Those TV converter box blues

Have you non-cable-TV folks bought your converter box? And, more importantly, hooked it up instead of leaving it in the original packaging?

I’m among the 12 percent of U.S. households that rely on rabbit ears (in my case) or rooftop antennas for over-the-air programming. My analog TV requires a converter box to pick up the digital signals that will replace analog on Feb. 17, 2009.

Armed with my $40 government coupon, I bought my converter box on Labor Day for $20. However, I tried, but failed, to unravel the directions in a short, frustrating session that evening. I have one of those brains that seizes up when confronted with anything technical.

I think this qualifies:

“2. Connect the ‘To TV (RF)’ jack on this unit to the ‘Antenna In’ jack on your TV using a coaxial RF cable (R). Your TV must be tuned to the selected RF Output Channel (Refer to page 8) channel (3 or 4) to display the picture. (default: channel 3).


“Connect the VIDEO and AUDIO (L/R) jacks on this unit to the video and audio input jacks on the TV using the video (V) and audio (A) cable.”

Did the guy who wrote this manual test these instructions on his mother first? I suspect not.

My first attempt, using the second approach, meant unplugging my DVD player from my TV. Sorry, but no. (Unless I misunderstood how to do it, which is certainly possible. No other likely holes in my TV presented themselves.)

Some weeks later, I worked up my nerve and gave it another go. This time I tried the first way, despite all the bewildering parenthetical asides. Doing so meant unplugging my VCR from my TV so I could use that hole. Well, not such a terrible thing, at this point in history, but a little disappointing. At least the converter box works.

Have any of you made the switch, or had difficulty doing so? I’d hate to think Vivian C. Brown and I are the only ones.

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  • John from Fontana

    I added a converter box to a TV in the downtown Fontana area and was amazed at the improvement in reception for most channels. There were a couple of stations that didn’t have strong digital signals so we can still watch those analog signals (until next February) since our converter “passes” analog. The PBS stations really shine with the converter since they broadcast multiple program at the same time on different subchannels.

  • Josh Hinman

    You should be able to daisy-chain your VCR and the converter box together. First, plug your VCR back into your TV the same way you had it before, then connect the converter box to your VCR’s “Antenna” jack. This has the added benefit of allowing you to record digital TV signals with your VCR (just set your VCR to record channel 3).

    [I’ll try it. Thanks, Josh. — DA]
    [Update: Tried it, didn’t work. — DA]

  • Ramona

    I hear ya, David. I watch the current season of dreck using rabbit ears.

    I’m gonna bite the bullet and invest in a new TV since the one I’m watching is past 15 years old (105 dog years) and whinging.

    I’m hoping to find a non-huge, non-high-def set whose price will fit within the dollar range of the property tax refund check that should be issued one of these days now that the Governator has signed the budget for the year.

    The new set also needs to fit in its assigned recess in the entertainment center.

    Wish me luck.

    [Luck. — DA]

  • I bought two of these boxes also, but have yet to hook them up. Now I see what problems I have to look forward to.

  • Todd Dice


    I agree with Josh and it should have worked. Is there a button on the VCR to switch it so that the video signal “passes through” the VCR to your TV? Did you remember to push that button? I’ve had to remind my daughters of said button before.

    If it still does not work then you should connect the converter box to where your rabbit ears connected. So where did they connect to?

    [Did I remember to push that button? I feel like I’m in the hatch on “Lost.” I connected the converter box to the antenna and to the back of the TV (to a hole previously occupied by the VCR plug). You may be right about the VCR but I don’t know what button you’re talking about. — DA]

  • Robert Bunch

    I don’t know how the new boxes work, but I do know if you have no signal from antenna it is dead. If you had a signal you wouldn’t need the box.

    I have a number of items on my TV but i’m running cable so i have a signal. Your new box should work the same, where it says antenna is the signal source, there is a switch on the back for signal strength, either channel 3 or 4. You should be on 3. Where it says to tv plug this to your vcr or tv at the antenna inlet. The tv must be set on channel 3 to receive the signal you will no longer change channels on the tv, as the box or vcr is now your tuner.

    As for the tv vcr button if you set it to vcr you only get what you put in vcr if you set it to tv you can use both, vcr will play when movie is inserted. On the front of your vcr is a push button for vcr or tv. If not look at the remote and you should find it. If all this fails bite the bullet and get dish or cable. Good luck but this should work. Ps vcr needs to be on channel 3 also.

    [I’ll have to take a Motrin and try reading this again. — DA]

  • Joe Maraldo

    Now that we have hooked up the box we now have new problems. On many stations we are constantly getting a “No signal” messgage as it cuts out of the show then back. Also we do not get our local PBS station, no signal.

    We live 26 miles north of Boston on the NH line and should get all the stations.
    Help please.


    [North of Boston? I must have readers all over. But I know what he means about “No signal” — while I’m getting more than twice the number of stations I did previously, and much sharper, I no longer receive ABC. Maybe I need a better antenna. If that doesn’t work, I’ll have to watch “Lost” online. — DA]

  • VERY unhappy. Got the box. Got the high-end outside DTV antenna. PBS is totally unreliable with maybe 55 to 65% no signal. Same with two networks.

    Whoever the genius is that worked out this deal is stupid. I’ll just turn it off. Many of my neighbors feel the same. Sure, I will miss PBS. That’s about all!

    It has not gone unnoticed, out here in the sticks, that there is a strong coincidence between the trash being presented throughout the entertainment industry (not everything, of course) and the downfall of manners, human dignity, common sense and the entire financial industry in general. YAY capitalism!

    But we’re just dumb old Kansas country folks that don’t buy bling on credit, have some savings and didn’t buy a house or a car we couldn’t afford. What have we got to do with anything?

    God DID Bless America. Now what?

    — John

    [Wow, a reader in Kansas! And yes, unplugging is certainly an option. I went eight years without a TV and they weren’t bad years at all. — DA]

  • Wayne

    I live in the Antelope Valley, I got the $40 card, I purchased the converter box at WallyWorld, didn’t work, took it back, returned it for my $10 I invested and the girl gave me the whole $50, needless to say I was smiling. Bought another box using my other $40 card and $10, tried everything under the sun to make it work, NO LUCK , I will give it to my folks in L.A. They have cable so it will work fine. As for TV for me, I am getting satellite!!!!!!!!!!

    [Your folks won’t need a converter box if they have cable. — DA]

  • sherree

    I hooked up one converter box. I think I did everything right. Says No Signal and get no extra stations…well two come in that I did not get before but they are real snowy. I don’t know if it’s working or not….I think my antenna is through a previous cable line I had when I had cable…I’m in need of so much help.

  • Home with fussy kids

    My wife ordered the rebates, got them, she couldn’t wait. Hooked them up the next day, went out, bought an antenna. Went back, returned the antenna, bought an amplified antenna and here we are day three NO SIGNAL. I also live in the Antelope Valley. Tried to hook up TV in a different room for better reception for antenna but NOPE still nothing. I’m about getting ready to return this piece of —-!!


    I need help, got the converter and the Phillips antenna but I cannot get it to work. I think I need a stronger antenna but it is expensive. Any suggestions, live in Antelope Valley.

    [My suggestion would be to move out of the Antelope Valley. Just kidding. Sorry, I don’t know what to tell you. Ask ’em at Radio Shack or spring for a new digital TV. — DA]