The Digital Television (DTV) Transition

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The Digital Television (DTV) Transition occurs June 12; after that date, all television broadcasts being sent “over-the-air” will be in digital format, replacing the former method of analog broadcasting that has been used for the past 75 years.  Residents who subscribe to cable or satellite television will not be affected, no matter what type of television they own, and will not need a digital-to-analog converter box.  In fact, installing such a box would create problems.

 On the other hand, residents who receive their TV signals over-the-air (using any type of antenna, such as a “rabbit ears”) may have to take action.  If they own a digital television – generally, one that was bought within the last two or three years – they should not use a converter box.  However, the antenna must be a good one; see the information below.  Television sets that are older generally have analog tuners inside; residents should check their owner’s manual first to see if the TV has a digital tuner, before buying a converter box.  Analog televisions will require a converter box, which costs approximately $50 to $60.  Persons with “portable” televisions that have a single-pole antenna permanently attached to the TV should visit the Fairfax County Web site, below, for additional information.  Beginning June 13, analog televisions using an antenna will no longer be able to display TV programs if a converter box has not been installed.

 A free $40 coupon usable towards the purchase of a converter box is available from the federal government; visit to apply.  Replacement $40 Coupons: If a resident previously applied for $40 coupons and they have expired or have been lost, see the Fairfax County Web site information below.

 If an antenna is being used, it must be a “good” one: able to receive both VHF and UHF signals.  Older rabbit ears antennas that have two poles (VHF signals) – with no circle or other shape in the middle (UHF signals) – will not receive all of the available digital channels.  For example, one or more of the channels 4, 5, 7, 9, 20, 30, or 66 may be “missing.”  These older, simple VHF-only antennas must be replaced with a new VHF/UHF antenna that costs about $20 (and preferably, with an “amplified” antenna).  Sometimes, even if a rabbit ears antenna has a shape in the middle, one or more of the channels may not be received.  An amplified VHF/UHF antenna may solve the problem; if not, it should be returned promptly to the store for a refund.  Amplified VHF/UHF antennas plug into the wall and use electricity to boost the TV signals so that the channels can be viewed.  They cost $55 to $70 at stores such as Best Buy, Radio Shack, etc.  (The $40 DTV coupons are not valid for antenna purchases: only for digital-to-analog converter boxes.)

 Answers to most DTV questions, including how to tell if a television is digital or analog, or how to hook up a VCR, are available.  Visit and then click on “DTV Transition Information” at the top of the right-hand column.  Or call the “DTV Answer Line” in Fairfax County at 703-324-5900.  Calls will be returned within one business day by an official who is knowledgeable about DTV and who can answer County residents’ individual questions, including helping to apply for a DTV $40 coupon. 


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