This is archived content from Digital TV Facts. For up-to-date information on the digital TV transition, see the federal government’s site, www.DTV2009.gov.
A set-top converter box is an electronic device that hooks up to your analog TV set, allowing it to receive digital broadcasts. The box may also be called a “digital-to-analog converter, ” “digital TV adapter” (DTA), or “digital set-top box” (DSTB).
For those who own analog TVs and want to continue receiving over-the-air programming, getting a set-top box will be an alternative to buying a new TV.
(If you already receive all of your TV programming via digital cable or direct-broadcast satellite, you shouldn’t need to buy a separate converter box. What about standard analog cable subscribers? The answer is not yet clear. Analog cable customers may need additional equipment, which cable companies may elect to provide. Or they may need to upgrade to digital cable. The solution should become clearer as the shutdown of analog TV broadcasts approaches.)
After the switch from analog to digital broadcasts is complete, analog TVs will be incapable of receiving over-the-air broadcasts without the addition of a set-top converter box. The function of the box is to take in digital signals, convert them to analog form and send them to your TV. While the image you see on an analog TV won’t be high-definition, you should notice a slight improvement.
A set-top receiver will also be needed for a digital TV that does not include a built-in digital tuner, if you plan to use it for over-the-air reception. This includes TVs labeled “HD-ready.” For more details, see Will my current TV still work after the switch from analog to digital?
As the deadline for switching to digital approaches, converter boxes are expected to become more widely available through mass retailers, electronics stores and online retailers. The federal government will make coupons available to consumers to help defray the cost of the converter boxes.
(Other types of set-top box (STB) devices exist, including those provided by cable or satellite companies and others designed to marry televisions and personal computers. In this answer, however, we are concerned only with set-top converter boxes for receiving over-the-air digital broadcasts.)