Last Friday morning, the US House of Representatives passed a budget bill that included a hard date for the shutdown of analog TV broadcasts in this country: December 31, 2008. The Senate already passed a bill that also set a hard date: April 9, 2009. It’s now up to the conference committee to reconcile the two bills, and it’s a pretty safe bet that the final date will be somewhere in this range.
So… if you’re among the minority of American television viewers who rely solely on over-the-air broadcasts of TV programming, the clock is really started now. You’ve got a little more than three years to get a way to receive programs other than by analog broadcasts. You have three choices. You can join the legions who already subscribe to cable or satellite services, or you can buy a new television that includes a digital TV receiver — by next March, all new sets 25″ or larger that have tuners must include digital tuners — or get a separate receiver that can receive the digital broadcasts and pass them along to your existing TV.
Many people don’t realize it, but the government may help you with that last option. Both the House and Senate bills include provisions for federal subsidies of digital-to-analog converters. The Senate generously budgeted $3 billion, but the more frugal House only allocated $990 million. It remains to be seen how they intend to spread this money around, and whether it will make a significant difference in the price of a converter.