should be able to see them if you have a digital tuner.
  • Do you want to continue to view programs on VHS, DVD, Cable, Satellite, and/or free over-the-air on all of your televisions?  
  • What happens when the satellite or cable ‘goes out?’ Will you be able to get local news, sports, storm and disaster information?
  • Here's a link to a list of current and future television channels in Iowa's TV markets.
  • Here’s a video that explains why you can just buy a tuner (DTV converter box) instead of a new television.
  • Here's further information about types of DTV converters (also known as tuners or “black boxes”) and how to hook them up.
  • If you decide to buy a new television, make sure it has the ATSC logo that says it meets DTV standards. Here’s more information about buying a digital television. And here's a video on buying a digital television. 

Step 2: Find out what your new DTV viewing options are.

  • Most broadcast stations are now airing more than one program at a time, however most cable and satellite companies will only carry one of these, or charge extra for the new ones.
  • In most cases, if you want to receive the free additional local feeds, you’ll need a digital tuner in addition to your cable or satellite service.
  • What are your local television stations broadcasting on these additional channels? Some are featuring 24-hour weather, children's programs, and so on.
  • Here’s a program guide to IPTV’s multiple channels.
  • Here’s a program guide that includes cable channels in Iowa by zip code.

Step 3: Purchase the digital tuners (DTV converters) and/or digital TVs you need, and hook them up.

  • The fund for the national $40 coupons will likely be re-funded. You can sign up here. 
  • Remember that when you hook up the tuner, it will need to ‘scan’ to find the local signals. Follow the on-screen directions or read the manual provided with your tuner to learn how to properly scan for channels.
  • Remember that when you hook up the tuner, it will need to ‘scan’ to find the local signals. Follow the on-screen directions or read the manual provided with your tuner to learn how to properly scan for channels.
  • You may need an additional digital tuner for your VHS or DVD recorder if you want it to record a different channel than the one you’re watching. (See Step 8.)

Step 4: Find out where the digital broadcast signal comes into your home.

  • Decide what direction(s) you’ll need to aim the antenna. You can get a specific ‘map’ for your own home at www.anntennaweb.org - Click on "Choose an Antenna" and fill in your home address for detailed info.
  • A more general map is also available at www.winegarddirect.com.
  • Here's that link to a list of current and future television channels in Iowa's TV markets.
  • Make a list of the digital channel numbers that you want to receive.
  • Figure out if they are UHF or VHF or both. Why?
  • VHF channels are 2-13, UHF channels are 21-51
  • UHF channels 14-20 and 52-69 will be used for other purposes than TV in the future.
  • Some channels are UHF now, but will change to VHF after the conversion. Explain.


Step 5: See if you need an antenna, and decide what type you need. 

  • There is no such thing as a “digital antenna.” The antenna is still picking up broadcast signals, as always.
  • Old antennas may have problems, however. Some need replacement, and some don’t. What to check.
  • When you choose an antenna, you’ll have to decided which type you need:
  • UHF, VHF, or both -  ‘Directional’ or ‘omni-directional’ -  Indoor or outdoor.
  • There is a new “Smart” antenna that helps if your broadcasters have signals coming into your house from different directions. But, you need to have a converter box that has the “Smart” interface for this antenna to work.  
  • Remember accessories like extra cable, connectors and signal amplifiers.
  • Read more about antennas here.
  • Read the transcript or look at the videos from IPTV’s DTV special.
  • Here's a video demonstration of indoor antenna comparisons.  
  • Winegard has a web site that’s very detailed, with articles about antennas, antenna "FAQ", along with antenna pricing information.
  • Winegard will also answer antenna questions at their toll-free phone number: (866) 454-7566

Step 6: Install your antenna(s.)

  • If you need to put it in your attic or on your roof, get the help you need.
  • There are professional installers that can do this safely, and they will make sure your signal is strong throughout your home. Overview video.

Step 7: Scan with your digital tuner.

  • Now that you have the broadcast signal clearer, you might have to “re-scan” with your digital tuner. This can also be called “auto-tuning.”
  • You will need to follow the on-screen directions (menu set-up) or read the manual provided with the tuner to learn how to properly scan for channels.
  • If you used to get a channel, but now it’s gone – try re-scanning.
  • Some tuners will scan automatically – look for ‘add-on’ (“EZ add”) scan features.
  • Re-scanning is important in other ways: in the coming months local broadcasters will be changing their signal configurations during the transition to all-digital, and some will add new digital services. 
  • Some have been on temporary channels during the transition.
  • Here's that list of television channels in Iowa's TV markets with their expected changes.

Step 8: Re-install devices like VHS, DVD, and other players.

  • If you just use them for playback, they should still work with your television as always.
  • If you use your device to record, and if it’s not digital, you may need to also have a digital tuner feed (separate from your television) for the device.
  • If you wish to record a local program when you’re away or if you wish to watch a program while simultaneously recording a different program, you will need a separate digital tuner.
  • Read more about updating television devices.
  • Some people may wish to write down their instructions for each different type of television usage so they can refer to them later, or for a house guest’s convenience.

Step 9: Congratulate yourself.

  • You have everything you need for your home’s digital transition.
  • Take a breather.
  • Watch some of the new channels.
  • Make notes on any unexpected problems, and email or phone us.
  • If you have an old television or device you no longer need, find out how to recycle it at: http://www.mygreenelectronics.com

Step 10: Help others.

  • Now that you’ve crossed the ‘digital divide,’ help someone else.
  • Do you have a television at the office or club?
  • Can you help a friend or family member?
  • Is there a local organization, nursing home, or church that could use your help?
  • Video about Ellsworth, Iowa's DTV efforts
  • Thanks for your efforts.


Call 1-800-532-1290 weekdays and ask for an Iowa Public Television DTV expert to help you at any step in the process.

Or, call the National DTV Hotline: 1-888-388-2009 (1-888-DTV-2009) 

Or search your question on www.iptv.org



Tags: conversion converter box digital dtv dtv converter Iowa


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